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What will it take for Pittsburgh to get some respect in the food world?

Restaurants like Cure and Salt of the Earth are pretty much on par with any..... Definitely a meat oriented city which has yielded some great charcuterie focused restaurants and markets like the Crested Duck, but the scene here is constantly changing and changing for the better IMO.

It is no longer just Primanti's, Penn Mac and Wholeys. Penn Ave Fish Market is excellent, the aforementioned Crested Duck is fantastic for its charcuterie and local meats, as is Wild Purveyors. Lawrenceville has exploded with really good artisan type of restaurants.

Just it seems like we get no love on the national scale. We are not Philly or New York, but I travel alot and Pittsburgh is finally at least matching Cleveland. Just we need Kevin Sousa or Justin Severino to have the same respect that Michael Symon or Jonathon Sawyer does nationally. Maybe we need Anthony Bourdain to do a show from here.........lol

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  1. I'd rather pass on the hype myself. We had one of the top chefs in for One Small World (ask the post-gazette, I'm horrid with names).
    I'd be shocked if we weren't exceeding The Mistake on The Lake for the past ten years, though...

    1. Owtahear, you raise some interesting questions. I have engaged the Pittsburgh restaurant scene less in the last 3 years than prior thus my knowledge of current establishments is certainly lacking. Bourdain is an attention getter for sure but I am not sure that would be positive. Philadelphia benefits from being in the east coast megaopolis and for the sheer size of their metro area which provides cliental and attracts the talented chefs and restaurant owners looking for new locations many venturing out from NYC . CC Philadelphia has become a high priced high rise and residential conversion success story also providing every day diners and deep pocket customers attractive to restauranteurs. Pittsburgh has all the potential needed to both attract and support restauranteurs and top shelf chef. Luring some talent and investment from Chicago may be an answer. Primanti's piling fried potatoes on a sandwich is a hackneyed novelty at best and actually generates a grin from those looking for interesting, quality food choices. It has been mentioned by others that downtown Pittsburgh is not a lived in city with an exodus when the afternoon bell rings. With the advent of some better restaurants Pittsburgh will draw a line between the sandwich stuff and fine dining as have other cities. Love to see some really exciting restaurants in your fine city.

      1. Great question. I think that part of it is that from an outsider's view Pittsburgh seems to be still "in development", rather than "arrived". Lots of re-habbing of buildings, still fairly scruffy in spots. And the good restaurants are scattered over a fairly wide area and are not easy to get to given the street/traffic situation. To make it worse for a visitor the cab situation is abysmally bad.

        1. On this note, I just read somewhere (Eater.com) that Andrew Zimmern is doing a show from Pittsburgh and he called Pittsburgh the "next big thing" comparing it with Austin and Portland.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Owtahear

            Owtahear, thanks for the link. Very interesting speculations from Andrew. Problem is the reasons why he believes there is the potential for Pittsburgh to be the "next big thing" have existed for years and have not resulted in any significant change in the dining scene. Sports teams sell lots of burgers and dogs but not fine dining in Pittsburgh. The location of many fortune 500 companies has been a reality, even more so in past years, and has not had any results regarding dining habits. One would think that the Sewickley community alone would/could support a fine high end restaurant. Conditions are right, but they have been right for some years and resulted in little improvement. Pittsburgh people willing to support better, more expensive dining is what will change the status quo and perhaps with the development of a "Lived in Center City", IMHO.

            1. re: Bacchus101

              I read that and scratched my head. I moved here 11 years ago and the choices were Casbah, Allegro, The Carlton, Le Pommier and Mallorca (not counting Mt. Washington). That was about it. Now there are dozens of choices, most all of which are better than that short list. So I don't get saying there's been no "significant change in the dining scene".

              Personally, I don't think it has to do with any chef's "humility". I simply don't see white table fine dining as something that's going to attract investors here. The trends are toward small plates, local, fusion, and lack of pretension (e.g. skip the white table cloths and maitre'd).

              While there's definitely a sustainable market that'll drop $75-$100 per person on a meal, they'd rather do it in a less formal setting. The people supporting the Sousas, Severinos and Racicots are typically 20-30 somethings, not 50-year old CXOs. Mio tried to serve the high end diner, but failed miserably.

