Time for fresh biscotti?
Want an inexpensive breakfast out? How about a true Italian espresso? Then get moving to Pittsburgh’s Strip District!
The multiple aromas and colorful sights make this a favorite place to go downtown. The Strip is an eclectic neighborhood that defines part of what makes Pittsburgh a unique city.
The area is located along the Allegheny River east of downtown, on Smallman and Penn Streets for several blocks. Keep wandering until the stores fade away—you might find one more gem in that next block of buildings.
Back in the day, the area was full of warehouses (still is) where folks came to get or deliver produce and all manner of other items for pick up and sale.
We get a little casual around here and say, “I’m going to The Strip,” which can cause some confusion for the casual listener who hears, “I’m going to strip.” Not nearly the same thing.
Places we tend to visit…
You can’t hit The Strip without going to Penn Mac for specialty cheese. Besides the dairy delights, we stock up on fresh homemade pappardelle and San Giuliano Extra Virgin Olive Oil among other delectable things.
Robert Wholey & Co.
With roots back to 1912, the store has little fanfare about it, but offers a wide variety of fish (like live lobsters), meats and poultry as well as shelves stacked with multiple food products. If there’s a specialty meat you’re hankering for, try Strip District Meats. Oh … and make sure the kiddos look up to watch the train traveling through the store. Andy’s Sushi, just inside the front doors, is a great place to grab a roll or two to go.
I still miss seeing John Prestogeorge smiling at every customer as he dispensed fresh coffee beans throughout the day. His was a winning smile that we lost in 2010. The staff holds to his friendly presence and is our place for a broad selection of coffee beans. They roast it on site and will grind it for you or bean bagging it works fine. They have huge jars of loose leaf teas.
Devour breakfast at Enrico Biscotti Bakery and Cafe, whose placard on the sidewalk yells out, “Get in here!” Not only does Larry Lagattuta have long-term staff that gives the place a family feel, but if he’s around, he’s apt to share a pizza oven cookbook with you or pour you a lunchtime nip of his house wine. Don’t skip a stop in his bakery to get delicious biscotti or other home made creations.
For our taste buds, the best cappuccino in town comes from La Prima. Stand in line, grab your coffee and either stay vertical at a tall table to drink it, sit outside and listen to the old Italian guys playing cards and chattering away in that beautiful language, or keep wandering the streets.
This is another family-owned company with connections to one of our favorite Italian cities: Parma. Having sampled prosciutto in both places, we can attest to the traditions being followed in how delicious Parma’s foods can be.
Jimmy & Nino Sunseri Company
Jimmy keeps us entertained with his big, unlit cigar and welcoming greeting. Jimmy graduated from Duquesne University in 1970 (English major, French minor), but followed in his grandfather’s footsteps by working in his store from age 13. In 1985, the two brothers opened their own place. Like Biscotti Company, everything is freshly made and no preservatives are used. Sunseri’s cannoli is the tastiest, most-Italian one in the city limits. And we know our cannoli.
Labad’s Mediterranean Grocery
Labad’s is a nice, low-key, no fuss market with prices on tahini that can’t be beat. Also co-owned by brothers, we mostly see William sitting out front, smiling broadly at everyone and unabashedly and truthfully hawking his mother’s baklava as the best in town. No lie.
The Public Market
Sadly, this inside assortment of vendors have lost the two homes they’ve occupied in the last several years. It was always worth a stroll through to see what new things were going on from pasta to East End Brewing to the Gluten Free Goat Bakery and plenty more. It was a true joy to visit when it was in the Fruit Auction building. But someone thinks these iconic, and still very much in use, buildings should be torn down for yet more housing that normal folks can’t afford to buy or rent (but that rant is for another post). The folks are dispersed, you can find them by clicking here.
More places to savor:
If you’re looking for sweets from Jelly Bellys to Lindt Chocolates, Mon Aimee is your next stop. Now and then I’ll spot a childhood gem and the memories that come to mind are sweet indeed. More childhood treats can be found at Grandpa Joe’s Candy Store.
There’s more than one Asian market where we don’t understand the words on the packages but go purely on sight, sometimes giving the odd noodle or dumpling a go. These stores won’t kill your budget with their low-cost spices and sauces—although the hotter ones might damage your taste buds!
Don’t skip the street vendors, whether they’re selling the best wool socks and t-shirts or handmade jewelry, candles, body lotions or puppy snacks.
Not to neglect our sports teams, you’ve got multiple choices for Steelers, Pirates and Penguins gear.
The Strip District is old Pittsburgh. It’s busy and bustling and tells you a lot about the nature of this ever-evolving city. If you care to look beyond some of the fading facades and think about the longevity of many of these businesses and the families they support, you’ll see a deep longevity they’re rightly proud of.