Jun 5, 2012

Burgh Bits and Bites foodie tour

Walking tours are wonderful especially so if they have a specific topic and cover only a small area. Thus it was with our “Burgh Bits and Bites” tour of Pittsburgh ’s Strip District. At one time the Strip District, located along the Allegheny River, was home to many mills and factories that later became an area of wholesalers of fresh produce and meat with restaurants to serve shift workers at any hour of the day. Things change and today most of the produce industry, manufacturing plants and mills have left the area but the abandoned warehouses have been renovated into small shops, restaurants and great ethnic food stores.

We agreed to meet our guide, Sylvia McCoy, at Old St. Patrick’s Church. We got there a bit early and had time to enjoy the well-tended garden and visit the church. It is amazing the little gems one runs across when they least expect it. The church has a Holy Stairs or Kneeling Stair whereby one should kneel and say a special prayer on each of the 28 steps. The 28 steps represent the number of steps between Christ and Pilate where Pilate said, “Behold the Man. ” The original steps are in the Church of the Holy Stairs in Rome and the one at St. Patrick’s is one of three replicas. To get to the main part of the church there were side staircases.

We met up with Sylvia and headed out on our multi-ethnic tasting tour. First stop was Parma Sausage, a small family business that makes a wide variety of Italian pork products. Casey Romig was very proud of the choice ingredients they use in making their products and the results are worth it. The salami and prosciutto we gobbled up were proof that it’s all about great ingredients. I had to remind John not too eat too much because we still had a lot of places to visit.

One of my favorite foods was at Mancini’s Bread Bakery where the aromas alone was enough to make my mouth water but Erin ’s pepperoni roll was absolutely wonderful. John and I really enjoyed Labad’s Grocery where they specialize in Middle Eastern foods. They have a little restaurant in the back where we tried several flavors of their homemade hummus scooped up with pita bread while chatting with Mr. Labad who emigrated years ago from Syria . His son, Lawrence, now runs the business with him. All the places we visited were small and very personal – and busy.

We had award-wining biscotti at Enrico’s where they have a unique café in the back. Wholey’s specializes in wild and farm-caught fish along with meat and poultry. Locals especially love their fish sandwiches. They are celebrating their centennial. At Colangelo’s Bakery we tried their mele, a pastry that was brought from Northern Italy by the store’s original owner. It was decadent. Our last stop was S&D Polish Deli to try their pierogies. If I lived in the Pittsburgh S&D Polish Deli would be a frequent must-stop for me to buy their stuffed cabbage. The ones in the display case looked awesome and buying them is certainly easier than making them. If I had been smart I would have purchased some of the great things we tried because people on the tour get 10% off. I didn’t think of that until it was too late.