Saturday, October 8, 2011

'Burgh Bits & Bites Food Tour: Strip District

I remember the day the Groupon deal came through in my email for the 'Burgh Bits & Bites Food Tour in the Strip District.  Being fairly new to Pittsburgh and living nowhere near the Strip District, I had only been there a couple of times, but its reputation for great food markets is widely known.  A food tour of the Strip District was right up my alley!

I finally got a chance to use my Groupon to check out the tour a few weeks ago.  We met in front of the Old St. Patrick Church at the corner of 17th and Liberty.  It is such an inconspicuous church that most locals don't even know it is there.  There were 10 other "tourists" in our group, some from right here in Pittsburgh, others from as far away as Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  I didn't know this before hand, but our tour guide was none other than Culinary Cory whose blog and Twitter feed I've been following pretty much since I started this blog myself.

Here is a run-down of the two-hour tour, but understand that depending on the day and time, some of the stops and tastings vary.

Stop #1:  Wholey's

Wholey was our first stop though it was a quick one.  I had heard a lot about this place before but had never been inside.  Cory led us to the back and told us about all the amazing seafood and other produce at Wholey's.  I didn't get to try any of the famed fish sandwiches there, but I will have to come back someday for it.

Wholey's Fish Market
Stop #2: Mancini's

Then we went over to Mancini's Bread Company.  After a pepperoni roll tasting, Erin from the bakery took some time to explain Mancini's operations.

Mancini's Bakery
Erin explaining Mancini's operations.

Stop #3:  Labad's

Our next stop was Labad's, where we were led through the little Middle Eastern grocery store at the front to the small dining area in the back.  There, we tasted some delicious hummus, housemade by the elderly mother of the family, with Mediterranean chickpeas and no preservatives.  Labad's makes their hummus twice a day during the week and three times a day on weekends.  One tip I learned:  When making hummus, use sesame oil or tahini and Mediterranean chickpeas.  I had no idea this place was around, or that they're open for dine-in lunch and available for special parties of 15 or more for diner, so I'm really glad it was part of the tour.

Hummus at Labad's

Stop #4: Parma Sausage

We then crossed the street over to Parma Sausage, another famous store I had heard a lot about but never had the chance to visit until now.  This was probably my favorite stop on this tour.  Our tastings consisted of the Coppa Secca (aged pork shoulder butt), Lonzetta Cotta (pork loin seasoned with rosemary), and Hot Sopressata (my favorite!).  I can't say that cured meat products are a very regular part of my diet but I may just have to come up with an excuse to come back and get me some Parma Sausage - soon!

Parma Sausage
Parma Sausage

Parma Sausage

Stop #5: Pennsylvania Macaroni Company

I had been really excited about our stop at Penn Mac as well.  Ever since our Italy trip, I have been paying particular attention to Italian grocers in the city.  Unfortunately, because this was a Friday afternoon, Penn Mac was pretty crowded and we didn't get to stay long.  When I go back to Parma Sausage for some hot sopressata, I will have to make a stop at Penn Mac for some cheeses.  They looked real good!  Charcuterie plate, anyone? ;)

Penn Mac
Cheese counter at Penn Mac

And, did you know there used to be an incline that ran between the Hill District and the Strip District?  Yeah, me neither.  But you can find a picture of it hanging across from the cheese counter here at Penn Mac.

Stop #6: Enrico Biscotti

Enrico Biscotti was another stop I was super excited about because I have always wanted to check it out.  We each got a biscotti as part of our tour, and I opted for the Coconut Chocolate Chip Biscotti.  It was really tasty with a good consistency that was not too hard, unlike most biscottis I've had.  In other words, you won't break your teeth eating Enrico's biscottis!  We also made a quick stop to check out the restaurant space in the back - another place I've been longing to visit.  The quaint, small space reminded me of Italy.  Note to self: Must return for a meal sometime.

Enrico Biscotti
Enrico Biscotti

Enrico Biscotti
Coconut chocolate chip biscotti

Stop #7: Colangelo's

Continuing on with the Italian theme, we headed to Colangelo's for a northern Italian pastry tasting.  I was pretty full by this point, but decided to take an Almond Mele - a puff pastry with almond paste inside - to go.  And I enjoyed it a lot later that afternoon when I was finally hungry for a tasty snack!

Pastries at Colangelo's.

Stop #8: S&D Polish Deli

Our last stop was S&D Polish Deli, on the far eastern end of the Strip District.  I must say, I didn't even know this part of the Strip existed, let alone S&D Polish Deli, so I'm glad this tour introduced me to this place.  We sat at the tables and tried two varieties of pierogies:  Potato and Cheddar and Kraut and Mushroom.  Both were delightful, and I especially liked the Kraut and Mushroom pierogies because they were pretty unusual.

S&D Polish Deli

To sum up, this was a pretty awesome tour of the Strip District.  While the focus was on food, the tour also covered some interesting historical facts about the neighborhood.  I'm looking forward to attending a preview of their Dormont food tour in a couple of weeks, and I hope to check out some of their other tours as well.  I'm thinking the Bloomfield and the Lawrenceville tours are next on my list!

Check out the 'Burgh Bits & Bites Food Tour website here.  It is a fantastic way for locals and tourists alike to learn more about our fair city!