Pittsburgh’s Restaurant Renaissance
Find more than pierogies on this Pennsylvania city’s menus.
Story by Jill Gleeson
It’s neither your imagination nor a fake fad dreamed up by a marketing team. The Steel City, once known more for football championships than culture, really is undergoing a restaurant Renaissance that just might turn it into the next big dining destination. With none other than Food & Wine and The New York Times gushing over its eclectic offerings, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s cuisine has become about much more than pierogies.
“Pittsburgh is a true melting pot and that is being expressed in its booming food scene,” says Matthew Stullken, a chef and longtime city resident who trained at Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh. “It’s evolved from favorites like kielbasa and sandwiches stuffed with fries and coleslaw into something where every taste is catered to. You can get everything from molecular gastronomy to Ethiopian cuisine in Pittsburgh now. The food scene here is more like something you’d find in a major metropolitan area than a mid-sized city.”
A companion restaurant incubator to the Strip District’s seriously successful Smallman Galley, this 6,000-square-foot space on the North Side offers four restaurants in one location. Like Smallman, Federal Galley’s objective is twofold. “There are so many incredibly talented chefs out there,” says co-founder Tyler Benson, “but for one reason or another they’re never able to be their own boss. Our initial goal was to give people an opportunity to start their own business, along with providing the guest with a unique and excellent experience; that will always remain our mission.”
Launched in December 2017 (the beer garden debuted in April 2018), Federal Galley is all about grazing on the goodies. Among the highlights: Michigan and Trumbull’s Detroit-style pizza, baked at high temperatures in square blue steel pans to caramelize the crust; the stick-to-your-ribs tofu scramble with quinoa and hummus from Supper; Provision PGH’s hearty asparagus with warm potato salad and a “dippy” egg (Pittsburghese for sunny-side up); and El Lugar’s tacos, including the piquant smoked beef with mole verde.
North Side Travel Tip: The National Aviary, one of the ‘Burgh’s best attractions, is home to more than 150 species of birds. Get up close and personal with some of the coolest—like penguins, flamingos and parrots—by booking a special interactive encounter.
The first solo restaurant from Derek Stevens, long the executive chef for Strip District favorite Eleven, Union Standard sits ensconced in downtown’s Union Trust Building, a century-old knockout recently restored to the tune of $100 million. The restaurant’s sleek, split-level interior boasts nifty touches like exposed structural beams and crimson leather banquettes; the food, influenced by the cuisine of the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Appalachian regions, is likewise inspired.
The menu’s standouts include steaming-hot potato bread, a starter served with three kinds of butter, sweet onion and apricot jam, and cornmeal-crusted trout from PA Trout Farm, Laurel Hill, which is plated alongside the Pennsylvania Dutch pickled vegetables known as chow-chow. But the biggest treat for seafood fans at this 18-month-old eatery might be the raw bar: Go for the mild, clean-tasting Glacier Point oysters, out of Alaska.
Downtown Travel Tip: Located on the Allegheny River, overlooking the Pirates’ PNC Park, the Renaissance Pittsburgh offers gorgeous views, but the interior is just as spectacular thanks to the hotel’s home in the historic Fulton Building.
Best to wear pants with an elastic waistband when dining at this mega-popular Italian eatery, which opened in late 2016 in the city’s hip Strip District. Pretty much everything at DiAnoia’s is homemade, from the sublime cream puffs to the perfect pastas, and it’s all done right. The noodles are al dente, the seafood so fresh it tastes like it was just plucked from the ocean and the wine list is superb—if you like bubbles, consider the Garganega Brut. Showstoppers include the spaghetti del mare (add shrimp if the huge chunks of lobster and crabs aren’t quite enough for you) and the Tuscan kale salad, tossed with what may be the world’s best anchovies.
Expect to see Chef Dave Anoia making the rounds at the front of the house, part of the venture’s immense charm. “Our goal is for the customer to feel at home,” notes co-owner Aimee DiAndrea, Anoia’s wife. “When we have traveled to Italy, what truly made it amazing was the incredible hospitality and the casual nature of it all. Of course, the food in Italy is fantastic, but eating that food in a place where you felt at home and part of the family is what makes it special.”
Strip District Travel Tip: Restaurants, bars, street food, international grocers and much more—the Strip District has everything a foodie could want. Don’t miss Wholey’s Market, founded in 1912, for a jaw-dropping selection of the freshest meat, seafood and deli fare, like made-in-house lobster mac & cheese.
Lunch or dinner, Station, which sits along Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield, specializes in elevating pub grub to a level rarely seen in the City of Bridges. Notes Chef/Co-Owner Curtis Gamble, “At Station, my team and I stand by the philosophy that by leveling the playing field between hyper-modern cooking and traditional cooking you can really discover something fantastic in the middle…We make amazing fresh pastas and stocks and aioli, but at the same time we embrace modern techniques to make our fondues, custards and chicken liver mousse….”
That chicken liver mousse, which comes with fermented veggies and toasted sourdough, is justifiably famous, but if you favor something less rich, try the Station burger with asiago cheese and onion jam. Most folks seem to go for the popcorn panna cotta with caramel corn and salted caramel for dessert, but the lavender pound cake with coconut pudding and pineapple is sublime.
Bloomfield Travel Tip: Proud of its Italian roots, Bloomfield hosts Little Italy Days annually in August, with a weekend’s worth of live music and carb-rific food, plus a bocce tournament, beauty pageant and pasta eating contest.