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Nov 21, 2012 01:06 PM

Pittsburgh (and area) Trip Report

Thanks to this board for all of your recommendations for my recent trip out to Pittsburgh. This wasn't my first time in your fair burgh, and probably won't be my last. I just wanted to mention where my friend (not an adventurous eater, can't handle any kind of spice or shrimp, and only her second time to Pittsburgh) and I ate (and ate and ate) for future readers. (We were also on a budget.)

Best Way: square 10" pepperoni and broccoli square pie. This was on our way into town, it was late, and we were hungry. Staff was unusually friendly (I've eaten at several other locations at different times and I've never seen a nicer "server"). Am only mentioning this because I feel like this is a western PA thing. Fine for what it is and a guilty pleasure for every now and then.

Tessaro's: seafood chowder, hamburger and cheeseburger. Solid chowder with a good brininess from clam juice. I first ate my rare hamburger plain, meat, bread, and meat juices, then added the lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, and small amount of mayo, yellow mustard, and ketchup. It made the burger too bulky. I would return to try it with just the meat (and meat juices) and bread which were pretty perfect. I would also try the loaded Gourmet cheeseburger.

Church Brew: seasonal Red Nebbylek (sp?) and standard stout. Former drank like a session saison and the latter was just fine. My friend really wanted to try this place's beer and experience the atmosphere, but I've yet to find anything on the menu to recommend or reorder.

Blue Grotto Pizza: pepperoni slice (while sober): huge (maybe 12" long and 7 or 8" wide at the crust) and for 4.50. Possibly the biggest non-gimmick single slice of pizza I've ever eaten. Fresh out of the oven and good chew to the crust. Decent sauce but too much cheese for me. Pepperoni slices were a little over 1" in diameter and were placed regularly over the slice with a lot of cheese space in between. I would get this again.

Pamela's: Late brunch of Gail's (sp?) eggs which were fluffy scrambled eggs with green onions and cream cheese served with mushy hash browns that had been griddled with onions and two buttered slices of a good Italian toast. Should have ordered the hash extra crispy, but it had a lot of salt that became apparent as the potatoes cooled. Also ordered their malted waffle, but didn't detect any malt; a short stack of their famous crepe-like pancakes, which were buttery and had great crispy lacy edges; and corned beef hash, with large (1" diameter) chunks of potatoes. I should have asked for crispy corned beef hash, too. Same problem here with the seasoning as with the hash browns.

Wigle: gin cocktail and whisky cocktail for $5/drink. Nice.

East End (Strip location): cider and nunkin, a seasonal pumpkin ale. Dry cider with a sweet finish due to the fresh apples used. The nunkin was very drinkable because it wasn't an overly spiced or overly sweet pumpkin pie-tasting pumpkin beer.

Ianni's Pizza: small margherita and Rickey pies in Delmont. Thin crusted without much yeast flavor, but good char. The margherita had an addictive chunky sauce and came dressed with basil and olive oil. The Rickey used an arrabbiata and a great spicy pepperoni with very thinly sliced green bell peppers. The thin slicing allowed for the proper cooking of the peppers, which had a slight bitterness that was a wonderful counterpoint to the greasiness and spiciness of the pepperoni. Despite only having eaten three hours prior, we demolished the margherita and ate most of the Rickey. I would drive out of my way for this pizza and recommend the margherita to anyone (who likes pizza).

Pittsburgh continues to be great. The gastrointestinal discomfort was totally worth it. Feel free to let me know where else to eat and what you think we missed/should have eaten instead.

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  1. Thanks for the report, it's always nice to hear about someones experience's here. Clearly you enjoy pizza, so I would highly recommend that on your next trip you try to get to Il Pizzaiolo in Mt. Lebanon. I don't usually like to get into pizza discussions, because everyone seems to have their own unique preferences (I know I do), but Il Pizzaiolo is an old style Neapolitan pizza that most can agree is tremendous.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Burghfeeder

      Thanks for the suggestion, Burghfeeder. Pizza all weekend was somewhat unintentional, but Il Pizzaiolo was on the top of my pizza list. It just wasn't close to any of the things we wanted to see over the weekend, so another time. What do you get when you're there?

      1. re: mookleknuck

        I usually just go for the standard margherita, but all is good. I was downtown eariler this week, and noticed that they are opening a second location in Market Square. I don't know when that will be, but maybe that will be more convienent on your next trip. In addition, there is a place south of the city called Harrys, that has tremendous, and similar pizza. It's a good distance south though.

        1. re: Burghfeeder

          Il Pizzaiolo hopes to open downtown on Dec 15.

