Monday, July 16, 2012

Charlotte Unhitched in "The Burgh"

I am lucky enough to get to experience the Queen City on a regular basis, but sometimes it's fun to get away and try out a new metropolis.  One of my very best friends lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, so I am blessed to visit once a year.  You may have heard of Pittsburgh, also known as "The Steel City" for its famed football team, which lies about seven hours North of Charlotte.  I'll admit, before my friend Lauren moved there, it was not one of my top travel priorities.  In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that it wasn't even on my list.  However, this big city in the beautiful mountains is really a gem.  I am so grateful to have been able to enjoy my third visit this past weekend.

Here are ten special reasons why you, my NC and QC friends, should consider a trip (which you can do in about half a day, with stops at Sheetz, of course) to this awesome travel destination.  Of course, there are sporting events to attend (you won't find a city that loves and reps its teams more) and the history/scenic tours offered on and off the river, but these are MY recommendations for an awesome trip from a real "Yinzer" on the inside.

10) Getting there is half the fun:If you're flying, you'll save about six-seven hours, and have more time to enjoy the city, BUT you'll miss some fun on-the-way spots and stops.  You'll pass through the beautiful NC mountains, Virginia's breathtaking vistas of the Shenandoah Valley, and of course, the great, under-appreciated state of West Virginia.  There are loads of tourist attractions in West Virginia, including the New River Gorge for outdoor enthusiasts, which boasts camping, hiking, and river fun.  So many small towns to discover lie along the beaten path, as well, like Jane Lew or Oak Hill.  There's also a great deal of deliciousness.  Pepperoni rolls anywhere and everywhere are number one, but there's more!  For example, the fruity, fabulous wines at  Kirkwood Winery, located in Summersville (  These friendly folks were gracious and hospitable to my traveling buddy @Mel_Geezy (Melissa) and I.  Located just a wee bit off the beaten path, there were adequate signs to help us find our way, and we were glad we did.  Some of the yummy, fruity wine flavors included: Pear, Cherry, and Rhubarb.  I bought some of the pear and it was smooth and delightful for a summer's evening.  I even tried Dandelion wine, an old tradition that I would have missed had I not taken the road route to PA!

9) The tunnel: Okay, so you WILL pass through two other tunnels in route (if you're coming from Charlotte area), but this is "THE" tunnel.  I would definitely recommend coming into the city on Route 19 so you can have this experience...especially if it's your first time in Pittsburgh.  You go through the dimly lit, somewhat creepy, a little too long tunnel, and BAM!  The light starts sneaking in, and you know you'll soon be exiting, and when you do...there it is!  The city of Pittsburgh in all it's glory, with its bridges, its famed Incline going up Mount Washington, Heinz Field, and so much more.  It's almost too much to taken in at once, and it's overwhelming, but also really cool.  

8) The lunches:  Okay, Okay, on to the really good stuff.  Pittsburgh is home to Andy Warhol, Mike from the sitcom "Mike and Molly", and of course, the Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates (or Bucs), but it's also home to some super delicious eateries.  For lunch, I think the ideal spot is Fathead's on Carson Street in the SouthSide neighborhood.  It's got a great selection of sandwiches, burgers, some monstrous salads, and a great craft beer list.  I've eaten there twice, and both times were really delightful experiences.  I had a tuna wrap most recently, with homemade chips and  Breckenridge Vanilla Porter.  Great stuff.  Another lunch-time treat would be the Strip District, with treats like food carts and Mancini's Bread Company.  While you're in the Strip District, you can also pick up anything and everything to do with Pittsburgh sports, from t-shirts to tooth picks.  Finally, I have to boast about the Italian Market in Bloomfield.  What an awesome place!  The smells of fresh pepperoni rolls and other delectable pastas, sauces, etc. waft through the air.  Great fresh breads, olive oils, and cookies, too.  We bought ingredients for a traditional, okay well not so traditional (we are not Italian) family dinner and cooked up a storm!

7) The Card Store: Located in Shady Side (, this is almost like a sister store to Paper Skyscraper on East Boulevard!  It's packed full of cute, hilarious, unique, and of course, pleasantly offensive cards (I found one card that had a hole-punched heart on the front, and it read "I Love You A Hole Punch"...LOL).  It's always been a favorite pastime of mine to go to a greeting card store and look at the cards, of course, only buying the best ones I find for my friends and family.  I used to do that a lot...before Pinterest!  Kards Unlimited also features quirky gifts (a Shakespearean Insults Mug), books (Tina Fey's Bossy Pants, for example), and toys (A very cute French/English wooden flash card set).  I found some adorable books for my nieces, but also some crazy pickle fingers (yes, rubber covers for your fingers that look like pickles!).  If you have someone in your life who's hard to buy for, this is the place to go!  There were so many moments of laughing with my friends in that store, so if you go to Shady Side, you must go there!

