Steel City Renaissance

About a year and a half ago, my family and I moved from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles. I had just finished my doctorate, so since my husband works in television and I was newly free to roam, we decided it just made good sense to head west. We had watched while we lived in Pittsburgh as it transformed from drab and dreary to the “new Portland.” Restaurants with farm-to-table menus popped up everywhere, art installations were on seemingly every corner, and even the entertainment industry began to boom. Since we left, Pittsburgh was even named by Zagat as the #1 food scene in the country. What’s more is that even though I’m now living in one of the largest and most vibrant cities in the world (especially if traffic is any indication), and to be honest the food scene has been ho-hum. So, now I’m pissed. I want that delicious Pittsburgh food. That is a sentence I never thought I would say.

I returned to Pittsburgh recently and had some seriously amazing eats, treats, and adventures. If you’re still holding on to the antiquated notion that Pittsburgh is just a steel city with no charm, you are a oh-so-wrong. Pittsburgh combines the very best elements of a big city with the personality of your favorite school crossing guard (I don’t even know what that means, but you know what I mean). Now, let’s be honest, it helped that I happened to visit in June when the weather is GLORIOUS. Like, angels singing as you walk the sidewalks gorgeous. But still.

Among my exploits while visiting was a stop to Morcilla, which is a restaurant that opened not coincidentally in the same month that Pittsburgh was named #1 food scene. Holy Moly. I’m not over it. Maybe I’ve just been away for too long or maybe Morcilla is just amazing. Chef Justin Severino is a three-time James Beard Award nominee, and if you ask me they should just start throwing awards at him and his damn good charcuterie.

I could pontificate about the amazing pork salami, the mushroom ragu with egg yolk and crostini, or the asparagus with shallots topped with some sort of magical cream sauce. I could talk about the outstanding and thorough service and the fact that even on a busy Friday night we were never rushed or made to feel like we were monopolizing the table (even though we totally were because we never wanted the meal to end). Instead, I will tell you to stop into this cozy and inviting Lawrenceville  restaurant. The prices are fair, the wine is abundant (and delicious), the staff is knowledgable and are clearly excited about the food, and you’ll have a happy belly. One of the best parts about the menu was the ability to try a lot of small dishes (many of which include elements that might not be familiar to some folks), so you can expand your fluency in Spanish cuisine. The croquetas are calling me back for more and I will not deny those calls next time I’m in town. If you go, tell them Susie sent you and make sure you save room for one of their incredible desserts. Frozen crème brûlée  with shortbread cookie crumbs?! I do not deserve something so insanely good. Oh. My.

While I was in town I also decided to do one of the Just Ducky guided tours. I have a four-year-old son, so there was no way we could miss this tank-like structure that goes on land and sea (ok, not really, sea, but in the rivers). The great thing about these tours is that you can truly get a sense for all the ways Pittsburgh has evolved, but also appreciate the rich history hidden beyond the sports structures (is that the technical term?). The bridges, the rivers, Mt. Washington–it’s all on display during the sometimes silly, but always informative tours. They let the kids “drive” the vehicle whilst in the water, and my son was a fine captain indeed. Until last year, I lived in Pittsburgh my whole life and still learned interesting trivia and historical information during the tour. It was also really cool to see the water steps next to PNC Park, and realize all the ways Pittsburgh invests in its residents and their children. For a city that experiences an undue amount of cold and snowy weather, Pittsburghers really know how to take advantage of the beautiful days. Definitely take the Just Ducky tour even if you’ve always lived in the ‘burgh. It’s lots of fun and brings out the silly side of the city.

My last stop before I left town was a new coffee shop Downtown called Gasoline Street Coffee. As a working woman without an office, I’m always on the hunt for a quiet (but not library quiet) place to tippity-tap on my computer. This is the perfect place. They have great seating options inside and out, a comfortable and breezy environment, and the coffee is delicious. They have healthy food options, the best cold-brewed coffee I’ve ever had, and a central location that is perfect for all you Downtown workers looking for a new coffee place with personality. You will love it.

I guess what I’m saying is that even during a brief stop in my hometown I was able to discover new and exciting things happening. I was able to see my city in a new light and appreciate all the really special and beautiful things it has to offer. Let me know if you find some treasures in Pittsburgh that I need to try next time I’m in town!

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