              I'm in mid-50s, have traveled a good deal, eaten at number of top restaurants and enjoy a good wine cellar, but even I can no longer really get into what I think you mean as 'fine dining' more than once every couple of years (e.g. driving down to Lautrec). I don't really think too many people here are bemoaning the lack of Per Se-calibre establishment. Doesn't stop us from enjoying what we've got though.

              FWIW, Notion might do it for you next time you're in town, although its relatively small.

              If Mt. Lebanon can't support a true fine dining establishment, it's highly unlikely Sewickley could. Something like Bistro 19 is as good as it's going to get in either place.

          2. Pittsburgh is passed arrived, and I'm sure it could be the next trending food city at any moment.

            However, I get this feeling that Pittbsurgh's talent network isn't actually looking for national acclaim. That and the camaradarie among the chefs and establishments is what make the scene even more unique and easy to fall in love with.

            Guys like Fuller, Severino, Sousa, Pekarcik, Racicot don't seem to care so much about national acclaim - no matter how deserving they are. They're content with doing what they do to support the Pittsburgh scene..it just that what they are doing is pretty incredible..and the fact that they're so humble about it makes it even more refreshing.

            12 Replies
            1. re: Rodzilla

              To correct a problem that problem needs to be identified. The issues surrounding the problem need to be defined so there can be informed attempts at resolution. The lack of a dining scene in Pittsburgh commensurate with the cities size and commercial importance is obvious. To state that "Pittsburgh is passed arrived" or "that the chefs don't want national acclaim and are content just doing what they do and are just humble" is just exasperating the problem. Pittsburgh could/should support and does deserve a vibrant food scene.

              1. re: Bacchus101

                Or if it is a "problem."
                Cities like NY, SF, Chi, and LA have large inflows of tourists, which gives attention to a (inter)national audience. If lack of national attention is driving good chefs away, or lack of outside competition is leading to a dull food scene then maybe it is a problem. But it does not sound like that's a problem in Pittsburgh.
                Be careful what you wish for.

                1. re: Bacchus101

                  like MagicMark said, I don't see it as a problem.

                  What's wrong with this inner-ever-evolving scene. Too much focus on extrinsic rewards and national acclaim takes the focus away from what's already happening that is so special. This isn't to say anyone should just stop, or not set goals, but appreciate it for what it is. The artistry is lost when it stops being done from a place of passion.

                  This hidden gem might be discovered, it might not, it's special regardless.

                  1. re: Rodzilla

                    Interestingly when visiting Pittsburgh's Fortune 500's on business and/or long time friends the pre dinner comments usually lament the lack of great restaurants: they see a problem. The fact that most Pittsburghers do not see a problem is exactly the issue. That and the lack of support available for higher priced restaurants are the reasons friends and colleagues offer in frustration to explain what they see as an imbalance between your great city and its restaurants scene. "I don't see a problem"; ok fine I will demure from debate. Have it your way, no problem. Best Wishes.

                    1. re: Bacchus101

                      Local support is a separate issue. I want nothing more than for these establishments to be able to thrive - and I hope we can agree on that.

                      So if you're saying local support is an issue - I may be inclined to agree, but that's just a separate issue than what we were discussing.

                      If you're saying the lack of support is do to a lack of quality - I disagree, and I don't care to debate differences in subjective opinion.

                      1. re: Rodzilla

                        What I am saying is exactly what I have written. No debate here, as I said, " Have it your way". You say "that the chefs don't want national acclaim and are content just doing what they do and are just humble". Ok fine lets just go with that and see where that takes the restaurant culture in Pittsburgh. No problem, no one cares, good enough.

                        1. re: Bacchus101

                          I think maybe part of the issue is that you haven't addressed exactly what the problem is with Pittsburgh's food scene. By the 'lack of a dining scene,' what do you mean exactly?

                          - That there are no (or very few) good restaurants in Pgh? I'd disagree with that, but you know what opinions are like...

