Earlier this year a reader interpreted something I wrote as a slight against the food in our mutual hometown, Pittsburgh, PA. I’m sorry she saw it that way, because I’ll readily admit to yinz that the midsize, depopulating, rust belt ‘Burgh ain’t a bad place to eat. I mean, there isn’t a hot dog in Chicago that can touch the charred, natural casing wieners at The Dirty O. It’s the ancestral home of the Clark Bar, Heinz Ketchup, and Klondikes. A jumbo and cheese sandwich from Primanti Brothers, heaped with fries and coleslaw, is a marvelous thing. And who can’t admire the sheer audacity of the pierogie [sic] pizza?
The culinary epicenter of my oft-maligned city is the Strip District, a half-square-mile neighborhood on the flood plain of the Allegheny River. A onetime steel-producing center (like, where wasn’t?) and later a nucleus of the wholesale produce business, it’s now a cross between Maxwell Street and the gentrified meatpacking district, a destination for tourists and townies alike.
Saturday mornings in the Strip are a mob scene as people crowd the diners, file into amazing Old World delis, or line up for streetside-fried Korean mung bean pancakes. The day before Christmas Eve I got trapped in Wholey’s, as practically every Catholic in the tristate area was making a seafood run for the Feast of Seven Fishes. I’m currently obsessed with Parma Sausage Products, a 52-year-old pork emporium that cures its own prosciutto and a gorgeous line of sausages. The retail potential of the Strip has even attracted outsiders like Penzey’s, though the spice shop’s bougie atmosphere seems a little out of place in one of the most unpretentious neighborhoods in a thoroughly unpretentious city.