If you live in the ‘Burgh and like to eat — which probably applies to all 2.3 million of us in this region, give or take — it was hard to miss the buzz earlier this week that esteemed foodie guide Zagat has named Pittsburgh as the Top Food City of 2015.
That probably comes as a surprise to those around the country whose knowledge of ‘Burgh bites is limited to the NFL’s broadcast footage during Steelers games of Primanti’s sandwiches piled high with fries and coleslaw.
Now everyone knows what we know: there’s more to Pittsburgh food than fries, pierogies, and Iron City Beer. Pittsburgh has some fantastic restaurants and eateries that appeal to every palate and pocketbook.
I say most because, with certain exceptions, we do tend to be a bit meat-centric ’round here. As a vegetarian, I feel that choices can be limited. Taking things even more extreme as a gluten-free vegetarian, dining out can present some challenges; however, Pittsburgh happens to be a friendly and creative town. I’ve found that most restaurants are more than accommodating to patrons who, like yours truly, have certain quirks regarding their food.
Because we don’t eat out very often, I consider my expertise about the local food scene to be somewhat limited in scope. I tend to rely on the opinions (and posts) of my blogging friends BeezusKiddo and The Steel Trap for such matters. That being said, I did have some enjoyable Pittsburgh dining experiences in 2015 that I thought I would recap here:
220 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh (Downtown/Cultural District)
Because it’s not every day that one gets to sing along with a Beatle, The Husband and I treated ourselves to Ringo Starr’s October concert. Before the show, we indulged even further with dinner at Vallozzi’s. We’re not adventurous eaters — certainly not before something like a concert — so Italian is always a good option for us. Vallozzi’s, which was close to Heinz Hall, advertised the availability of gluten-free pasta on their menu.
I started with a glass of the house pinot grigio. We were starving and had some time before the concert so we selected the fried arancini as an appetizer. (This was not gluten-free, but they looked so good — and had quite a few rave reviews on various online sites — that we decided to try it.)
photo credit: Vallozzi’s Pittsburgh Facebook page
Vallozzi’s arancini were absolute perfection: five lightly breaded balls of risotto stuffed with buffalo mozzarella and nestled in a thick tomato sauce. They were delicious.
Next, onto the entrees. (We skipped salads and the soup of the day was Italian Wedding.) Our pleasant waitress informed us that they were out of the gnocchi, which was The Husband’s first choice. He opted to keep things simple and chose the Vallozzi Pizza, with tomato sauce and provolone.
I inquired about the gluten-free pasta, which was also mentioned on the menu at the restaurant. After checking with the chef, our waitress reported that they could substitute gluten-free spaghetti in any of their regular pasta dishes.
And did they ever! I chose the Creste Di Gallo with wild mushroom, truffle, and parmesan cream baked with brown sugar bread crumbs. Our waitress very helpfully pointed out that the bread crumbs were not gluten-free, nor was the cream; I thanked her and said that this was perfectly fine and shouldn’t be an issue. And it wasn’t. It was a spectacular meal, one of the most memorable I’ve had this year. I could eat this for dinner every night. It was sublime.
(Listening to Ringo was pretty awesome, too.)
Alexander’s Italian Bistro
5104 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh (Bloomfield)
When you want authentic Italian in the ‘Burgh, Bloomfield is the place to go. It’s also where you want to go when you’re invited to be part of a literary reading at East End Book Exchange, located four blocks up the street. Back in January, our family headed to Alexander’s for dinner after the Acquired Taste event I participated in as a reader.
We found Alexander’s to be very family-friendly yet with a more upscale ambiance than most restaurants that are categorized as accommodating to patrons dining with children. As with Vallozzi’s, the availability of gluten-free pasta on the menu was appealing to me. (Are you sensing a theme with this post yet?) I choose the pasta with clam sauce which was absolutely delicious. It had the perfect amount of clams, oil, herbs, and parmesan.
This dinner occurred nearly a year ago and some details are lost to time and memory, but I do recall that the four of us enjoyed the experience and our meals (with leftovers for several days!). We would definitely return again.
The Porch at Schenley (Oakland)
221 Schenley Drive, Pittsburgh
I work in Oakland, which makes The Porch one of the preferred lunchtime places when dining with colleagues. In addition, The Girl participates in a workshop that often brings us to the Oakland vicinity on the weekends. Occasionally, we treat ourselves to brunch at The Porch.
Recently, The Girl ordered a cinnamon roll. Decadent doesn’t begin to describe this.
It was almost as big as the plate.
Cinnamon also has a starring roll in these warm cinnamon-glazed donuts with fruit syrup.
Garden Harvest Salad, with field greens, chicken, roasted vegetables, goat cheese, walnuts, and tarragon vinaigrette. The Girl opted to forego the roasted beets and oyster mushrooms.
Although the Quiche du Jour is always an excellent choice at The Porch, the star of this meal is the Crispy Taters. Smashed potatoes, perfectly seasoned … I could eat a plate of these for brunch. (And dinner. And a snack.)
Cheers to all the chefs, restaurateurs, food staff, waitresses and waiters, and enthusiastic diners (especially my food blogger friends!) who make our city such a fun foodie town!