A guide for getting lost in the many flavors of the Strip District
What looks like an ordinary stretch of street on Penn Avenue lining the Allegheny River hides one of Pittsburgh’s most distinctive and entertaining neighborhoods: the Strip District.
Between 11th and 33rd Streets off of Penn Ave., the mile-long Strip offers an interesting collage of cultures and people, as well as ample opportunities to spend all of your money.
A Saturday morning trip to the Strip District will not disappoint. There’s something for everyone, from wandering through Yinzer shops that sell every piece of tacky black-and-gold Steelers attire you never knew you needed while blasting songs about the Steel Curtain, to watching the hordes of people that stream down the sidewalks.
The biggest attraction of the Strip, as it is colloquially known, is the food. The variety of cuisines and venues present overwhelming options for every meal. Going to the Strip on an empty stomach is an absolute must: the slew of specialty food stores and restaurants are sure to satisfy even the pickiest eaters and the snobbiest foodies. Whether you choose to sit down for a meal or simply grab food to go, you won’t leave this neighborhood unsatisfied.
Pennsylvania Macaroni Company
Essentially a grocery store that took a heaping dose of Italian steroids, the Sunseri brothers’ Pennsylvania Macaroni Company features anything and everything you could ever desire in your quest for extensive Italian cooking adventures. Massive jars of tomato paste, cannolis stuffed with perfectly fluffy ricotta, more varieties of olive oil than the colors of the rainbow, and huge barrels of beans all set the scene of a bustling market. Besides the freshly homemade pasta — a must for anyone who values a good carbohydrate — the indisputable highlight of “Penn Mac” is the cheese bar. Featuring cheese from everywhere, including France and Holland, the cheese bar is staffed by some of the friendliest faces in Pittsburgh who will help you find exactly what you’re looking for. Whether simply for the experience or for ingredients for your next adventure in the realm of Italian cuisine, a visit to the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company is absolutely necessary.
Delightfully tacky and unrefined, Reyna Foods is an obligatory stop on your way down Penn Ave. Don’t judge the quality of the food by the decorations: brightly colored sombreros that seem to capitalize on every cheap stereotype imaginable, piñatas that dangle above shelves of hot sauce, and kitschy Day of the Dead figurines that line the cash register. The authentic and high-quality food found here is well worth the experience. The tortillas and tortilla chips are freshly made every day and chances are they’ll still be warm when you pick them up. In the back of the store are metal garbage cans filled with hot peppers that will burn your nose and whose smell fills the entire interior. The same peppers from the tins are used in the store’s homemade salsas, which are laid out by the register for customers to sample as they wait in the inevitably long check-out lines. If you’re not stopping by Reyna Foods for the cringeworthy decorations or to satisfy your need for spicy hot flavors, do it for the disgusting amount of salt sprinkled on those chips.
The Enrico Biscotti Company
Whether you’re craving the perfect loaf of rosemary and olive oil focaccia or a deliciously crunchy piece of biscotti to go with your espresso, The Enrico Biscotti Company is the place to go. A full service sit-down restaurant attached to a bakery and store, the space is as small and crammed as it is authentic and bursting with character. At the restaurant, the food is prepared literally right in front of you; the tables are organized beside, and even inside, the kitchen. Waiters and cooks bustle around the tables with an energy that is put to good use — a perk that becomes apparent in the freshly prepared food. The food is hot, generously portioned, and delectable. The selection of baked goods on hand for dessert — either in the restaurant or for take-out — is mind-blowing. There is even biscotti for dogs. The perfect place for a not-so-expensive lunch date or a sweet treat to go with your La Prima coffee, The Enrico Biscotti Company is great for any occasion.
Mon Aimee Chocolat
A hot chocolate bar, a host of chocolates from around the
world, and possibly the most knowledgeable chocolate connoisseurs on this side of the Atlantic await you inside the chic chocolate boutique on the corner of Penn Ave. and 21st Street. The name of the shop translates to “My Friend Chocolate,” and after a quick walk into the store, you’ll see why.
After browsing the varieties of chocolate and the plethora of flavors — bacon, hot pepper, even lavender — it’s clear that the shop owners have a very intimate relationship with all kinds of cacao. And even if you prefer candy of the non-chocolate variety, the shop will satisfy your sweet tooth. The owners also offer a large selection of vintage and throwback candies like NECCO Wafers and Candy Buttons that will have your mouth watering for the days of your youth. A great place to pick up souvenirs from your visit to the Strip, Mon Aimee Chocolat is sure to be a fast favorite.
Prestogeorge Coffee & Tea
By simply walking into this tiny little boutique, you’re committing yourself to buying at least one bag of flavored tea or coffee. The vast array of flavors that are featured in Prestogeorge all mix together to create a tantalizing fragrance. Issuing from the jars of tea leaves and coffee beans and the small coffee bar, the aroma speaks to the level of intensity with which these people regard their morning beverages.
The experts at Prestogeorge know exactly what to recommend, be it green tea, Arabic coffee, or a new brewing pot. Plan a stop to this shop, if only to breathe in the smell of the best teas and coffees around.
Robert Wholey & Co.
Picture a grocery store. Now make it one that primarily sells fish. Now add wall decorations of singing cows that encourage you to drink milk. Throw a toy train track on the ceiling, and you’ve got Wholey’s. Eclectic, quirky, and extremely fishy-smelling, the store is worth a visit just for the experience. The seafood section has lobsters, what seems like 800 varieties of fish, and more shrimp than you know what to do with. Make your visit quick to be nice to your nose, but make sure to stop by, if only to see the singing cow.
The Strip District is uniquely Pittsburgh. The range of ethnicities, flavors, and venues speaks to the eclectic mix that is characteristic of the Steel City. It’s the perfect place for a Saturday trip out of the Carnegie Mellon bubble to see the city. Whether you choose to spend your time there browsing through one of the quirky stores or sampling all sorts of amazing food, any time you spend on Penn Ave. in the Strip will be totally worth it.