          1. re: Burghfeeder

            Thanks, everyone. I'll be sure to get the margherita at Il Pizzaiolo on my next trip. I'll probably try to just go to the original location until I hear that quality is just as good at the place downtown.

            Looks like Harry's might be worth a trip if I'm on my way to WV. =D 4133 Washington Rd., McMurray

        2. Interesting, seems like your tastes match up quite nicely to what Pittsburgh has to offer. Pizza, pizza, pizza burgers, breakfast and a outlier or two. You should have a great time in Pizza towns; perhaps next Chicago or New York to add your comments to the pan vs neopolitan debate.

          40 Replies
          1. re: Bacchus101

            <seems like your tastes match up quite nicely>

            Heh. I go to a city's strengths. Despite a recent, possibly trolling, thread on this board about how great/not great Pittsburgh food is, I wouldn't expect top-notch Asian or seafood from PIttsburgh. (People who claim differently will have to talk up their bona fides, of course. Bring it.)

            To stay on-topic, do you have pizza recommendations for the Pittsburgh area? Or anything else? Seems like this board repeats itself when it comes to recent finer dining, but when it comes to eating classic, low-end Pittsburgh, threads range from older to out-of-date.

            I haven't been able to dedicate enough time to pizza-eating in any one trip to NY to bring myself to write a special pizza post. I'd love to, but there's so much else that's great in NY, whereas there seems to be quite good pizza all over the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic (thus making road trips often pleasant). While I grew up with the NY slice (pizza cognition theory?), I will try any kind at least once, so everyone, please feel free to mention any pizza worth eating within a 20-minute drive from any of the Pennsylvania interstates/major highways. My hope is that this will focus all great travel-related eating in PA. (The Iggy's pizza that I mentioned above was a [barely] six-minute drive from 22W.)

            1. re: mookleknuck

              My theory is that the best pizza is in the Pizza Belt. At most a 60 mile wide strip with I-95 roughly in the center that runs from New Haven to Baltimore. May be much thinner than 60 miles in spots. Occasional outliers exist (not Chicago pizza, which is a tasty casserole of sorts, but not a pizza).

              I've not had 'burgh pizza so I can't comment on that. My son says the stuff around Pitt has not been very good, but his sample is a small one.

              My other pizza principle is that pizza toppings should be able to add grease to the pie (tomatoes, basil and garlic are sauce, not topping). This rules out vegetables and fruit. I occasionally grant a dispensation for mushrooms if properly requested.

              1. re: sal_acid

                On Pizza Belt and Chicago casserole pizza and toppings: I could have not said it better! Here, here!

                1. re: sal_acid

                  Pizza around Pitt is to be avoided at all costs. It is "how cheap can you get" for drunks pizza.
                  Mineo's is 1960's yinzer pizza, and it's better, believe you me.

                  There's a rather ancient legend of the guy who set out selling pizza ovens -- got all the way from da Burgh up to Allentown, and you can still trace his route. Note: he did not manage to sell any ovens in Pittsburgh. (I think Ianni's is about as close as he got).

                2. re: mookleknuck

                  <(The Iggy's pizza...>

                  I meant Ianni's pizza. (I recently read about some pizza in Baltimore and mixed them up while typing.)

                  1. re: mookleknuck

                    Mineo's serves enjoyable, more-or-less NY style, super cheesy, greasy pizza. It's basically just a well-done version of the standard East coast take out pizza spot.

                    Piccolo Forno does good thin crust, wood-fired oven pizza using good ingredients. Also if you stop there, I recommend trying the appetizers and the panini (some of the best sandwiches in pgh, and priced very affordably to boot).

                    Il Pizzaiolo is the only place I know of making truly Neapolitan-style pies.

                    There is another place that I'm not really supposed to mention because I'm friendly with the cooks, but if you look on some of the recent 'best of pittsburgh' lists, you'll find it.

                    Could be missing some since I don't live in pgh and only get out to so many local restaurants.

                    1. re: cowboyardee

                      cowboyardee: <<Il Pizzaiolo is the only place I know of making truly Neapolitan-style pies.

                      There is another place that I'm not really supposed to mention because I'm friendly with the cooks, but if you look on some of the recent 'best of pittsburgh' lists, you'll find it.>>

                      This one?

                      I ate there. It was good.

                      1. re: Jay F

                        That's actually not it. Haven't been to Stone - hadn't even heard of it to be honest. Will add it to my list of places to try. The one I'm dancing around does their own thing. But I'm always pumped to try places that embrace the Neapolitan style.

