Pittsburg: 14 - 28 Sep 2019

Interviewing for possible residence.


1. Lodgings: Stayed at an Airbnb in the Northside across the street from Allegheny General Hospital. Easy walking distance to PNC Park, Hienz Field and downtown, although directly in the flight path of hospital helicopters. And a few blocks from the historic Mexican War Streets district. Much of the Northside has a Baltimore Fells Point feel, without the high crime and higher taxes.

  • The interestingly named Mexican War Street district has streets named after battles and generals of the eponymous war: Buena Vista Street, Monterey Street, Palo Alto Street, Resaca Place, Sherman Avenue (not that Sherman, but this Sherman), and Taylor Avenue.

2. Mount Washington Rendezvous: In preparation for visiting Pittsburgh I re-watched an episode of Route 66 titled “Mon Petit Chou”. In it, the protagonists, Buzz and Tod, drive to Mount Washington to confront Lee Marvin at a French restaurant called Le Mont.

  • Tod used the now defunct Castle Shannon Incline to get his Corvette up the "mountain”, instead we used the still operating Duquesne Incline to get our bodies up. Built in 1877 and has the creaks and groans to prove it ($2.50 one way and $5.00 to park at the bottom). At the top is a collage of photos of other funiculars from around the world.

  • I’m not sure what to make of the Le Mont. From the bar I surveyed killer views of downtown Pittsburgh and a restaurant that had gone to seed: line-outs on the cocktail menu (sorry no more B̶e̶c̶k̶s, think about it, when is the last time you had a Beck’s?!), stains on the food menu, a dirty beer glass (I had to drink out of the bottle, how gauche), ill fitting tuxes on the staff and an indifferent bartender. But the reviews aren’t half bad (and the guests well attired). For good or bad, it’s worth a beer, as in addition to the view, it’s a step back in time to a time when fine dining still existed. Then go down the street for dinner to . . .

  • Altius: This place is Le Mont’s cool, hip younger brother. Equally killer views, but with a clean, streamlined decor, outstanding cocktails (the usual for me, an à la minute kamikaze spritzer for her) and a cuisine that matches the decor.

3. Food:

  • Brugge on North: Go during happy hour (Tues-Fri 4:30-6:30) for half priced drafts and half priced moules - frites (or fries as my friend Mike calls them).

  • Primanti Bros (on 18th St): Had a coupon for a free sandwich, but even @ $8.99, they “make a nice sandwich, a nice sandwich”. They must be doing something right, as they're open 24 hours.

4. Comerica Park: Though the Pirates are stinking it up, they are doing it in style in a beautiful ballpark. Sit in section 131, row K, to get a good view of the action and the Pittsburgh skyline @ $9, Sep 24 vs. Cubs.

  • As my knowledge of this year’s baseball season is limited, I asked my brother-in-law to provide a primer on tonight's game, which proved quite useful. If you’re in the same position, recommend you ask a knowledgeable friend to do the same for you (if you have no one who can provide, then let me know, I’m sure my brother-in-law can help you out).

  • Statues of Pirate greats surround the outside of the stadium. Recommend you visit the Bill Mazeroski statue located on the southwest corner. Why this statue you ask? Because I hate the Yankees.

  • Pirates win 9-2!

4. Andy Warhol Museum: see my separate blog entry.


5. Tony Bourdain Eats:

  • Superior Motors: Housed in an old Chevrolet dealership in Braddock. I visited as a both a voyeur and a gourmand:

- Braddock is one of the most economically depressed areas in the region: boarded up storefronts, desolate streets, with the old US Steel plant looming over the town (and the restaurant) like a Dickensian street scene (Even better there is a huge flare shooting out of the roof of the colossal plant).

- The food was excellent, the service adequate and the magic just wasn’t there. Met a fellow diner, Brack (yeah, that’s his name) who was visiting for the fifth time. He had had two excellent experiences and two not excellent experiences - this was the rubber match (which for him turned out to be . . . excellent). While a .600 average will get you into Cooperstown, it doesn’t justify an AAR Must Eat.

  • Jozsa Corner: This place is the exact opposite of Superior Motors. It's a one man operation serving quality Hungarian peasant food in an ”authentic” surrounding. Basically a sumptuous seven course feast (guylas, paprikas, langos, cucumber salad, haluska) served in a modest room, served on paper plates on a plastic tablecloth. The room is filled with empty wine bottles (memories?), assorted glassware, books, a piano and plastic containers (for your leftovers). Alexander (owner, host, chef, server, raconteur) will regale you with first hand accounts of the Hungarian Revolution, gentleman farming and the evolving neighborhood. A Must Eat.

-It’s BYOB (we went with a G&T, Two Oceans Sauvignon Blanc and sparkling water)

-Dinner is $32 pp (cash). Alexander thinks that credit card companies don’t have their customer's interests at heart. Me thinks he may have an ulterior motive.

-You need to make a reservation for this communal dining experience. Trust me, this is for the best as dining with strangers is an integral part of this culinary adventure.

-Hello in Hungarian is “szervusz. (SER-voos).

-Cheers in Hungarian is ”egészségedre“ (egg ace shag edre).


7. The Millvale Murals by Maxo Vanka at St. Nicholas Croatian Roman Catholic Church. Covering the entire insides of this most unassuming Church is the most spectacular set of religious murals I’ve seen since the Sistine Chapel. To give you a sense of the artistry, the expertly led tour lasted over 1.5 hours, which is the most time I’ve ever wanted to spend inside a church since the day I was married. Maksimilijan "Maxo" Vanka (1889 –1963) has a fascinating backstory and love story. He was born in Croatia, a Red Cross volunteer in WWI, married a Jewish NY socialite and moved to the US to escape fascism. The murals combine the usual symbols of the faith (Mary, the cross, angels, halos), with the darker images of warfare (a bayonet, gas mask, barbed wire) and capitalism (guy in a top hat eating aspic). Possibly the most interesting church I’ve ever visited. A Must See.

  • Pre: Have a cup of coffee at Mr. Smalls, located in the nearby basement of a former church.

  • Post: Discuss what you have just seen at nearby Cousins Lounge over an IC Lager. This is a shot and a beer type of place with $2.00 drafts if there is a game on and a liquor cabinet that prominently displays Canadian Windsor. When I informed our bartender Jeff, about just seeing the murals at the church and now seeing a mural of Pittsburgh sports heroes behind the bar, he deadpanned “yeah, but different artists” (best part: not sure if he was joking).

  • Tours are available every Saturday, 11:00 am and 12:30 pm. $10 pp.

Looks like its affordability, walkability, and friendability has put the Paris of Appalachia on the short list.


Misc:

  1. Required Drinking: IC Lager, it’s the Budweiser of Pittsburgh.

  2. Required Watching:

  • Tony Bourdain: Parts Unkown, Season 10, Episode 4

  • Route 66 , Season 2 , Episode 9: “Mon Petit Chou”. Directed by Sam Peckinpah in 1961 on location in Pittsburgh. Note what appears to be the graininess of the film, it’s not caused by age, but by air pollution.

  • Striking Distance: I know this is one of Bruce Willis' worst movies (and that's saying something), but it's filmed on location in Pittsburgh. The screenplay wasn’t so much written, as cataloged, the movie contains almost every known cop movie cliché: cowboy cop, cop that won‘t stop working a case, a family of cops, a serial killer, car chase (and a boat chase), patsy that’s setup to take the fall, attractive new partner, etc.


Pittsburgh, PA

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