During my whirlwind four-state trip to the USA, I spent some time at the old homestead outside of Pittsburgh in western PA. I always look forward to good eats when I come home. Both of my parents know their way around the kitchen and there are a lot of local specialties. While the fam likes to tease me about getting all fancy in my cooking ways, fans of Tully Chicken all over the world can attest that I still embrace the country cooking, I’ve just expanded my repertoire. Still, it’s true that some of the ingredients in recipes I’ve posted aren’t necessarily available at your local supermarket. So I’ve heard from friends and family back home that they go to The Strip to find them. Which made me realize, it’s been WAY too long since I’ve been to The Strip. So long, in fact, that I didn’t remember it, although my mother assures me I’ve been there. So I had to make some new memories.
The Strip District – or The Strip, as it’s commonly known – is not, as my husband assumed, an area full of gentlemen’s clubs. Sheesh. It’s a half square mile strip bordering the Allegheny River full of restaurants, bars, antiques shops, craft stores, old factories and warehouses converted to lofts, and my focus for the day: fresh produce, meat, fish, baked goods and ethnic food markets.
Reyna Foods, a Mexican grocery store, was the first stop. Visitors to Buenos Aires from the USA often remark at the lack of what we state-side think of as typical Latin food: all the spicy flavorful tacos, burritos, rice & beans and the like we’ve become hooked on with the influence of our neighbors south of the border. So coming from a land where spotting a can of refried beans can be a treat, I was happy to find fresh tortillas being made, baskets full of chilis, and an entire aisle dedicated to hot sauces.
Speaking of the lack of spice in Bs As, imagine my delight at finding Penzey’s Spices, a whole store dedicated to seasonings, spices and all things flavorful, with an entire section just for chili! They had everything imaginable, along with plenty of spices I’ve never even heard of.
Another highlight was Wholey’s Fish Market, which is a kind of misleading name considering the extent of meats, produce and other options they had available beyond fish. But they did indeed have a Barrio Chino-level selection of seafood with a more moderate stink factor and more impressive prices. The freshness cannot be questioned, as many of these guys from lobsters to striped bass were still swimming around in pool-sized tanks.
Despite the appeal of all the seafood, in my mission to cook up faves that aren’t easy to whip together in Buenos Aires I decided to introduce the fam to the wonder of Chipotle Pork Cheeseburgers. We stopped at Mancini’s Bakery on Penn Avenue to pick up rolls. Mancini’s is pretty legendary, to the point that local diners offer you the option of white, wheat or Mancini’s bread for your sandwiches and toast. And though it took superhuman willpower to resist the urge to buy a few loaves of Pepperoni Bread, I cannot urge you strongly enough to stuff one of these in your face if you have the opportunity.
Part of the reason I was able to pass up the pepperoni roll was the other treats we had lined up to indulge in. The peanut butter and chocolate kettle corn from The Pittsburgh Popcorn Company on 21st Street is pretty much heaven in a brown paper bag.
Though we didn’t stop in, a few other places caught my eye for next time. Strip District Meats had signs promising exotic meats like alligator sirloin, ostrich steaks, and wild boar loin chops that I wouldn’t mind trying my hand at preparing. And the smell pouring out of Peace Love & Little Donuts on Smallman Street was absolutely sinful, though the donuts did not necessarily appear to be so little.
If you live in the Pittsburgh area and have hunted for a hard-to-find ingredient or just love excellent fresh food, I’m probably already preaching to the choir. But for those who may visit the area, I highly recommend setting aside an afternoon to walk The Strip.
THE STRIP DISTRICT – main produce section on Penn Ave. between 16th and 22nd Streets in Pittsburgh, PA