                        1. re: cowboyardee

                          Surely no one will mind your mentioning your "dancing" place if someone, say me, actually *asks* you for the name.

                      2. re: cowboyardee

                        Thanks for the recommendations, cowboyardee.

                        Which Mineo's location is best? The Squirrel Hill Location? What do you order there? The website's pictures show pizza that is a LOT breadier than most of the pizza I've eaten in NYC. Still looks good though.

                        Piccolo Forno looks pretty delicious; which pies and apps and paninis do you particularly recommend? It looks like I'd have to get a large group together to try most of their menu, unless there are some particular standouts?

                        Please, feel free to mention the name of this place where you are friendly with the cooks.

                        1. re: mookleknuck

                          I've only had pizza from Mineo's Squirrel Hill location, so I can't compare, but I haven't heard any complaints about their other locations.

                          As for Piccolo Forno, I've enjoyed most things I've tried from their appetizers, including their bruschette, the chicken liver crostini, several of their soups (which vary), and their plate of various meats and cheeses. As the pannini go, I'm a fan of the luchese (prosciutto, moz, and pesto) but I'd feel safe with any of them - the bread and the tendency towards strong and balanced flavors make them great. If you just want to try the place out without a big crowd, just stop by at lunch and order one of the panini.

                          I've had mixed luck with their pasta, btw. Their ravioli was excellent when I had it. But some of their ragus seemed kind of unfinished and lacking brightness and seasoning. Been skipping the pastas for a while though, so I can't say if it's a consistent problem. At any rate, their pizza, apps, and pannini are so good that you really don't have to order pasta anyway.

                          1. re: cowboyardee

                            Cowboyardee, thanks for the thorough, well-justified reasons on not getting Piccolo Forno's pasta. Too bad as some pastas had seemed pretty interesting. The lucchese you mentioned sounds like a safe bet, while the apps you mentioned (mm, chicken liver) would all be things I would order. Sounds like our tastes may align.

                            The reason I asked about Mineo's other locations is because there's often a noticeable difference in quality across locations of even, and perhaps especially, the smallest local chains. It's often difficult to find consistent quality across all locations and I wanted to have the best shot at the best possible experience.

                      3. re: mookleknuck

                        Honestly, I'd spend less time on pizza and more on sandwiches. Pittsburgh is a cornucopia of DDD type places. Pittsburgh natives may think pizza is a strong selling point, but I don't think you'll find many transplants who agree. All you need to do is start at Beto's. If you still want more pizza after tasting that, you'd fit right in here.

                        1. re: Panini Guy

                          Thanks for the recommendation. What is a DDD-type place? What do transplants like other than sandwiches? What do you get at Beto's? Other than Primanti's, where else would be great for sandwiches and which sandwiches? (Does your fair burgh have ten Amazing sandwiches?)

                          1. re: mookleknuck

                            DDD = Diners, Drive-Ins, Dives (the Guy Fieri homage to grease).

                            I don't get anything at Beto's, which is the point, lol. What they serve is a rectangular bready crust topped with a tomato sauce which is baked and then cold cheese and canned mushrooms are placed on top and supposed to 'melt' into the sauce. It's a Pittsburgh specialty that thankfully hasn't found its way into civilization elsewhere.

                            You will get heated debates here on who has the best fried fish sandwich. I think it's Benkovitz, but they're also the most expensive. Fathead's sandwiches >> Primantis across every category. Any sandwich at Big Jim's in the Run can feed a family of four (really, there's like a half tray of eggplant parmiagana on that one, and seemingly a pound of corned beef on the reuben). Lucy's Banh Mi stand in the Strip is an institution. While most of the country believes that putting bacon on anything is an improvement, we'll add bacon AND an egg. Judging from the success of the new burger places around here, we apparently also believe that burger buns should disintegrate so that you're just left with a fistful of meat. And if there's anything you think nobody would ever put in a taco, you'd be wrong (Yo Rita!, Station St. Hot Dogs).

                            Really, the main reason to try pizza here is just to pick the really oddball ones to see how far places can bend the definition (Beto's being the main culprit, although Campiti's crust of military-strength hard tack is right up there).

                            1. re: Panini Guy

                              Agreed, skip Beto's. Fatheads, Big Jims, Dormont Dogs, Golden PIg for Korean, Las Palmas for a taco. Il Pizzaiolo for pizza.

                              1. re: Effort

                                What do you get at the places you mentioned?

                              2. re: Panini Guy

                                You could do 10 sandwiches just for fish, especially at Lent but even not at lent there are probably 10 that someone has said is the best. Each one is a little different.

