Cleveland has always enjoyed a healthy rivalry with its Rust Belt sister Pittsburgh. But when it comes to that city's blossoming culinary scene, one can't help but draw a comparison to our own hometown. Inspired by a thriving, off-the-beaten-path cultural vibe, the Steel City has spent the past years reinventing the old pierogi, cabbage and kielbasa standbys. Chefs are bringing locally sourced ingredients to the table and experimenting with new ideas in accessible but forward-thinking dining experiences.
While 36 hours is hardly enough time to take in Pittsburgh's full scope, we certainly did our best to do just that.
With its open-air restaurants and patio dining galore, Pittsburgh's burgeoning downtown might call to mind the vibrancy of Cleveland's own East Fourth Street. Just outside the bustle of Market Square is Butcher and the Rye (212 Sixth St., 412-391-2752, butcherandtherye.com), where small plates make for a fun introduction to the weekend. Taste test the marrow ($14) served with oxtail jam and orange rind, or the Sunday Gravy ($10), which draws from the same American comfort food pantry initially explored at Meat & Potatoes, the gastropub from Rye proprietors Tolga Sevdik and chef Richard DeShantz that preceded it. Round it out with the lemon aioli-smattered Brussels ($8), which pair nicely with the citrusy Buffalo Trace White Dog, one of upwards of 350 whiskey selections. Speaking of whiskey, try a Whiskey Flight such as the Around the World in 12 Years ($20), which nets the buyer three ¾-ounce samples of whiskey aged to perfection.
For a more exotic nightcap, stroll 528 feet to the sleek bar of the recently opened dim sum concept Grit & Grace (535 Liberty Ave., 412-281-4748, gritandgracepgh.com). Swap whiskey for rum with the Jungle Bird's ($11) bittersweet bite of dark rum, Campari, smoked pineapple and lime or My Dark Storm ($10) which boasts a delicious ginger beer made in-house alongside Black Seal rum.
There's no need to travel far from downtown to explore one of Pittsburgh's most up-and-coming boroughs. Once you arrive in Lawrenceville, stroll past the boutiques and prepare to brave the well-warranted lines that sometimes extend past the doors of La Gourmandine Bakery (4605 Butler St., 412-682-2210, lagourmandinebakery.com). The quaint décor of pastry-filled glass cases is exactly what you would imagine from the city's only true French bakery. Decadence beckons with regular offerings such as Mousse de Framboise ($3.40), a raspberry mousse whipped up with sponge cake; and the buttery fruit-baked indulgence of the Clafoutis ($4) is, quite literally, the cherry on top.
We'd walk for miles to check out a shop that combines coffee, clothing and vintage vinyl, but fortunately, 720 Music, Clothing and Cafe (4405 Butler St., 412-904-4592) is just steps away. Stop at the front of the house for a cold-brewed iced coffee ($3.50) or an affogato, a scoop of vanilla ice cream drowned with a shot of hot expresso. Plan to lose track of the day perusing the racks of hip-hop, soul and rarities on vinyl, tables stacked with arts literature and vintage threads that line the remainder of the store.
Located in a restored 19th-century bank — hence the name — the interior of Tender Bar + Kitchen (4300 Butler St., 412-402-9522, tenderpgh.com) is appropriately embellished with a bar made from the institution's former marble, and walls adorned with checks of yesteryear. Naturally, the Prohibition-era theme lends itself to inspired twists on cocktails, such as the Por do sol ($12), with oak-aged rum, Peychaud's bitters and clove tincture. The crispy confit wings ($8) offer a kick to the meal with Sriracha glaze and kimchi; and the New Bedford scallops ($24) are fortified with wild mushrooms, barley risotto and a hint of blueberry.
For after-after-dinner drinks, make the short trip to the Butterjoint (214 North Craig St., 412-621-2700, thebutterjoint.com), the adjoining bar of the well-regarded Legume. Known for its dedication to sourcing local, this joint's take on Hemingway's Daiquiri ($9) is constructed with nearby distillery Maggie's Farm rum. For a little dessert sugar and spice, order the Ginger Gold Apple and Tomatillo Crisp ($8) to accompany the fruit-infused beverage.
Being a sports town, PGH bustles on Sundays, and the infamous Strip District is no exception. And because it's Sunday Funday, the Pittsburgh Public Market (2401 Penn Ave., 412-281-4505, pittsburghpublicmarket.org) should be Stop #1 for boozy brunch hand pies ($4) from Eliza's Oven. Try the ham and beer cheese pie made with Fat Gary Nut Brown Ale from East End Brewing Co., which also dispenses take-home growlers at the Public Market. The mushroom and onion pie uses a cream sauce made with a White Wheat variety from Wigle Whiskey distillery, a nearby small-batch manufacturer.
As you navigate the open-air markets, be sure to check out the many ethnic offerings, especially Reyna Foods (2031 Penn Ave., 412-261-2606, reynafoods.com), Pittsburgh's oldest Latin American food company. Not only do they sell homemade tortillas and tamales from this storefront, but an attached underground diner serves authentic chiles rellenos ($15), barbacoa tacos ($10) and chicken-stuffed enchiladas verdes ($15) that are not unlike the street-food version sold outside the store.
If you're stopping at the Italian import goldmine Pennsylvania Macaroni Company (2010 Penn Ave., 412-471-8330, pennmac.com), be sure you make it there early. The fresh baked bread is known for selling out daily, and if cheese translates to amore for you, allow plenty of time for sampling any of the selections that make up their customary 200,000-pounds-per-week sales. While shopping, scoop up a package of Penn Mac's own gorgonzola saccheti ravioli ($8.99).
With fitting Old-Hollywood panache, the word "POP" illuminates the vintage interior of Pittsburgh Popcorn Company (822 Liberty Ave., 412-281-5200, pghpopcorn.com). The charming novelty shop often has lines that wrap around the counter, but it's worth the wait to end your short trip on a sweet note by taking home a souvenir tin ($16.95/gal) of airy treats drenched in flavors like fruity loop, cinnamon toast and thin mint.
Continue the tour through Pitt here with a look at where to drink.