Hallo everyone! Happy Wednesday! Hope you’ve all had a lovely day because I sure did! I did a lot of exploring today, so hope you’re ready for an extra long post. After a couple days of not knowing anything about anything, I feel like I have a better grasp of where things are now and how to get to places so I’m not completely lost. Unlike a lot of big cities, Pittsburgh is not on a grid system, so it is a little tricky to get around if you’re not familiar with the area. I’ve biked and bused everywhere (and gotten lost, of course), so with a couple of days of practice, I’m starting to get the hang of things a bit!
Honestly, until today, I wasn’t quite impressed with Pittsburgh. It just didn’t seem like my place or my kind of scene. The phrase “The Steel City” stuck in my head because that’s how Pittsburgh felt–very industrial and, for lack of a better word, serious. There were some nice things here and there, but there was nothing that particularly stood out to me. Turns out, I wasn’t exploring the right neighborhoods!
I ventured into 3 neighborhoods today: Lawrenceville, Strip District, and North Shore. Let’s delve through them chronologically, shall we?
I made my first stop this morning was in Lawrenceville to grab some breakfast at the bakery La Gourmandine. Since it’s close enough to a bike stop, I hopped on my rented HealthyRide bike that’s close by to my place and rode (downhill, yay!) to the bakery in Lawrenceville. I didn’t get to check out much of Lawrenceville but the sense I got from the area is it’s a good place to grab a meal with friends and maybe do some boutique shopping. It looked like a very cutesy area, so this bakery, of course, fit right in.
La Gourmandine has your typical French bakery goods, from small items like pains au chocolat, croissants, and macarons to bigger items like
sandwichs and gateau. Haha, do you like my very limited knowledge of French? I took a semester class and forgot everything, except things that related to food. I bought a pain aux raisins to eat there and a croissant au jambon to snack on later if I got hungry. Thoughts on this place? Super friendly staff. Food-wise? It’s okay. I still think the best pain aux raisins I’ve ever had was from a bakery by my place in Ottawa, Canada. Really random, but sometimes you find the best things in the weirdest places. I haven’t tried La Gourmandine’s croissant yet so I reserve my full judgement until then.
After that quick breakfast/snack, I was still a little hungry, so I decided I’d have lunch early. I chose S&D Polish Deli in the Strip District for today’s lunch, as it was close to the other places I wanted to check out. I parked my bike and walked over to this little deli. You can’t miss it since they’ve placed banners on their windows and a-boards out front that advertise that the deli is a great place for lunch. Once you step through the doors, you’ll see a deli counter to the left with a handful of tables and chairs to the right. You need to walk past the deli counter a bit to a little window where they take orders for the lunches. Word of warning: If you are on a diet, do not go here. Unless you’re planning to just eat borscht, this is not the place for you because everything is full of butter, cheese, and carbs. In fact, even the borscht has mini dumplings in it haha! Otherwise, proceed to order to your heart’s content and enjoy a warm comforting Polish meal, just like Babcia used to make. You can get individual items, or if you want to try a little bit of this and that, make sure you get a platter. I got the kielbasy platter: 3 pierogi (mushroom sauerkraut, potato and cheddar cheese, and potato and farmer cheese), haluszki (buttered noodles with onions and cabbage), and a kielbasy (also spelled as kielbasa). I LOVE those haluszki noodles. The rich, savory noodles just melt in your mouth and make you smile. I think I love them so much because I love eating buttered noodles as a kid, and this is just one step up with the onions, cabbage, and seasonings.
If you find that you really like something after your meal, they have stuff you can buy to bring home too! Lots of pre-boxed pierogi and noodles. And of course, there’s the deli where you can get the sausages and other treats like poppy seed bread and pastries.
After stuffing my face with lots of noodles and pierogi, I set out to explore the Strip District. Originally, I had wanted to go to the Pittsburgh Public Market, but that has closed a couple months ago. When I initially read that, I was really bummed because I love outdoor markets! It’s always fun to wander through those. However, after reading some comments about the Pittsburgh Public Market failing because it was basically a market within a large outdoor market, I wanted to check out this area to see if that was true. Not even two blocks through the Strip District, I could completely see why the Public Market was not necessary. The Strip District is bustling with locals and tourists alike, and the streets are lined with grocers, restaurants, and various shops. I felt like this neighborhood truly captured all things Pittsburgh for me.
