Monday, June 23, 2008

Pittsburgh: The Strip District

The Strip District in Pittsburgh is a great place for food. No, it's not a district for strippers. Anyway, we started our visit in Pittsburgh by having a fabulous dinner at D.'s aunt and uncle's house. The next day, D.'s uncle took us on a tour of the city, ending with meeting his aunt for lunch in the Strip District.

I love this place... any street that's food-oriented makes me happy. There are tons of restaurants and markets. Lots of specialty markets and shops. We started with a visit to the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company, or PennMac.

It's an Italian market and a food-lover's playground. Bulk spices, sweets, meats, cheeses, etc. line the crowded interior. I could get used to a place like this. The extensive cheese counter:

Bulk olives:

My favorite find:

I love, love, love gianduia. San Diego has Italian markets... I don't know why I've taken so long to explore them, but that's on my to-do list.

We wandered over to Penzey's Spices, which is a great spice chain. Imagine every possible spice one can dream of, Penzey's has it. I was also very intrigued by their Penzeys One magazine and the recipes. Since it wasn't too expensive, I subscribed.

Next up, lunch at Kaya, which has a island-fusion-themed menu.

I ordered a "todo en uno" meal, which is one of their sandwiches, but smaller, with two sides instead of one. The pressed manchego and idiazabal sandwich was filled with plantain chips, watercress, and drizzled with lime oil. I'd say, execution-wise, the sandwich fell flat. The cheeses didn't melt completely and the bread was too crusty, making the sandwich very hard to bite and chew. The partially melted cheese also became kind of gummy as it cooled. Plantain chips and watercress were nice fillers, but the lime oil completely overwhelmed their flavors. Minus the oil, a softer bread, and completely melted cheese would have made this an excellent combination. The spicy mango sambal dipping sauce (bottom left) was sour, tasteless, and not something that paired well with the sandwich.

The sides, on the other hand, were perfect. I picked the shrimp chowder and sweet potato fries. As far as chowders go, this is one of the better ones I've experienced. The cream base was perfect and the shrimp was fresh and flavorful. They wisely picked large shrimp and cut them into chunks, instead of going with a generic tiny shrimp. Corn, sweet potato, and poblano chiles were gorgeously balanced, with each flavor present, but not dominating (which can happen with peppers in chowder).

I could write sonnets about their sweet potato fries. It's hard to do sweet potato fries well, as they tend to become soggy or easily burnt when fried. These were thicker cuts with a nice crust and a tender middle. The sugars in the sweet potato were fully developed, resulting in a fry that was perfect in both texture and taste.

D.'s sister, H., ordered the veggie burger, which looked really good.

Fried eggs are always a nice touch and the menu mentions it's a locally sourced egg. Interesting that the egg is singled out. I suppose manchego and avocado can't be locally sourced in PA.

After lunch, we wandered some more. One great stop was Mon Aimee Chocolat, which carried tons of European chocolate, including some old favorites from my visits to Paris and Germany (Ritter Sport, which is really common in California, and Kinder Bueno, from the Ferraro company). They also carried Capogiro gelato, but we already filled up in Philly. Not a ton of artisanal chocolates from the West Coast, but Chuao Chocolatier from San Diego was represented.

The Enrico Biscotti Company was a fun shop chock-full of its namesake. That would be biscotti, not guys named Enrico.

The biscotti looked great, but I found the chocolate ravioli (sugared flaky pastry with dark chocolate paste in the middle) and the chocolate macaroons to be divine.

Definitely a place worth visiting on any trip to Pittsburgh!

Pennsylvania Macaroni Company
2010-2012 Penn Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Penzeys Spices (Pittsburgh retail location)
1729 Penn Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

2000 Smallman St.
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Mon Aimee Chocolat
2101 Penn Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

The Enrico Biscotti Company
2022 Penn Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

10 bites:

That Girl said...

When my mother went to school at Pitt, she would often stop at Penn Mac to bring home fresh pasta, cheese, meat, olives, etc.

Our Little Italy doesn't have nearly the selection!

Meandering Eats said...

Thanks for stopping by! Yum... I'd be in heaven if I lived near Penn Mac. I definitely wish San Diego had a cluster of food shops like the Strip District or a big marketplace of some kind. Would make shopping easier and more fun.

Anonymous said...

Ahh, I lived in Pittsburgh for a couple years but only went down to the strip district a couple times. I didn't even eat at Primanti's until we went back to visit. I really miss the Indian restaurants. Their version of Mexican food though, not to much. Someone should tell Pittsburgh that burritos aren't supposed to be square :) And that mixing a jar of salsa into white rice doesn't make it spanish rice. I do kinda miss that place though.

Garrett said...

But how does that gianduia compare to Extraordinary Desserts'? I wonder how authentic they kept it.

ShellyH said...

I found your blog tonight via the foodie blog roll.

I am heading out to Pitt in a few weeks and I will make sure I check out the Strip District. I live in PA but on the other side of the state. We have something here in Harrisburg called Restaurant Row which is very nice!

Sharon said...

That's one of the best looking veggie burgers I've ever seen! I wish SD had a Penzey's spices. I suppose its a good thing that I dont spend my life savings on spices, though :) Looks like a great trip!

Meandering Eats said...

Rayrena- I missed the chance to eat at Primanti's. Hehe at PA Mexican food. In Philly, we had a great Mexican meal that was $17 for a quesadilla. I almost died.

Garrett- I believe "gianduia" is hazelnut-infused chocolate vs. a cake. So, ED's cake definitely uses a lot of the chocolate and has a pronounced hazelnut flavor (at least it did the last time I had it). I'd say they come close.

Shelly- Thanks for dropping by! Enjoy your trip to Pitt!

Sharon- One could easily blow their life savings at Penzeys. They have a branch in LA.

Unknown said...

I live in Pittsburgh and am so happy someone else loves Kaya as much as my husband and me! Their cuban sandwich is a must as are the sweet potato fries which you fell in love with! I've never seen the cheese counter empty like it was in your picture, you must not have went on a Saturday morning! The hustle and bustle of the Strip on a Saturday morning is so energizing. So much to eat, such limited stomach space. Come back soon!

Middle School Mania said...

Wow, now I am homesick! I ran away with my boyfriend (now husband) 25 years ago and still miss Pgh. with all my heart.

Reading your blog was almost as good as being there!

Next time make sure you go to Verona and eat pizza at Della Salla's - it is the best in the world!

Thanks again for some great memories!

Meandering Eats said...

Michelle- Really? The cheese counter offers more? Sign me up! I love cheese and I love great cheese counters. We were there on a Monday morning, so I did miss out on the hustle. I'm sure we'll be back!

Jamie- Thank you! I appreciate the kind words! Your recs are going on the list (I keep running lists of cities I visit and bring them each time I go back) and I hope you have a chance to make it home.

10 bites