Headed Home for the Holidays
Pittsburgh, PA - Events of Friday, December 20 to Sunday, December 22, 2013
We headed back to Pittsburgh again this year to spend Christmas with family. Because of cold weather and the possibility of snow up north, we leave the motor home in Florida, travel to Pittsburgh in the car and stay with Lora and J. Michael. Because we really dislike motels, we travel straight through taking turns driving. It is a 15 to 16-hour drive, so we left around 3:00 a.m. Friday morning to enable us to arrive in the early evening. That way, we have time to unpack and to visit before falling into bed.
The weather was dry part of the way, but we ran into off-and-on rain around West Virginia. We made good time in spite of the fact traffic was heavy in spots, and we pulled into Lora and J. Michael's driveway before 6:30 p.m. After a bite to eat and a short visit, Paul was first into bed around 9:00 followed by Margery at 10:30.
On Saturday morning, Lora, Margery and Paul headed to Pittsburgh's Strip District. Before anyone gets the wrong idea, let us explain that the Strip District is the name for a produce/ethnic food/night spot area in the uptown section of Pittsburgh. It got it's name from the fact it is a strip of land along the Allegheny River, and it was originally occupied by factories in the 1800s. In the 1900s, the factories were replaced by produce warehouses with the produce being delivered by rail. As produce shipping moved from trains to trucks in the second half of the 1900s, a lot of the produce warehouses moved away from the Strip to places that were more accessible to major highways. Many of the empty buildings were converted to other uses such as specialty shops selling ethnic foods (especially Italian, but also Mexican, Chinese and others). There are also a number of restaurants and nightspots in the Strip.
The Strip always tends to be crowded on Saturday mornings, and the Saturday before Christmas is probably their busiest day of the year. J. Michael, who doesn't like the crowds, has a lot of year-end deadlines at work. Therefore, he decided to escape going to the Strip by heading into the office for a few hours to catch up on his work when no one else was around to interrupt him.
On top of the larger-than-usual crowds at the strip, it was raining making traffic down the main drag through the Strip (Penn Ave.) slow to a crawl. Pedestrian traffic was heavy, too, as shoppers with umbrellas squeezed past each other on the crowded sidewalks.
If you arrive at the Strip before 9:30 a.m., you can usually get a parking spot on the street. However, on the Saturday before Christmas, street parking was in short supply because of the crowds. Even though we got an early start and arrived at 8:45, we ended up having to pay $10 to park in a lot. There are a couple of less expensive lots, but they were all full. The good thing about the high-priced lot is it is centrally located and very convenient to all the stops we wanted to make.
Our first stop was at Robert Wholey Company, which is a well known fish market located right across the street from where we parked. Wholey's also sells meats, produce and prepared foods.
Since fish is a traditional Italian dish for Christmas Eve, Wholey's was very crowded. We checked out the fish counter, but decided not to buy anything. Although Wholey's has a good selection, we have been spoiled by fish markets like Joe Patti's in Pensacola and by being able to buy shrimp fresh off the boats in Lower Alabama and New Orleans.
From Wholey's, we headed up the street to Pennsylvania Macaroni Company. Penn Mac has the largest selection of cheeses we have seen anywhere, and that's what we were after because Lora wanted to get some cheese for fondue for one of our dinners. Apparently, everyone else in the Strip was looking for cheese, too, because the line at the cheese counter was looooong.
It was not so much a line, but a mass of humanity waiting for their numbers to be called. When we first arrived, they were serving number 93. The number we took was 65. However, we soon learned they were serving number C93, and our number was E65 - not 72 customers away, but 172. The crowd was big, but there obviously weren't 172 people waiting. Many give up and leave before their number is called, but it still took us almost 90 minutes to be served. It would have taken even longer except someone who was leaving handed Lora a ticket with a much lower number (E18). Normally, we would have probably left, too, but we really were counting on having cheese fondue, and we didn't have anywhere else to go that day anyway.
In addition to having over 200 cheeses, Penn Mac also has a huge selection of Italian foods of all kinds. Not only is there a whole aisle devoted to pasta with all its different shapes and sizes, there is another whole aisle devoted just to olive oil. There are inexpensive varieties in plastic quart and gallon jugs to expensive types that were in small bottles dressed up like they were wine. Notice in the photo below the plastic jugs are near the floor and the small, fancy bottles are conveniently located at eye level.
When we finally got our cheese, we headed back to the car. On the way, we stopped at one of the street vendors and got some chicken on a stick. It was yummy - tender and moist with a nice teriyaki flavor.
We also made a last-minute stop at Prestogeorge Coffee, which sells dozens of varieties of freshly roasted coffees. We used to buy coffee there frequently when we were still living in our stick house, and Paul wanted to get some coffee to take back to Florida with us.
We had fun at the Strip in spite of the crowds. It has been at least 8 years since we were last there, but little has changed. Most of the shops we remember are still in business, although a few of them have moved to a different location a few doors down or across the street from where they used to be. Back at the house, we relaxed the rest of the day.
On Sunday, we took Paul's step mom out for lunch to Bella Frutteto, which is a restaurant we have gone to several times before. Bella Frutteto is located in a strip mall in the North Hills of Pittsburgh.
Lunch entrées are $9 to $15. Paninis and other sandwiches are around $10 and include regular fries or house-made potato chips. Sweet potato fries are also available for a $1 upcharge.
Lora had a harvest panini with chicken salad containing raisins and apples topped with cheddar cheese and cranberry glaze and Paul's step mom had a prime rib sandwich with sautéed mushrooms and onions topped with provolone and horseradish mayo.
Paul usually gets the prime rib sandwich when we go to Bella Frutteto, but this time, he and Margery decided to be adventuresome and try steak-gorgonzola panini. That was a mistake because the skirt steak used in our sandwiches was so tough it was inedible. No problem. The waitress gladly substituted prime rib sandwiches for our skirt steak paninis. The replacement sandwiches were out in just a few minutes accompanied by apologies. The prime rib sandwiches were good - much better than the steak-gorgonzola paninis - but not quite as good as we remembered them.
We'll have a report on our Christmas activities in our next post.