For starters, it becomes incredibly apparent how important sports are to the people of Pittsburgh. There are so many stands and stores selling shirts, jerseys, hats, towels, rugs… you name it! Unfortunately for me, this meant seeing a lot of Penguins Stanley Cup Champions gear. I had contemplated wearing my Sharks shirt today, but perhaps it was good I didn’t because if they take sports as seriously as they displayed here, I might’ve gotten beat up! ;P
So those comments were right–the Strip District is basically a large open air market (think of Seattle’s Pike’s Place Market). There are a bunch of vendors where you can see their items out there on the sidewalk, but there are also places that you need to walk inside to see stuff. One of my favorite places I wandered into was the Robert Wholey and Co Fish Market. The seafood and meat selection was so abundant and delicious looking! Honestly, looking at that stuff made me just want to have a barbecue. I’m sure this place was packed during the past weekend for 4th of July festivities.
I also wandered into a wholesale spice store—absolutely magical. I’ve gone to Spicely in SF, but boy, does that not compare to this at all. This place has 3 types of paprika, guys. THREE TYPES. Do you know how hard it is to find that stuff sometimes? The stuff they have in stores is a mixture most of the time, so you can’t get specific paprika. Sometimes that’s not important, but sometimes IT IS CRUCIAL TO THE TASTE OF YOUR DISH. They even had Turkish oregano and Mexican oregano. I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW TURKISH OREGANO EXISTED. THIS IS ALL SO CRAZY. Despite my excitement, I unfortunately didn’t end up buying anything because I need to do inventory on my spice jars, but they have a website so I can always check to see if there’s a place near me or order online. Honestly, I was like a kid in a candy store. But with spices.
After the spice place, I wandered into the coffee roastery place, Allegheny Coffee & Tea Exchange. The promise of nitro cold brew coffee (and the delicious coffee smell) lured me into this place. So many coffees! They have a large variety of flavored and unflavored coffees, so you’re bound to find one you’d like. The employees here are really nice and very knowledgable about their product, so ask them lots of questions! If you’re picky with your coffee, you can actually get them to request a specific roast on your beans. You’ll have to order at least 10 pounds of that coffee, but it’s a doable thing! After I poked at enough barrels of coffee beans, I asked to try a sip of one of the nitro coffees. So gooood. I would’ve gotten one, but I really wanted to get frozen custard from Rita’s Italian Ice for snack so I refrained from getting one. Maybe I’ll get one tomorrow 🙂
After ogling all the produce and merchandise in the Strip District, I made my way to the Heinz History Center.
To be honest, when my host first told me about this place, I thought Eh, who is this Heinz guy? Why is he so important that he gets a history center? Psh, he’s probably just some lame rich guy, I don’t care. It never occurred to me that Heinz is the ketchup guy. I mean, yes, he’s a rich guy and I don’t care that much about him still, but he’s the KETCHUP GUY. His stuff is EVERYWHERE.
Once I walked into the Center and saw the little ketchup truck, it finally clicked. But I couldn’t go back now, I had just paid $6.00 for admission… I jest. I love history museums, so I figured it be educational if not somewhat interesting. Besides, I love learning the origin stories of big moguls and how they got to where they are now because those stories tend to be rather inspiring and fascinating. What was Heinz’s story and how did he find a way to become Ketchup King?
As much as I’d love to (and I’m sure you’d also hate it), I won’t give you a whole history lesson on Heinz. Here are some of my favorite tidbits of info:
- Heinz actually didn’t start out with ketchup (as you probably know him for). He started out canning horseradish that was grown from his mom’s garden.
- Despite having a growing business, Heinz had to declare bankruptcy in 1875 due to a financial panic. However, he opened the company again with some relatives, built it back up, and bought back his company over time.
- The 57 varieties slogan you see on Heinz products was an arbitrary number he chose after starting to list out all the products his company was making (there were more than 57). He saw the advertising technique (12 varieties or 12 ways to do something, I forget) and thought it would be a cool way to get people to notice and trust his products.