                          - That there are fewer good restaurants in Pgh than in other cities of a similar size? Perhaps, though in the decade I lived in and near Pgh, the scene has improved dramatically (best I can tell), so I'd say pittsburgh is on the right track.

                          - That Pittsburgh lacks in the diversity of its food? Again, my impression is that this is improving. And some of pittsburgh's ethnic foods strike me as a bit under-rated (Thai, for example)

                          - That Pittsburgh lacks a super high-end, expensive, fine dining scene? I'd more or less agree. Doesn't bother me much though - the best stuff in Pgh tends to be in my price range.

                          - That the good restaurants in Pgh are having a hard time supporting themselves? Doesn't seem to be the case, as far as I can tell from friends of mine in the business. I mean, I can think of a couple good places that don't seem to be getting the support they need (Stone Neapolitan Pizzeria seemed to make pretty good pies but was quite empty when I've been there), but any city has a few spots doing nice work but not finding an audience.

                          - That there are a lot of bad restaurants in Pittsburgh? Eh... as long as there are enough good ones.

                          - That Pittsburgh's dining scene doesn't seem to attract many tourists? Seems plausible. But if the food is good and getting better, and the local economy supports it, I don't see much of a problem either.

                          1. re: cowboyardee

                            Interesting observations, well stated. As I have resigned from the argument regarding same I will only note that you nicely state some of the issue my friends and colleagues have also noted. As I have not retained the names of some higher end restaurants they noted as not sustainable I will just accept your comments as fact. Good and getting better is definitely going in the right direction. Just one thought, sighting a Pizzeria as a good restaurant not getting support as" they make pretty good pies" probably best defines the difference in our views of a good restaurant. Thanks again, very interesting. Signing off!

                          2. re: Bacchus101

                            You've taken what I said out of context, and quoted me incorrectly.

                  2. re: Rodzilla

                    Good point. PR doesn't happen unless somebody pays for it. I'd bet none of these chefs have a publicist for themselves (as opposed to their restaurant).

                    1. re: Rodzilla

                      yeah, booting out pretentious national reviewers isn't exactly what I'd call "welcoming national acclaim." of course, the reviewers were throwing their weight around, and deserved what they got...

                    2. It seems to me the first thing that is needed is for there to be a general recognition of the lack for a significant number of quality restaurants and local support for same. I my visit to Pitt I have had a host for dinners which have been at an excellent CC and then at a lovely restaurant a bit out in the countryside. But the city seem to have a lack of great restaurants, or so I have been told. Good luck moving up, it will enhance the city.

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: Edwardrae

                        Posts like yours are kinda the point of this thread though - there are quite a few really good restaurants in pgh (though not much of a super expensive fine dining scene, as I mentioned above). People visit pgh, don't hear about or go to any of said restaurants, and then claim they don't exist.

                        ETA: as others have said, the good restaurants in the city are generally doing fine and get plenty of local support, so I'm not sure to what extent this really qualifies as a 'problem.' But it does seem to me that there is a big discrepancy between how locals in-the-know (many of whom have eaten widely in other cities) view the pgh dining scene and how pgh dining is otherwise viewed.

                        1. re: cowboyardee

                          I see this a bit differently: when visitors/guests come to your city they are frequently hosted/treated to the finest the city has to offer by their hosting locals. It is not the guest that complains about the choices in dining as they are depending on the host and/or opinions of locals. I have found it is the locals that state their chagrin with the dining situation. My experience is obviously different than yours.

                          1. re: Bacchus101

                            I am wondering if your problem has to do more with who you know in the city and what their experiences are. We moved to Pittsburgh last year and most of my co-workers are very interested in the food scene. Restaurant recommendations, feedback and comments are very much a part of the culture.
                            So far we have tried and enjoyed:
                            Root 174
                            Spoon
                            Legume
                            Meat and Potatoes
                            Salt of the Earth
                            Alla Famiglia
                            Dish
                            Eleven
                            Stagioni
                            Toast!

                            All of these places are doing good food. Many have the kind of creative, farm to table, innovative cooking we have experienced in NYC and Philly, which we frequently visited before moving, and San Francisco and Sonoma, where we were last week.

