In the past four months alone, Pittsburgh has racked up a significant number of national media accolades: In December, Zagat named Pittsburgh a No. 1 food city, in January, Saveur called Pittsburgh “beer and spirits destination,” and then in February, Forbes declared that it’s “an exciting time to eat in Pittsburgh.”
March is here, and the city’s culinary scene is featured in The New York Times, with an accompanying slide show and restaurant map. In his article for the paper’s Food section, Pittsburgh’s Youth-Driven Food Boom, NYT writer Jeff Gordinier paints a vibrant picture from the start:
“It hits you as soon as you get to town. There’s the purple-haired free spirit at the Ace Hotel who gives you the lowdown on outlaw poetry gatherings and killer pizza. There are the art kids offering tips at the Andy Warhol Museum, and the tyro entrepreneurs strategizing over cocktails at the Tender Bar & Kitchen in Lawrenceville . . . There’s the 25-year-old Uber driver who shoots you a crucial heads-up: ‘The best bartender in the world is working tonight.’”
Gordinier continues: “Everybody seems so young. And everybody’s talking about restaurants. If there are scholars who hope to study how a vibrant food culture can help radically transform an American city, the time to do that is right now, in real time, in the place that gave us Heinz ketchup.”
The writer goes on to emphasize that food is a driver of much more than restaurants:
“Kelly Sawdon, an executive with the Ace chain, said the company spent years trying to raise money to convert a torn-and-frayed Y.M.C.A. into a hip hotel because the energy of the city suggested a blossoming marketplace. Food, she said, has been the catalyst.”
Referencing Mayor Bill Peduto’s observation that “We had to reinvent ourselves,” Gordinier dives into Pittsburgh’s thriving and diverse culinary culture, visiting hotspots all around town, while also citing the city’s affordable housing, world-class universities, arts community, booming tech scene, younger residents and transplants, and more:
“No one can pinpoint whether it was the artists or techies or chefs who got the revitalization rolling. But there’s no denying that restaurants play a starring role in the story Pittsburgh now tells about itself. The allure of inhabiting a Hot New Food Town — be it Nashville or Richmond, Va., or Portland (Oregon or Maine) — helps persuade young people to visit, to move in and to stay.”
Gordinier looks at recent census data showing that Allegheny County’s millennial population is on the rise: “People ages 25 to 29 now make up 7.6 percent of all residents, up from 7 percent about a decade ago; the 30-to-34 age group now comprises 6.5 percent, up from 6 percent.”
Craig Davis of Visit Pittsburgh states that “the median age in Pittsburgh is 32.8, well below the national figure, 37.7.”
This translates to very good news for tourism; 2,800 hotel rooms have been added in Pittsburgh since 2011. “We’re really using the food scene as a driver of that,” Davis adds.
Andrew Moore, dean of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science and a founder of Google’s first Pittsburgh office, chimes in:
“The food scene in Pittsburgh is actually responsible for our landing some best-in-the-world types of people. Google’s presence has since expanded considerably — and almost in sync with the restaurant surge. Pittsburgh’s mayor said the food boom had played a pivotal role in restoring neighborhoods, evidence of an ‘entrepreneurial attitude throughout the city.’”
The article showcases early Pittsburgh food pioneers, such as Domenic Branduzzi, who opened Piccolo Forno in Lawrenceville 11 years ago, as well as the chef-driven cuisine of Sonja Finn (Dinette), Kate Romane (e2) and Richard DeShantz (Meat & Potatoes).
Award-winning local chef Justin Severino, the force behind newer eateries like Cure and Morcilla, concurs: “Pittsburgh is the land of opportunity for chefs. While the rest of the country was floundering, Pittsburgh stood on the gas and reinvented itself as a city.”
Gordinier then makes the rounds at Whitfield, the new Ace Hotel restaurant, the new Strip District-based food incubator Smallman Galley and Lawrenceville’s The Vandal, run by chef Csilla Thackray and restaurateur Joey Hilty.
His article also addresses issues and realities surrounding gentrification, rising rents and costs, poverty and the complications that can come with “being crowned a Hot New Food Town.”
Read the entire article and see the slide show in The New York Times.