Lessons from this exhibit? Start small and keep growing, never stop trying, and fake it till you make it 🙂 Oh and here’s a fun fact about ketchup: it used to be made with walnuts, mushrooms, and a bunch of other stuff with vinegar to give that tangy taste. Heinz changed the game by using tomatoes, which he controlled by personally dealing with the sourcing of the red fruit. He made sure to have the best quality tomatoes and ensured no preservatives were added. I suppose you can say he was an original food hipster 😉
While there’s a whole floor dedicated to Henry John Heinz (H.J. Heinz), the Heinz History Center houses a lot of other exhibits too. Nestled on the 2nd floor of this museum is the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum. Surprisingly, they did not have that place decked out in Pens 2016 Stanley Cup stuff, but the gift shop clerk told me Pittsburgh cares more about their Steelers than they do the Pens haha. If you’re a sports fan, you’ll probably dig that area. There’s also an exhibit about Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood too! Bet you can’t go through that area without tearing up or being hit by a wave of nostalgia. Lots of stuff that I could go on about (I spent hours in there), but I won’t, so you’ll have to check it out yourself! Let me know if you have any questions though.
After I had museum-ed myself out, it was snack time. If you’ve ever been to the Tank in San Jose, you’ve probably had one of these delicious, sugary treats. I biked around all day and it was 91 degrees outside with a ton of humidity, so a cone of frozen custard sounded perfect. Rita’s Italian Ice is on the other side of the Allegheny River in the North Shore neighborhood, so I took a nice stroll over the Andy Warhol Bridge. This bridge is one of three bridges that is part of the Three Sisters, which are identical self-anchored suspension bridges. The other two are the Roberto Clemente Bridge and the Rachel Carson Bridge. I actually had planned to go to the Andy Warhol Museum but I only had 30 minutes until closing time, so I decided to just enjoy my time across the bridge and to just get my snack instead of rushing to a museum near closing time. I biked back on this same bridge on my way to dinner because I didn’t want to get lost!
When I chatted with my Airbnb host and her boyfriend, Gaucho Parrilla Argentina was one of the places they had suggested to try out. Yelpers rated it pretty highly, and the sheer number of reviews showed that it was a popular place amongst Pittsburghers. Upon entering the place, the decor and space was warm and inviting.
I went around 6PM, so the crowd had not quite built up yet but there was a little line. The wait to order wasn’t too long, and soon enough, I had a plate of 6oz ribeye steak (bife de gaucho) and a side of roasted potatoes (gaucho papas). The steak dish came with a piece of toast and a side of the house salad.
The steak cooked and seasoned well. The crust on the steak showed a great sear and had a great flavor to it. I wasn’t big on the large amount of gristle on my meat though, so that was a little disappointing. The key to this place is the sauces. There are 4 sauces: ajo (garlic), cebolla (onion), pimenton (sweet red pepper), and chimichurri. Personally, I liked the ajo and the pimenton. I’m a sucker for red peppers (it would explain my affinity to paprika), and garlic is a must for most things. I know chimichurri is supposed to be their thing because it’s the classic Argentinian sauce for these steak meals, but their version left me unsatisfied. When I tasted it, it wasn’t a “YES THAT’S IT!”, but more of a “Hmmm…”. I think maybe they had too much oregano in it or something. It wasn’t bad per se, just something just tasted a little off for me.
So is Gaucho Parrilla Argentina worth it? Mm, maybe. I guess it depends on what you’re looking for. It’s a great place to try out if you haven’t had Argentinian food, and it’s definitely a great place to meet up with friends. They have a BYOB policy, so I saw a lot of groups bring in bottles of wine to share (no corkage fee!). Personally, I didn’t think it was worth the price, but it was fun dining experience! The servers are really nice and attentive, so feel free to ask questions and such. As a solo traveler though, I think you can skip this place if you’re on a budget. Also, that line gets INSANE.
After enjoying a lovely dinner, I biked home as fast as I possibly could because the sun began to set, which means the mosquitos would soon greet me. Biking on a full stomach super fast isn’t much fun, but it beats the alternative of mosquito attacks. Penn Ave at one portion is the absolute worst because of the 200ft incline for a bit (I know that doesn’t sound a lot but it’s no fun, really). And that’s it!
Whew, that was a lot to write about. I know I started to drone on a bit, but hopefully you enjoyed reading about at least some of that! I think I’m going to end up making a tl;dr guide for each city I visit for easy reference, so I’ll let you know when that’s up. Questions, comments, criticisms? Let me know in the comments below!