                            We have not tried, but heard good things about:
                            Avenue B
                            Notion
                            Cure
                            Wild Rosemary

                            I believe any of these are worthy of a business dinner and have received plenty of local press so I don't know why your hosts are not aware of them. They are also located all over the city (perhaps one of the problems with Pittsburgh's alleged reputation for not having good food is that it is not all in one place and not downtown...) At least a few of these must be near where your hosts live.

                            1. re: mb luvs SBH

                              Great list and good points well taken. Although I have no way of valuing all or any of the choices as good, which is totally subjective, they are recs which give a starting point. I will suggest some of the places when next I get the opportunity to visit your fair city. As a resident of San Francisco for almost a decade and a frequent diner in NYC and Philadelphia I find your comments comparing them interesting at very least and perhaps based on a different definition of good food. I have generally had good food in Pittsburgh and as I only get their twice a year it is not a issue for me. As for my hosts whom need no defense on this subject from me; they will enjoy reviewing your list. Thanks, I enjoyed the opinions here from Pittsburghers in defense of your city's food scene as stated " it is what it is" so enjoy what is good. Sound right to me.

                              1. re: Bacchus101

                                I should have also noted as a Pittsburgh positive that the food at Oakmont is among the best CC fare this poster has had in the states.

                                1. re: Bacchus101

                                  This violates the rule that dining quality is inversely proportional to golf course quality which is, in my experience, rarely wrong. Aronimink is another outlier.

                                2. re: Bacchus101

                                  I'm curious, where have you eaten in Pittsburgh to date? I agree that all recommendations are subjective (hey, some people don't care for EMP or think the food is over at Zahav...) and am interested in your opinions of the Pittsburgh restaurants you have tried.

                                  I am in no way suggesting that Pittsburgh has places like Le Bernadin, Atelier Crenn or French Laundry. However, there are certainly places on a par with the Modern, Zuni Cafe and Brix (without the gardens LOL!) Few people can eat regularly, if at all, at places like those listed prior. If those places are "great" then "good" food is a pretty high compliment IMHO.

                                  1. re: mb luvs SBH

                                    Not going to come up with a good list of visits as it has been over some years. Frequently in Shady town, a good Med and a fusion, Ave B quite enjoyable as was Legume. Oh the place in the old train station by the river was a nice venue but we thought the food a disappointment and fairly uninteresting even for fish and seafood. Generally we have found the Hotel restaurants to be considerably below good. Your list has been printed for my organizer and published to my Pittsburgh colleagues and friends for their pleasure. Thanks

                              2. re: Bacchus101

                                "My experience is obviously different than yours."
                                ________
                                Yeah, I think that's probably true.

                                There are a couple issues at play here, if you ask me. For one, there are plenty of locals who haven't tried out many of the better pgh restaurants and just sort of bought in to the city's reputation.

                                Also though, it can be a matter of what the visitor is expecting. If a guest asks simply to be taken to a great and interesting restaurant, there will be a lot of options. If a guest wants something more specific - a $200 tasting menu or maybe great Mexican food, for example - pgh doesn't yet have the variety of places like NYC or LA or even Philly and D.C. If your notion of what makes a good restaurant scene is limited to mid-to-high priced French-based fine dining, then pgh is going to be a let down.

                                I don't see that as any reason to dismiss the many excellent establishments in pgh though. The reasonable thing, IMO, would be to worry less about what pittsburgh is not, and enjoy what it does well. Quite well.

                          2. "Pittsburgh is finally at least matching Cleveland"

                            I'm laughin' my ass off at the one. That's kinda like sayin' the Pirates managed to beat their Triple A team.

                            Pittsburgh is never gonna be a restaurant town, 'cause it's always gonna be a late night talk show host's punch line. I mean, it's fuc*in' PITTSBURGH!

                            This come from a guy who had an office there and helped pay for the renovations at the William Penn with all his stays.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: MGZ

                              "Pittsburgh is never gonna be a restaurant town, 'cause it's always gonna be a late night talk show host's punch line."
                              ________
                              You mean when making fun of Jersey gets boring?