A month ago Visit Pittsburgh sent us an email with an offer that sounded too good to be true. They were inviting Alli and myself to drive down to Pittsburgh and offered a two night stay at The Renaissance Hotel and some money to spend at whatever restaurants or shops we wanted. Aside from a meet and greet dinner on Friday night, they wanted us to go wherever we wanted and to enjoy as much of the city as possible in 48 hours.
For more pictures of all the places we visited, check out our facebook gallery here.
We were part of a group of bloggers from the North East that were invited as part of a joint effort between Pittsburgh, Columbus, Cleveland and Buffalo. The plan is to host bloggers from each city to help promote the fun and exciting things that are going on in the Rust Belt. On this visit our group consisted of Mac and Moira from buffaBLOG, Lindsay from Nickel City Pretty, Sam from Pie are Round (Columbus) and Nikki from Cellar Door (Cleveland).
We arrived to The Renaissance Hotel on Friday night and were immediately impressed. On top of the insane view of the river and baseball park from our corner suite, the staff had provided a couple bottles of local beer and chocolate covered strawberries as a welcoming gift. Our room was really luxurious and the lobby of the hotel is stunning. If we weren’t bar hopping, I could have just as easily enjoyed a couple cocktails at their hip bar.
Here’s some of the places we really enjoyed…
NOLA on the Square. We started our trip at this New Orleans-themed restaurant, located in the busy Market Square with the whole blogging crew as well as some representatives from Visit Pittsburgh. In doing some research for our trip, I had not come across NOLA so we weren’t sure what to expect. Fortunately for Alli and myself, Visit Pittsburgh had picked a winner. Our food and cocktails were great. Their versions of classic New Orleans cocktails (specifically their Hurricane and Sazerac) were fantastic. The fried Alligator tasted like the best popcorn chicken you’ve ever had and their BBQ Shrimp and Grits (sourced from Anson Mills) was delicious. Alli ordered some beignets for dessert and could not stop gushing over how amazing they were. If we had more time, we would have gone back later for more.
Il Pizzaiolo (Market Square). Whenever we travel to another city, we usually have to find their best version of wood fired pizza. After asking the eatPGH girls for their advice, we ended up at Il Pizzaiolo, located in the same Market Square as NOLA. Their menu might be on the expensive side but the Burrata (flown in from Italy 2 days prior) was worth the $21. Their pizza was also on point with really good crust that walked the line of charred and chewy. Sitting outside on the patio in a busy Market Square was a great setting for a tasty Saturday lunch.
Meat & Potatoes. When we asked friends for Pittsburgh recommendations, Meat & Potatoes was easily the most mentioned restaurant. Everyone told us they loved it and we had high expectations going into our meal. They exceeded our expectations and in terms of an overall meal (food and drinks), this was our best experience of the trip. Walking into the restaurant without a reservation on a Saturday night wasn’t a problem, we were able to grab two seats at the bar. They had three bartenders working and they didn’t stop moving through the entire meal. In normal Buffalo Eats fashion, we decided to try a bunch of small plates to get a sample of their menu. Highlights were their charcuterie plate special, duck liver pate (some of the best we’ve ever had), and fried Brussel Sprouts. I ordered their barrel aged Manhattan and was really impressed. If we revisited any restaurant from Pittsburgh, this would be the place. It was just fantastic.
Grit & Grace. While killing time between a meal at Meat & Potatoes and our late night reservations at Butcher and the Rye (yes, we had second dinner), we grabbed a drink at Grit & Grace. After reading Donny Kutzbach’s tiki cocktail article and seeing Sam’s tiki drink picture, Alli and I were craving a fruity and boozey drink out of an awesome tiki glass. We both ordered Mai Tai’s and loved every minute of it. The restaurant also offers dim sum and is on our to-do list for our next visit.
Butcher and the Rye. We first walked into Butcher and the Rye late Friday night after getting a couple drinks at less than stellar ‘speakeasies’. Their gigantic bar has a library-style ladder because they offer over 500 different bottles of whiskey (it’s an amazing sight). You have to download an app to see their full selection. We went back the following night for 10pm dinner reservations with our friends from buffaBLOG. Their Crispy Pig Wing, Cauliflower, Mac N Cheese and Sunday Gravy (lamb neck red sauce with ricotta) were highlights of the meal. The restaurant is also owned by the Meat & Potatoes folks, so a lot of the menu had similar dishes but their whiskey selection is worth a visit by itself.
Everyday Noodles. Thank god for Jeff Biesinger. After he posted a video of a visit to Everyday Noodles, Alli and I quickly changed our plans for lunch on Sunday. Located in the fun Squirrel Hill neighborhood, this place is a legit Chinese restaurant. We watched the kitchen staff actually making the noodles from scratch and ordered way too much food (our server actually seemed nervous for us). We crushed through two orders of pork soup dumplings. They were the best soup dumplings we’ve had since a NYC trip over six years ago. Their Taiwanese pork belly sliders (aka bao/pork bun) were gigantic and almost too big to eat, but still tasty. The spicy hand pulled noodles and minced pork with rice were just icing on the cake.
Atlas Bottle Works. This was a spur of the moment visit but I’m very glad we stopped by. This beer shop reminded me of Aurora Brew Works except the shop had a semi-secret beer selection in their cellar/basement AND was attached to a movie theater (Row House Cinema). You could grab a pint on draft (or have them cool a single bottle) and enjoy a beer while watching the NeverEnding Story or Ghost World.
Wigle Whiskey. While walking around ‘The Strip’, we stopped by Wigle Whiskey’s tasting room to check out the local craft distillery. It’s a small place but the staff was incredibly friendly and outgoing and were eager to describe all of the differences in each whiskey they sell. Mac and I split two separate tastings and both bought a bottle of their unique Aged Landlocked, which is made from local buckwheat honey. You can also grab a cocktail or two but the real appeal of visiting the distillery is for whiskey tastings or getting a tour of the facility.
Cure. It’s no secret that we absolutely love charcuterie (duh). So when we started looking up places to eat in Pittsburgh, Cure was an easy restaurant to put on the top of our list. After unsuccessfully trying to get a table on Saturday, we made reservations for Sunday. It was going to be our last meal of the trip. We didn’t order a lot, a simple bowl of carbonara with salty pork bits and their large Salumi plate. At $40 it would scare some diners away but trust us, it’s worth every dollar. We’ve had some great charcuterie plates in our time, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the variety and quality of meats that was placed in front of us all on one plate. Their negroni was pre-batched in an awesome small glass bottle and served with a dehydrated orange. It was easily the best cocktail of the trip, incredibly smooth and refreshing on the very humid Sunday afternoon.
We had a really great time in Pittsburgh. The downtown area has a lot going on and it gave Alli and myself hope that one day Buffalo’s waterfront and central district could be as well planned. Their ballpark and football stadiums are right on the river and during a game night (which we were fortunate enough to see) the area is just buzzing with activity. During the day the river is filled with boats and kayaks. Think Canalside, but on a higher level (hopefully this is in Buffalo’s future soon). We also visited their Public Market and Strip District which were both pretty awesome. Pittsburgh isn’t a huge metropolis like NY or Chicago but its definitely a great city with a lot to do and see. Prices are similar to what we see in Buffalo and it’s small enough that it wont make you feel out of place. Anything that was outside of the city was only a 15/20 minute drive away and traffic was not terrible. Considering it’s only a 3 hour drive away, Pittsburgh should be on your short list for a possible weekend vacation destination.