6) Hofbrauhaus: Having never been to Germany myself, I was eager to give this traditional beer garden ( a go, and try out some German fare.  While I didn't eat there for a meal, I did show up later for some fun!  There are huge picnic like tables with benches, where you can sit, or if you like to dance, you can stand!  A live German band plays traditional music, but more commonly, hits like "Don't Stop Believin'", "Sweet Caroline", and the beloved potty mouth song, "Alice", as well as new and old favorites.  They even take requests.  Every few minutes, they shout out German toasts, and everyone is expected to Cheers!  The big beers in steins aren't bad either, but if you're hoping for a glass mug, be sure to show up before ten o'clock, after that time they only serve in plastic cups :(  I had a delicious dark beer called a "Dunkel", but there were several others to choose from).  The crowd was mostly college to mid-twenties, with some oldies like myself thrown in, and then some very oldies (like a man dancing suggestively on a bench all night and frightening me with his gyrations).  Hope you get to go, because it's a fun and festive experience you don't want to miss...especially if Oktoberfest is one of your favorite holidays! Prost (Cheers)! 

5) Peace, Love, and Little Donuts...and popcorn!: That's actually the name of a Bohemian-esque donut shop in the Strip District ( ) that guessed it...little donuts.  These aren't just any little donuts.  I'm a hard-to-please Krispy Kreme fanatic,who loves miniature-sized anything, and I want my donuts to be sweet, delicious, and different.  This place features donuts like the Maple Bacon (with that salty/sweet kick you're craving), Samoa (tastes just like the Girl Scout cookie), and Vanilla Sprinkle, among many other choices.  I have a t-shirt from this place because it's always on my list of Pittsburgh must-do's.  The t-shirt reads, "Feed Your Inner Hippie".  And at this tiny, funky stop I can!  Another Strip District snack sensation?  Popcorn!  Not just any bag you'd throw in the microwave, or eat in a movie though.  This is a gourmet popcorn shop ( that serves flavors like Thin Mint, Smores, and Wisconsin Cheddar.  You can get it to go in a paper bag for immediate snacking, or try it in a tin that will last up to a month if it stays sealed.  The shop itself has a collection of antique popcorn boxes, and it reminds me of an "old-timey" fair feeling. Definitely snack in the Strip!

4) The Incline:  I've only done it once, but it's worth the view.  The incline is really cheap (only a few dollars), and it's a scenic view of the city, as you travel up Mount Washington.  I love mountains, and I love the vistas from any summit.  I was able to see so many landmarks, bridges, sports stadiums, and the unique, staggered architecture of the "houses in the hills".  It's a great way to take in the city and really absorb it.

3) Squirrel Hill Pizza: I called it this before I could remember the name, but now I know it by heart: Aiello's (  I was super psyched to try this again.  Being the weirdo I am (at least, according to my friends), I got a cup of cold, cooked mushrooms to put on my own slices, but we still shared a delicious pizza!  This isn't anything fancy, but it's jaw-dropping deliciousness, and the best pizza in Pittsburgh (in my opinion, anyway).  A trip to Aiello's gives you a chance to check out the neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, as well.  The fellas making the pizzas are friendly, the drinks are cold, and the foldable, cheesy slices are worth the short wait.

2) Porch Parties:  Okay, this one's not really fair, because it's an experience unique to MY Pittsburgh visits.  But, this is something you can try anywhere really.  All you need are friends, food, cocktails/beers/wine, and a porch with a cool breeze, if possible.  Some of my best and warmest PA memories are on the various porches of my friend, Lauren.  She's a proud Bloomfield resident who has awesome access to a killer outdoor space in her new apartment. I love sitting on the porch, gossiping, sharing some Pear wine (From Kirkwood!), and just remembering our glory days.  


1) The People of Pittsburgh:  I've met some good-hearted, down-to-earth, fun-loving people in Pittsburgh.  If you travel there, you will too!  They're proud Pennsylvanians who adore their teams and are happy to show you around/recommend something/lend a hand/give you a ride!   Each time I visit, I come home with some awesome memories and a few new Facebook friends.  I think my souvenir shirt should say: I Love Some Peeps in Pittsburgh.