Being a tourist in your hometown is such a fun and fresh way to enjoy familiar surroundings. On a recent visit back to my hometown, I spent one night in one of my favorite neighborhoods. Two moms and their daughters, it was a special treat for us all. Try exploring your hometown this way. I guarantee you’ll have a blast “pretending” to be on vacation!
Growing up in Pittsburgh, I developed an appreciation for the city’s ethnic neighborhoods, mostly by eating wonderfully prepared food from around the world in diverse restaurants. One of my favorite places to meet friends was the Strip District, simply called the Strip. By day the Strip was the place to shop for the freshest ingredients to prepare food at home, or to meet friends for hot coffee on a briskly cool Saturday morning. By night it was also the place to go clubbing, drinking and of course, late-night eating.
A Little Slice of History
It all started with its location and access to transportation along the Allegheny River making it ideal for industrial development. As early as the 1820s iron mills, foundries and glass factories started popping up. By the late 19th century, wholesale produce merchants moved in since trains, and later trucks, could stop there allowing merchandise to be unloaded directly into warehouses. As a daughter of a former local restaurateur, I can attest to early morning runs to pick up orders from the produce yards in the Strip. The Strip has since become even more cosmopolitan, with upscale housing options and new hotels opening in this half-mile slice of history.
To learn more about the region’s history visit the amazing six story Senator John Heinz History Center [1212 Smallman Street]. Originally established in 1879, the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania moved to its current home in the Strip in 1996. In 2004, with the opening of the Smithsonian wing, the History Center became the largest history museum in the state of Pennsylvania. Enjoy a host of artifacts, exhibitions, performances, a library and sports museum as well as conservation efforts that bring the “American experience” to life through the region’s more than 250 years of history.
A Half-Mile Trip Around the World
A true hotbed of multiculturalism, businesses here sell products from around the globe as well as a growing number of locally made goods. Perhaps nowhere else in the greater Pittsburgh area can you buy fresh Italian pasta, Greek olives, Asian sauces, Middle Eastern spices, Mexican soda, South American coffee and Caribbean jerk seasoning in just a few blocks! From butchers to bakers and candlestick makers, the Strip has everything you need to make a great meal using the freshest flowers, produce, poultry, meat and seafood and a bunch of other interesting things thrown in for good measure.
24 Hours in the Strip
We had a great stay at the new Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton [1247 Smallman Street] directly across the street from the History Center. You can book direct with Hilton but I have been using Booking.com a lot lately as it’s easy to choose a room with free cancellation options. Everything was within walking distance of the hotel. [HOT TIP: Two benefits with this particular hotel: a room with two queen-sized beds and free parking. You’re welcome.]
We chose to eat dinner at Luke Wholey’s Wild Alaskan Grill [2106 Penn Avenue] knowing the menu provided something for everyone’s taste. The Robert Wholey company has been a staple in Pittsburgh since 1912, and in the Strip since 1959 selling seafood, meat, fish and poultry, but I’d say most locals really think of it as being the seafood market in the city. Not surprising that grandson Luke joined the family party opening the restaurant in 2012 sharing his passion for fresh fish cooked up into tasty dishes and sushi. The Bloody Mary ain’t bad neither. [HOT TIP: Advanced reservations highly recommended.]
AFTER DINNER WANDER:
There are so many fun vendors, but definitely check out Grandpa Joe’s Candy Shop [2124 Penn Avenue]. Also locally owned, this place has something for sweet-tooths of all ages. Piece of Black Jack anyone?
MORNING CUPPA JOE:
It was another busy Saturday morning in the Strip so we knew to expect crowds for breakfast. Head straight to your spot of choice and see if you can get your name on a list, or wait in line, as many do not take reservations. While you wait, and wander, try the Natural Honey Process Pour Over from Tinto Coffee Cup [2031 Penn Avenue] in front of Reyna Foods. Just what I wanted while I waited.
In addition to popping into Pennsylvania Macaroni Co., aka Penn Mac, to buy fresh baked bread and fresh pasta as well as cheese and salami for dinner at home, we enjoyed our visit to The Beef Jerkey Outlet [57 18th Street] owned by a childhood friend. Believe it or not, they have jerky for carnivores and vegans alike. Free samples!
On the same block on the corner of 18th and Smallman is the original location of the crazy famous Primanti Brothers, known for their deliciously unique sandwich served with french fries and coleslaw ON the sandwich itself—since 1933. While they are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it’s still a late night favorite for opera goers and truck drivers alike. And maybe for those trying to stave off a hangover.
FAREWELL TO THE CITY
It was such a clear blue sky kind of day that we stopped on Mt. Washington for some quick pics overlooking the city. If you’re looking to extend your visit, consider riding either of Pittsburgh’s two inclines, or funiculars, to the top of the mountain.