Friday, June 21, 2013

A Perfect Pittsburgh Saturday in the Summer: "Stripping" for Food

This special blog post is a collaboration with nine (yes, 9!) other bloggers in Pittsburgh to describe a perfect Pittsburgh Saturday in the summer, wherein each blogger describes his/her perfect activity within a pre-assigned two-hour slot. Alex, the blogger behind everybody loves you, came up with the idea and coordinated the effort. His blog post also starts off the day at 8:00 a.m., so to read the entire series from beginning to end, that is where you should head first.

At 10:00 a.m., my perfect Pittsburgh Saturday begins with a trip to the Strip District to shop for ingredients for my marathon weekend cooking sessions.

10:00 a.m.
My morning might start at the indoor Pittsburgh Public Market, open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays and currently located inside the Produce Terminal Building at 17th and Smallman but will soon relocate to 2401 Penn Avenue near 24th Street. I love sampling the various flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars at the newly rebranded Olive & Marlowe (formerly Olio Fresca), where owner Heather Cramer is friendly, knowledgeable, and has plenty of brilliant ideas about mixing the oils and vinegars to produce amazing flavors. Crested Duck Charcuterie, located right behind Olive & Marlowe, is a great place to pick up some specialty (read: exotic) items if I feel like making a charcuterie board. They carry a large variety of beans as well.

Pittsburgh Public Market
Pittsburgh Public Market

I am usually well-caffeinated by this point in the day, but for an extra jolt, I might grab a coffee at Brown Dog Java. If homemade soup is on the menu for the week, then I stop by Soup Nancys inside the Market where I once bought a quart of Sengalese Peanut Soup and added coconut milk to it, then served it over chicken and rice. Ah-Mazing. If I need some beer, I head right on over to the East End Brewing booth — my favorite brewery in Pittsburgh — to fill my growler...and maybe try a $1 sampler while I'm at it.

Who says 10:00 a.m. is too early for beer? ;-)

Soup Nancys
Soup Nancys

East End Brewing at the Pittsburgh Public Market
East End Brewing

10:15 a.m.
I walk over one block to Penn Avenue where all the action is. I often make meals that are Asian or Asian-inspired, so I might stop in at Lotus Foods at 17th and Penn to pick up some specialized ingredients, but if I happen to have a hankering for Korean dishes specifically, I make sure to visit Sambok down the street as well. On my way down to Sambok I pass by Wholey's, where I might pick up some seafood or other grocery I need, and Labad's, which carries the best pita bread in town in my opinion and also sells a mean homemade, fresh, preservative-free hummus.

Lotus Supermarket
Lotus Foods

Labad's Grocery

10:30 a.m.
Down by 20th and Penn, right in front of the parking lot, is where my favorite "Salsa Man" Arturo Vizzuett is now set up to sell his fresh, homemade Cinco de Mayo Salsas. You will most likely find me here if I am in the mood for one of Arturo's delicious recipes. In the summers the man himself is busy doing the farmers' market circuit (he's at the Ligonier market on Saturdays) while his friend Colleen holds down the fort in the Strip.

Cinco de Mayo Salsas
Cinco de Mayo Salsas

If I feel like making tacos, I walk a bit farther down to Reyna's at 21st and Penn for some delicious homemade tortillas, and then I might just cross 21st Street over to Mon Aimee Chocolat if I need to grab some semi-sweet chocolate chips.

10:45 a.m.
I make a stroll back down to Smallman and 23rd to shop at Marty's Market for organic produce and meats (and maybe a pint or three of Jeni's ice cream). I then walk back over to Penn Avenue, cross over to the south side of the street, and check out the Farmers @ Firehouse farmers' market in the parking lot adjacent to Bar Marco where I can find fresh herbs and the latest produce. If I'm lucky, there are samples of the latest harvest being served. And then, just a few steps down from the farmers' market is Penn Avenue Fish Company, another great place for picking up some seafood.

Marty's Market
Marty's Market

Farmers at Firehouse Farmers' Market
Farmers @ Firehouse

Rhubarb samples at Farmers at Firehouse Farmers' Market
Complimentary rhubarb samples at Farmers @ Firehouse

Penn Avenue Fish Company
Penn Avenue Fish Company

11:00 a.m.
I continue my stroll down Penn Avenue, where I might grab some tasty treats at Enrico Biscotti. Further along, I enter the Pennsyvania Macaroni Company (affectionately known as Penn Mac), where I spend most of the time gawking at the extensive cheese selection (this is an excellent place for freshly shredded mozzarella to top pizzas with), and pick up bulk nuts, spices, and Italian goodies while I'm at it. Down by 18th and Penn is Parma Sausage (recently moved next door to its current location), my favorite source of sausages and other cured pork products. (P.S. The meats are perfect for a pig-heavy charcuterie plate!)

Pennsylvania Macaroni Company
Pennsylvania Macaroni Company

Parma Sausage
Parma Sausage

Parma Sausage
Parma Sausage

11:15 a.m.
The Strip is getting pretty crowded and street musicians seemingly on every street corner are serenading shoppers. This is just the kind of festive atmosphere I thrive on! By this point, I am usually hungry and it's time for some nourishment. I don't go out much for breakfast/brunch given that most breakfast foods don't agree with me, but there is definitely no lack of options in the Strip that will work for me just fine.

