As many of you know, our empty nest adventure included a recent move to Pittsburgh. And with this change came the desire for an urban lifestyle (a desire driven by my husband’s detest of trafficky commutes). We settled in an adorable little loft in the Pittsburgh Strip District and it’s turned out to be a foodies dream. I didn’t choose the location for its foodie appeal, but for the proximity to downtown and the walkability. The fact that it’s a food paradise is a bonus.
Pittsburgh’s Strip District, or “The Strip”, as it’s called, is a narrow, one-half square mile shopping district lined with ethnic grocers, produce stands, meat and fish markets, antique dealers and eclectic boutiques. The vibe is hip, frenetic and gritty. But the smells are spellbinding – from freshly-roasted coffee to aged cheeses, popped kettle corn to bread fresh from the oven. Locals and tourists alike swarm the Strip District on weekends, especially during the summer months when street vendors line the sidewalks and open-air farmer’s markets are abundant. Sidewalk cafes offer a place to people watch and enjoy a cocktail and lobster roll.
The Strip District got its start in the early 19th century as mills and factories chose the location for its proximity to the Allegheny River and railways for access to transportation. Produce merchants soon followed and today, they’ve all congregated on Penn Avenue just a couple of blocks from that original location.
If I don’t feel like cooking one night, I simply walk 3/4 mile to the Pittsburgh Public Market, a nonprofit marketplace that features locally-sourced food vendors and pick up one of 14 kinds of fresh ravioli.
Or I can also load up on some ready-made Indian food like samosas and curries. There’s also craft beer, a local winery, the Ikea of olive oil stores, bakery product and other ethnic foods, in addition to grass-fed meats and organic veggies. Having lived in Italy, we often crave some of the local foods that can be hard to find in the United States. But the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company, known to locals as Penn Mac, has almost a better selection than my local market in Milan did. And they ship their authentic Italian products anywhere! Oh, so you’re in a Middle Eastern mood tonight? Just one block away is Salems Middle Eastern market where we can get the most awesome, inexpensive chicken shawarma. There are Polish sausages, several Asian cafés, Peruvian chicken, and even an Argentinean steakhouse. And most have market sections that carry a dizzying array of authentic products.
So I’ll let you in on a little secret. I can shop for food like most women shop for shoes. I can seriously spend an entire afternoon just wondering through the market looking at different products. And every now and then, I’ll pick up something intriguing and take it home to experiment.
There’s even a retro candy shop with brands I remember from my childhood like Zero candy bars, candy necklaces and chiclets. They also have a full array of kitschy products like bacon flavored dental floss and bacon soap.
Wholey Seafood Market leaves nothing to the imagination with such a wide selection of seafood and prepared seafood products – the lobster bisque always goes home with me and becomes a pasta sauce. Their lobster mac and cheese is to die for. The 50-year-old Strip District Meats sells my favorite grass-fed meats, all at very reasonable prices (or if kangaroo or cobra are your thing, they sell those too). Enrico Biscotti Company is the Baskin-Robbins 33 flavors of biscotti. Pittsburgh’s signature Primanti Brothers is in the heart of everything where you can get a sandwich stacked high with French fries. There are way too many markets to mention but trust me, you won’t be lacking for imagination in what to eat or cook.
My biggest problem is that when I have a few hours to kill, I’ll wander down to the Strip and within a couple of hours, my bags are so heavy I have to call my husband to come drive me home.