                                But certainly you'd have better choices focusing on sandwiches than pizza.

                                1. re: CrazyOne

                                  What's your top 10 for fish sandwiches, including and not including during Lent? I'd love to see some of these debates...

                                  1. re: mookleknuck

                                    Oh, I don't think I have 10 yet. I haven't been chasing them down. The ones I know best are Benkovitz and Oyster House. The latter I can walk to from the office so I can get it for lunch occasionally. I still go back and forth on which is best of those two. Each time I finally get another Benkovitz sandwich I do think it's pretty good as well. These you can get all year. I keep hearing about Nied's Hotel in Lawrenceville, though, so sometime I may have to try that.

                                    Now Penn Ave Fish is excellent, but this is not the same thing. They make some great sandwiches. But the deal for trying different ones and especially during lent is FRIED fish. Penn Ave doesn't do a fried sandwich. One I had during lent this year was from Winghart's which is otherwise a burger place. Very good sandwich. But if you're going to taste test during lent it is the church fish fries that are the classic thing to hit up. Seems like last lent or maybe the previous year someone was doing a good roundup of church fish fries in an article or series of articles, but I can't remember which publication it was.

                                    1. re: CrazyOne

                                      Thanks for the lead on Nied's Hotel: The fish sandwich is kindly listed as #1. Heh.

                                      And also for the reminder that Penn Ave's fish sandwiches are not the fried sandwiches that is our subject here. Is the fried fish sandwich that you got at Winghart's called the Dockworker?

                                      I've found the following links to some area fish fries (please feel free to let me know which one's best or if I should try for a fish fry crawl at some point...):

                                      1. re: mookleknuck

                                        Bumping my own thread in hopes of getting some recommendations for fish fries (as it's now Lent).

                                        1. re: mookleknuck

                                          I live in the So Hills so tend to stay in the area for fish fries. My fave so far has been St. Winifred's in Mt. Lebo, although it's a bit of a challenge to find. The fish there seems less greasy, more flavorful. A lot of people like St. Bernards, but I'm not crazy about the fish itself.

                                          Here's a guide to the area with brief blurbs on what's offered and prices. There are a lot of them.

                                          1. re: Panini Guy

                                            Thanks so much! This link looks quite useful and I look forward to trying your recommendation.

                                2. re: Panini Guy

                                  Sarcasm and tone can be difficult to convey with text; I missed your original point about Beto's, but your mention of canned mushrooms has definitely driven that home! Sounds like a Pittsburgh take-out institution. I've made and eaten and somewhat enjoyed (fresh) hardtack before - maybe I should give Campiti's in Dormont a try. =) Feel free to mention other pizza oddities.

                                  Why do you like Benkovitz Seafoods' fish sandwich the best? What makes it better than other places? Looks like Wholey's, Oyster House, and Penn Ave Fish Co. are other contenders. I'm assuming that the fish sandwich mentioned here is battered whitefish in a roll, possibly served with some kind of white sauce. Please correct me if I'm wrong. How do you get your fish sandwich at any of these places and which is best? Not a lot of debating on this board about who has the best fish sandwich in Pittsburgh...

                                  This may be sacrilege, but Fathead's sandwiches were just fine to pretty good. I've eaten at least four of their sandwiches and tried at least three others, but nothing I've had makes this place a must-visit. I usually go when someone else in the party wants to go. What do you like best from there?

                                  How do Big Jim's eggplant parm and reuben compare to others? Their menu says a half-pound of corned beef. How is their corned beef? What do you like about Lucy's banh mi?

                                  Fried egg on sandwiches has been a food trend coming back all over the place. Nothing like self-contained sauce to bind a sandwich together!

                                  Yo Rita's tacos look good, but pricey. Are they larger than normal (6" wide)? How do Station St. Hot Dogs compare to D's Sixpax? How's their poutine? What's their chili like? The Devil Dog looks pretty tasty.

                                  1. re: mookleknuck

                                    I'd love to respond to this, but I don't have a week to do it :-)

                                    1. re: Panini Guy

                                      I'll settle for the TL;DR version. =D What do you get when you're at the above places?

                                      1. re: mookleknuck

                                        I like Benkovitz for the freshness and quality of fish and whatever they're frying it in tastes cleaner than their Strip competitors (Wholeys, Rolands). I go with just slaw, no tartar sauce or other condiments. I'd like to find something as good, but less expensive.

                                        Lucy's Banh Mi - odd question. I'm not aware of any significant competitors for value/price. It tastes good and it's cheap.

