Saturday, February 26, 2011

Gritty but pretty - PGH Day 3

The headline sounds like a contradiction but it's not, but before I tell you why it is not, let me start with my daily pratice on the way to my new career as presenter for the Weather Channel:

Snow. Today  it was cold, wet, windy and it was snowing. Oh boy ... if  my time here in Pittsburgh would not be so limited I would have stayed in bed, watched TV and ordered food for home delivery. But with the end of my trip coming closer so fast now (Could somebody please slow the time down? Thank you!) that was no option.

So I dressed like the average Burgher to fight the weather:  Uggish boots (looking as stupid, being as comfortable and warm, but being also a lot cheaper than the original Uggs), Jeans, Steel City T-Shirt, Pens Hoodie, scarf, gloves, winter jacket, Pens goalie hat (same grey color than the hoodie - at least some style in this visual disaster) and the hood of the anorak above the hat. I looked like everybody else. Pittsburgh in winter is no place for pretty dressed people.

Nicely tugged in my winter fighter costume I faced the next level of confrontation therapy. You know that I suffer from vertigo. Did I tell you before that bridges are the worst? And bridges with open (you can look through) metal ballustrades are the worstest worst? Well - then welcome to Pittsburgh - the city of thousand bridges. All big, all move under your feet, all with a huge rivers below them and all with nice open, yellow steel ballustrades. And I am living at the North Side. That means: Every time I want to go the city, I need to cross either the Rachel Carson, the Warhol or the Clemente Bridge. I can tell you: I do it but I always almost wet my pants. It's horrible, but I am fighting it.

So after crossing the Warhol Bridge I took the bus to the famous Strip Distric and here we come back to the "gritty but pretty" from the headline. The Strip is not beautiful like - neat houses, clean and spacious streets, trees and flowers and fancy shops and restaurants kind of beautiful. It is very much the opposite of all this. But the Strip knows how to score and plays the charm card perfectly. You have to love it regardless how it looks like (end seriously ... all this standard shopping streets and malls with chain shops are boring anyway, aren't they?). And that is pretty - just in a special way.

The first round in the Strip I did not my own before I went to Old St. Patrick's Church to join my group for the Burgh Bits & Bites food tour. Sylvia McCoy (who by the way speaks perfectly German and Schwitzerdütsch) - founder of Burgh Bits & Bites - took us on a fantastic tour through the Strip District. She told us a lot about the history of the neighborhood and its businesses, which are mostly family run and based for several generations in  this part of the town.

We slowly walked Penn Avenue  - eating (the most pleasent way possible). We tried excellent Italian style (and quality!) prosciutto and suppressatas, pepperoni rolls (SO good), humus fresh made right there in the Strip but with original, imported ingrediences, variations of cheese at PennMac, incredible biscotti, fresh Italian pastries with various fillings (that one we got in a bag and I ate it hours later for dinner because I was FULL after the huge biscotti ;) and finally pierogi.
Everything - without exception - tasted extremely nice. I have to say that this was the first time (except visits at high class restaurants like the one in New York  the last evening and some places in San Francisco) that I had food in the US which tasted  - like at home. Like real food. I always have some issues with my tummy in the US - especially the first couple of days - because I cannot really handle the standard processed US food you eat, when you have no kitchen but only a hotel room and do not have the time and money to go to top restaurants every day. But not at the Strip - that's the most real European (and Asian and Oriental and Mexican ;)  food I had until now in the States - and it's very affordable.

I was also totally impressed by the people at the places we visited. They take these tours all the time and they must have done this hundreds of time before, but none of all these guys made us feel like a random group dropping in. They were all very nice, had great stories to tell and talked with passion about the food and their businesses. Most of the them have stores and you find the restaurant / food tasting place in the back of the place. Many of them only sell a small part to the directly to customers but do most of their business as wholesaler.

After I had finished my last pierogi I was full and happy and realized that I had for most of the time totally forgotten that it was a horribly cold and uncomfortable day.
So I can strongly recommend that just in case you ever make it to Pittsburgh - and also when you are local but never did this before (we had some locals in the group and they found out almost as much new things as we out of towners): Do the Burgh Bits & Bites Tour in the Strip District and when you feel like knowing already everything about the Strip choose one of the other tours offered. When I come back to Pittsburgh, I'll definitely do one of the others. If the weather forecast is okay then, I think I'll go for the Mt. Washington tour. Perfect view plus high class food sounds perfect to me!

In the evening I so felt like staying home and warming up, but I had a ticket for a concert at the Warhol Museum and it would have been really a waste to skip it ... with only 5 minutes walk to get there. This night's event was part of the "Off the Wall" series and a concert of "The Blow" (aka Khaela Maricich ... do I smell jugo roots here ;)) ?)  in cooperation with light and sound artist Melissa Dyne.
To call the show a concert would not really cover it although the songs were the central angle of the event. It was more a mix of music, story telling, dance and performance. I liked it. It's not exactly the music I hear at home and the kind of show I usually visit, but I loved the ironic humor and the songs had something very unique and catchy and the texts were awesome.

Listen to one of the songs here:

True Affection - The Blow by LoveJamieNicole

After the show I had to fight with the first drops melancholia. My time here will come to an end very soon. I have only one more day. A full day with lots of great stuff planned, but stilll - only one day. And looking from the bridges over to the skyline at night did not make it any better .... scrolll down to the end of the picture section and you'll now why.

PS: I saw terrible towels in Italian and in Polish today. If one of you EVER runs into a terrible towel in CROATIAN - I want one!!!

Pictures of the day:

The new mural at Strip - only a few months old it brings some color to the neighborhood.

Maybe 5% of the available range of cheese at PennMac.

Before the tour some people recommended to me especially the biscotti. I was ready to follow the recommendations and to try the stuff without expecting much because I usually do not like biscotti - too dry and too tasteless. But I tell you folks - THIS stuff ... awesome.

The Blow on stage.

And here the pictures which I will take home in my heart.
The Warhol Bridge & downtown skyline.

The Clemente Bridge and downtown skyline shot from the Warhol Bridge.


  1. I got to your blog from my friend Sylvia McCoy and want to thank you for your beautiful, romantic view of our city!

  2. Thanks so much, Debbie!
    So sad this is my last day :(. Went back to the Strip to enjoy it in the sun and took the incline up to Grandview. So more to come in today's blog post and in some more after the trip with the full photo set (took MUCH more than posted here so far). If you are on Twitter, I am CKapaun and I post all blog updates there.

  3. Found your blog from the 'Burgh Bits and Bites Facebook page. I've been on the same tour in The Strip District. It's a really neat experience.

  4. Glad to hear that you had a great time as well doing the tour :)