Last week, everyone in the country discovered that Pittsburgh has food. Wednesday brought us the dining-heavy 36 Hours in Pittsburgh from The New York Times. On Thursday, The Washington Post dropped two articles about Pittsburgh, one of which focused exclusively on food and drink. And on Friday, Eater published a feature that asked if Pittsburgh was a “destination food town.” For whatever reason (some sort of journalistic groupthink?), three major media outlets gave Pittsburgh’s food some rapid-fire love.
Admittedly, these sorts of articles tend to stick to a template: open with a tossed-off reference to Primanti’s, then heap praise on Cure or a trendy Downtown restaurant (but usually Cure). Make a few good-natured jabs at Pittsburgh’s sooty reputation, then give examples of how far it has come (you won’t even know you’re in Pittsburgh!). Liberally sprinkle with words like “surprisingly” and “unexpected.”
The formula can be tiring, but the sentiment is a good one. There are a lot of wonderful reasons to visit Pittsburgh, more and more of which are food and drink related. Though Eater’s Bill Addison concludes that Pittsburgh is not yet a food destination, he writes that “the dynamism among its strongest players is tangible.” And his final sentences are sure to elicit cheers: “Beyond national talk, proud Pittsburgh doesn’t strike me as a city of people clamoring for validation. Its character will keep developing on its own time, in its own way.”
In her Washington Post piece “The little Burgh that’s catching food critics by surprise,” Maura Judkis concludes with a similar thought. She quotes Conflict Kitchen’s John Sayre, who says, “I would hear people come in and say, ‘Oh, this is really good, and I’m from New York’ … We don’t need the approval of someone from New York. It’s exciting to get broader notice, but it’s also I think within the scene, there’s a feeling of ‘thanks for noticing, but we got here on our own.’ ”
Though the articles namecheck many of the same upscale restaurants, there are a few surprises as well. Addison heaps praise upon Squirrel Hill’s Chengdu Gourmet, which he says “rivaled the numbing ma-la mojo of Sichuan cooking I’ve tried anywhere in the country.” Judkis mentions the excellent pierogi at Szmidt’s Old World Deli, which recently opened a Downtown location. For his favorite meal of the trip, The Washington Post’s Joel Achenbach selects Chicken Latina, an inexpensive Peruvian joint in the Strip. Though these are small deviations from a food culture that mostly celebrates high-end restaurants run by white men, it’s encouraging to see a few new names pop up in national press.
These pieces also reflect how quickly Pittsburgh’s restaurant scene is changing. In an unfortunate bit of timing, The New York Times selected Salt of the Earth, which is closing in less than two weeks, as their ideal Friday night dinner stop. Judkis recommend waffles and hash browns at Second Breakfast, which has moved out of the Public Market to focus on a food truck. If they were to come back in a few months, these writers would surely find a spate of new restaurants to include in their roundups. Pittsburgh dining is very much in flux.
There will always be room to quibble with articles like this. Personally, I would have liked to see E2 and Dish Osteria & Bar held up as examples of what Pittsburgh does so well: humble, comforting food that showcases great ingredients prepared with care. But love them or hate them, food writers around the country have realized that Pittsburgh has some serious culinary chops. We may not need their validation, but the attention sure is nice.
In other news…
Chef Dennis Marron has left The Commoner, which he helped start earlier this year, to pursue his own venture. Six Penn Kitchen, however, has gained a chef in Brian Little, the former executive chef at Tender Bar and Kitchen.
The Gateway Clipper is offering a Sunday Brunch Cruise on select Sundays from now through October.
Marty’s Market, a market and café in the Strip, is now offering dinner service Wednesday through Saturday. The menu features sustainable meats, seafood and produce that will change seasonally.
Picklesburgh better find itself a bigger bridge next year. Last weekend, the Rachel Carson Bridge was positively packed with people eating dill pickle ice cream, watching local bands and taking selfies with the giant flying pickle.