                                        Big Jims - the draw is mostly the size of the things for the price, but the eggplant isn't a soggy greasy mess and isn't as bitter as some others. The bread holds up (not sure what they use). I don't get there often but when I do, it's always the eggplant and I'll have a bite of what my wife's eating (usually the Reuben with egg). Corned beef is pretty much all the same around here IMO. There isn't a good Jewish deli left.

                                        Fatheads isn't the best sandwich. But it's better than Primantis. So when people suggest going to Primantis many of us here steer them to Fatheads instead. At worst you can get much better beer.

                                        YoRita's tacos are haute cuisine, that's why they're expensive. You're getting duck or lamb or pork belly or whatever with seasonal ingredients intended to match. It's more like a tapas place than a taco place. For $6 or $7 a taco, two are very filling (8" flour tacos I believe). I think it's a value actually. Food is good, service can be frustrating.

                                        Likewise, Station St is a completely different animal than Dees. The are "hot dog places" in the same way that a Toyota Corolla and a Lamborghini are "cars". Never had interest in poutine and haven't tried the chili.

                                        1. re: Panini Guy

                                          Panini Guy, thanks for your thoughtful replies. Completely understand your comparison to cars. Will give Benkovitz, YoRita's and Station St. a try when I'm visiting.

                                          My question about Lucy's Banh Mi is because banh mi are pretty common in NY, Philly, and the DC suburbs, and also not really something Pittsburgh is known for. So, really, what is special about Lucy's: baguette, meat, freshness/variety of herbs, the pickled vegetables? Yelp's reviews are positive, but... it's Yelp.

                                3. re: mookleknuck

                                  Tessaro's has wonderful burgers.

                                  If you've got a car, Udipi's good Indian, homestyle too. (That's a DDD if you're adventurous).

                                  Jozca's corner (sp?) is another awesome, awesome place (Hungarian).

                                  And if you're in Oakland, go to the Original Hot Dog Shop. Good value, cheap prices.
                                  Go to oakland, enjoy Phipps and the Nationality rooms.

                                  1. re: Chowrin

                                    Concur. The Original Hot Dog Shop (a.k.a. Dirty O or just O) is definitely unique. If one's current cholesterol level is amenable, it's worth it for the fries alone. The O is to fries what Big Jim's is to sandwiches. Way too much for a normal person to eat, as unhealthy as uranium, but good enough to make you not care.

                                    1. re: Panini Guy

                                      Is Jerry's Curb Service any good for fries?

                                        1. re: Chowrin

                                          is jerrys still around? i went there back in the early 70's. Bridgewater, pa. right off Rt 51 North. last i viewed, rollar skate hops... been awhile.
                                          just around the corner between New Brighton and Rochester was a place called "Hanks" i think? great for icecream and custard. across the bridge...
                                          and right up across the street if i remeber... and on 51 a bit down the road under the "traintracks" and a left is "wooden angel". sandwichs on one side gourmet diners other..still there???

                                          1. re: halochef

                                            Jerry's is, indeed still around. It's a throwback, diner type place. The food is pretty good, (for what it is) and it's a nice stop, at least in the summer. Hanks is one of my favorites for frozen custard, although they will be closed until spring. The Wooden Angel is a whole different story...Quite a bit more upscale, still there and still wonderful with just about the best wine cellar in western Pa.


                                            1. re: Burghfeeder

                                              Burghfeeder, when you say Hanks, do you mean the place at 919 Brookline Boulevard?

                                      1. re: Chowrin

                                        Thanks for all of your suggestions, Chowrin. Tessaro's burger was, indeed, wonderful. As I mentioned, I would definitely return.

                                        What do you like at Udipi's? Their online menu lists a good selection of dosa and pulao, and they have thali and pav. While intriguing, I hesitate to squander time somewhere that is "just good for the area."

                                        I like eastern European food. Where's Jozca's Corner? My google-fu can't find it with that spelling... What do you get there?

                                        I wish I could have made the Dirty O happen. It was not to be as my friend specifically requested "no hot dogs." Another time.

                                        The Phipps has been lovely every visit. I have yet to have a Pittsburgh visit coincide with the Nationality Rooms on CMU's campus, but will try harder next time.

                                        1. re: mookleknuck

                                          Do make time for the Nationality Rooms. Poor pitt students generally just crane their necks in, while class is in session. You can do the same if you don't mind not getting a guided tour.

                                          Udipi's has great breads. It is not just a "good for the area" place -- I'd say it's better than the Original Hot Dog Shop, for its category (more in the level of Ianni's Pizza).