Well I’m Canadian and I love to complain about the weather like any good northerner. With nothing but cold and snow it is time for a change of scenery. So one would think that my next line would be that I got on a plane and hubby whisked me off to somewhere warm and exotic. Warm, well not exactly and exotic certainly doesn’t describe it but fun and foodie fabulous well that does it! Just 4.5 hours south of the border with a population of just over 306,000, 55 square miles and 92 neighbourhoods to explore, this city provided us with a Valentine’s getaway at a reasonable price. Now I imagine this story would not be complete without telling you that I booked our hotel by bidding online and made a little bit of an error. I chose to bid in the Pittsburgh airport zone, which seemed like a great way to save a little money. So there I am so proud of my winning bid of $48 a night, I tell my sweetie that we are going to Pittsburgh and we got a great deal. Happy with the news he smiles and says….as long as it isn’t AT the airport. Well guess what folks, the Hyatt Regency is the only hotel located right at the Pittsburgh Airport. Thank goodness for online reviews as we figured out how to find parking, the hotel was really quite lovely and we got to see lots of planes!
Our first stop on our road trip is Grove City for a little light shopping as it is only an hour outside of Pittsburgh and was very quiet on a Friday afternoon. It is a huge outlet mall with many of the same names as we often see in Niagara but with a few additions such as Vera Bradley, Coldwater Creek and Bose. In the state of Pennsylvania there is no tax on clothing and for Canadians who are out of the country for more than 24 hours you can bring a few things back without paying duty. More information can be found at I Declare. Shortly after we are all checked in and it is time for dinner. Note to self, “plan ahead when wanting to go out for dinner in a new city on Valentine’s Day“. With few reservations to be found we are lucky enough to find a gem of a restaurant, Thai Cottage located in the Regent Square neighbourhood. It is a tiny bustling restaurant that smells absolutely divine as we open the front door and step in. We are 25 minutes late ,thanks to Fergie our British accented gps, who I suspect may have been drinking before she gave us our directions, but they welcome us and show us to a waiting table nestled near the front window.
We look over the menu and try to decide. Our server lets us know that the kitchen is a bit busy with takeout orders and there is a slight delay for food. We decide to order a drink but alas it is a BYOB restaurant. That brings a smile to our faces as we can’t even imagine in our strictly liquor controlled province of Ontario, that this would ever happen! Our dishes come out rather quickly and we are delighted with the flavours and textures. To start we have a Thai Cottage combo with dumplings, satays and spring rolls. We order two dishes and although hard to choose between the two, my favourite was the pumpkin curry with Asian pumpkin, basil leaves and coconut red curry. The panang curry was a very close second with peppers, zucchini and broccoli. They are prepared at a spice level of 6 out of 10 and have a perfect balance of spice without being too hot. I am left with my taste buds still intact.
Being food tour operators we just had to go on a food tour and check out what other people are doing. I had been in touch with Sylvia from Burghs Bits and Bites via email to ask a few things and our questions were promptly answered. We arrive early and hungry and worry that we might not get enough to eat, but boy are we wrong! We had selected a tour of Bloomfield also known as Little Italy. It had been recommended by Sylvia and the Trip Advisor reviews tell us it is an excellent choice. Our meeting spot is a Groceria Italiana which looks like a small corner shop. We are greeted by our tour guide Corrine who welcomes us to the group and hands us a bottle of water and a bag. We meet some fellow Canadians who are also on a road trip from the Barrie area. The store is deceptive as it is filled with the smell of bread, sauce and cheese and there is ravioli being made….oh my!
Along our tour there is fresh pasta, preparations for an evening cooking class, smiles and lots of stories. I will save the details because we fell in love with this neighbourhood and their business owners and you must go on the tour to experience it yourselves. Later when we have a chance to meet with Sylvia and Corrine we have to tell them that we just had the best afternoon, because the food was delicious and the people we met let us have a little glimpse into their lives as they shared their love of food. Their enthusiasm was truly infectious and it puts a grin on my face just thinking about it. I have memories of childhood growing up in Niagara Falls and visiting similar shops that are now long gone. Many of these Bloomfield shops are family run businesses that had been around for generations. Authentic, real and warm….what a way to spend an afternoon. A huge thank you to Sylvia and Corrine for being so great at what they do, they have set the bar pretty high. Burgh Bits and Bites offers 5 different food tours so we still have lots to see on our next trips to Pittsburgh.
Of course we were a little stuffed after the tour, but we stopped by Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighbourhood and it is full of shops and restaurants so we have a glass of wine with our new friends and low and behold it is time for dinner! Our dinner choice was Franktuary which offers menu choices that include grass-fed and humanely raised meat. I haven’t had a hotdog in years so choosing from this eclectic list was a lot of fun. My grass fed New Zealand dog of choice is a Memphis dog, topped with slaw, barbeque sauce and potato sticks. We try a side of garbanzo bean fries with wasabi mayo and Miller’s mustard dipping sauces. The Miller’s didn’t look or taste like mustard but is indeed very tasty. After dinner we drop into Tender for a hand crafted cocktail. Tender is in an old bank that has been repurposed into a restaurant. Cocktails for two are an Aviation with gin, lemon, Luxardo maraschino and creme de violette and a more pragmatic drink for a cold night a mulled dark rum cider complete with cinnamon stick.
Sunday morning finds us on The Strip standing in line to pick up Pittsburgh’s almost famous Islay’s chipped ham from the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company. On our last trip I discovered a nearby flower shop that is worth a wander so we make sure to drop in again. Roxanne’s Dried Flowers is filled with unique gift items such as plants, urns, terrarium glass, beautiful wreaths, swags and luxurious smelling soaps. The Strip District is filled with ethnic food stores, street vendors and is also home to Edgar’s who serve tacos with homemade salsas that are so fresh and flavourful. They don’t have a website but there are reviews that tell a story of great street food.
We aren’t finished with Pittsburgh quite yet because we still need to cross Phipps Conservatory off our bucket list. Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is a sprawling Victorian glass and steel greenhouse that has been host to visitors since 1893. The exhibits on during our visit give us each something to see. There is the garden railroad that this year was inhabited by dinosaurs and then there is the spectacular orchid and tropical bonsai show. We spend a couple hours wandering and listening to the sound of steel drums and island music just taking in the breathtaking beauty. On a snowy February afternoon it is the perfect end to our weekend. So if you are looking for a road trip from Niagara look no further because Pittsburgh has a little something for everyone. I haven’t even mentioned that they have what hubby calls “pirates steeling penguins ” or what others might call “sports teams”.