One local favorite is Pamela's P & G Diner, especially their Obama-approved hotcakes. The weekend line to get into Pamela's tends to get really long though!

Pamela's P&G Diner in the Strip District
Hungry people waiting outside Pamela's P & G Diner

For casual fare, Marty's Market is a tremendous and healthy option.

Marty's Market
The café inside Marty's Market

Ginger Carrot Soup at Marty's Market
Ginger Carrot Soup at Marty's Market
with hazelnut, lemon crème fraîche, and crispy ginger

Tofu Scramble at Marty's Market
Tofu Scramble at Marty's Market
with butternut squash, mushroom, candy onions, homefries, and griddled bread

Other excellent options include Chicken Latino, Thin Man Sandwich Shop (post soon to come), Little Bangkok in the Strip, Vietnam's Pho, and Pho Van.

For something a little more upscale and contemporary (and with alcohol), it's hard to beat weekend brunch at the gorgeously modern Bar Marco. Bar Marco is great about using fresh ingredients from the farmers' market in its parking lot, like that time recently I visited when fresh-picked strawberries were in abundance. The bartender created a new drink on the spot with those strawberries, along with some basil, champagne, and salted cucumber on top —so refreshing, it was the perfect summer drink! The Sweet Risotto I had was also topped with some of those farm fresh strawberries, perfectly complementing the sweet flavors of cream, vanilla, mint, and honey.

Bar Marco
Bar Marco

Cocktail at Bar Marco
Strawberry Basil cocktail at Bar Marco

Sweet Risotto at Bar Marco
Sweet Risotto at Bar Marco

Bar Marco on Urbanspoon

If I'm on the go and don't have time to sit down for a meal, there is always the option of street food in the Strip. One of my favorites is a traditional Vietnamese bánh mì from Lucy, who vends right next door to Bar Marco.

Lucy in the Strip District
I love Lucy! (Who doesn't?)

Lucy's Banh Mi
Lucy's Bánh Mì, with grilled chicken, BBQ sauce, cilantro, cucumber, carrots,
pickled onions, and very spicy jalapeño peppers, in a crusty French baguette

A lovely recent addition to the Strip District's weekend street food scene can be found down by 20th and Penn, where a friendly and mild-mannered Ilmir Akhmetzyanov serves up delicious crêpes out of his PGH Crêpes Cart. I am a big fan of crêpes and an even bigger fan of Paris, so Ilmir's cart brings back fond memories of the Parisian street crêperies I frequented on my trip there last year! He has several varieties of savory and sweet crêpes available and boy, are they tasty!

Pgh Crepes Cart
Ilmir at Pgh Crêpes Cart

The making of a Tomato, Spinach, and Cheese Crepe at Pgh Crepes Cart
The making of a Tomato, Spinach, and Cheese Crêpe

Tomato, Spinach, and Cheese Crepe at Pgh Crepes Cart
Tomato, Spinach, and Cheese Crêpe

The making of a Strawberry Nutella Crepe at Pgh Crepes Cart
The making of a Strawberry Nutella Crêpe

Strawberry Nutella Crepe at Pgh Crepes Cart
Strawberry Nutella Crêpe

PGH Crepes Cart on Urbanspoon

12:00 p.m.
My belly is full, as is my grocery bag, and my trip to the Strip comes to an end.

I recently visited a friend in Cincinnati who asked me what I love most about Pittsburgh. I mentioned shopping in the Strip District on Saturdays, but found it difficult to fully convey why I love the Strip so much in just a few short sentences. Yes, I love the Strip for its diverse offerings, the mom and pop businesses, all the homemade goodness, and frequently discovering something new and cool while I'm here (and I'm sure there is so much I'm missing in this post that I will discover on my next trip). But perhaps the thing I love most about the Strip District is all the friendly people who make the Strip what it is. When I am here, I often make a point to say hi to Heather of Olive & Marlowe, Steve of Brown Dog Java, and Regina of Marty's Market. I swing by Arturo's Cinco de Mayo salsa stand and shoot the bull with him for a while (and occasionally end up with a new recipe from him), and then go chat with Ilmir of Pgh Crêpes Cart about his native Russia. The Strip District is not just a place to eat and shop, but also a place to make friends with the local folks and be part of a community. To me, the Strip feels like home—and that, in my book, is why "Stripping" makes my Saturday a Perfect Pittsburgh Saturday.

Next, read about Terra's Perfect Pittsburgh Saturday from noon–2:00 pm at her blog, Stylish White Female.

I first discovered the wonders of the Strip District thanks to a 'Burgh Bits & Bites food tour I took in September 2011. Here is a recap of that tour for more Strip District goodness and a bit more detail on some of the shops I mentioned in this post.

The Complete Lineup for the Perfect Pittsburgh Saturday Crossover Event (Summer Edition)
8:00 a.m.–10:00 a.m. everybody loves you
10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m. Food Collage (you are here!)
12:00 p.m.–2:00 p.m. Stylish White Female
2:00 p.m.–4:00 p.m. Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents
4:00 p.m.–6:00 p.m. jelly jars
6:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m. Yum Yum
8:00 p.m.–10:00 p.m. Mary vs. Food and D & T in the Burgh
10:00 p.m.–12:00 a.m. The Steel Trap
12:00 a.m.–2:00 a.m. prettyburgh