Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Pennsylvania Part 2: Pittsburgh

Continuing our the chronicles of our trip to Pennsylvania, after leaving the Poconos, we arrived back in Pittsburgh late Tuesday afternoon, after one slight mishap in which I got confused about East and West because THE OCEAN IS TOTALLY ON THE WRONG SIDE OVER THERE.

Anyway, we drove straight to the house of his mom and her husband, where we had a small snack before heading to the Mattress Factory on the North Side. The Mattress Factory is a museum that focuses on installation pieces. Personally, I am not as into Modern or contemporary art as I am into more traditional paintings and sculptures. However, I do really enjoy installation art, because it usually involves some level of interaction on the part of the viewer. The Mattress Factory had a lot of okay pieces and a lot of neat pieces. My favorites were all part of the permanent collection: the works of Yayoi Kusama, Greer Lankton, and James Turrell.

On our way to the Mattress Factory we also discovered Randyland, a collection of unique and colorful buildings on the corner of Jacksonia and Arch. It was a strange sight, so after our visit to the Mattress Factory we walked over to inspect the oddity. Every surface is painted in a bright color, and decorated with odds and ends that seem to be scavenged from all manner of sources. Curious, I looked for information about this eclectic corner online and found a Post-Gazette article that lead me to a Today show segment (which I'm only really linking to because it has good views of the building and uses Explosions in the Sky for some of the background music). Both describe the Randy behind it all, so if you're interested follow one of the links.

We needed to drop off the rental car, and Matt's brother Mike was kind enough to pick us up from the airport and join us for a trip the ballpark. I'm told by the Ruben boys that PNC Park is arguably the prettiest ballpark in the country, and while I have only been to three in my adult life (I went to a Dodger game once as a kid but was so bored I blocked it out), I can see that it really is a beautiful park. I was treated to a rain delay, which is so rare in San Diego that it felt like a fitting event to welcome me to town, so to round out this authentic Pittsburgh experience Matt and I purchased a Primanti Brothers capicola sandwich and shared it, standing over a trash can, huddled under a covered walkway with the rest of the crowd. The crowd was small, but the size was welcome given that there's only so many places to get out of the rain. We sipped beers and enjoyed the drizzle. The Pirates defeated the Reds that night, but since it got a late start and we hadn't actually had a proper dinner, we didn't stay for the whole game. Mike took us to the nearby Six Penn, where we had drinks in the bar and shared a few appetizers. Mike dropped us off at their mom's place, where we were staying.

Something you don't see much in San Diego.

Wednesday called for sleeping in because we were, after all, on vacation. We took a lengthy walk via Beechwood from our hosts' home near Point Breeze to Matt's old stomping ground in Squirrel Hill. We ducked into the library, bought a smiley cookie from Eat N' Park, and I saw a fraction of Frick Park, where Matt's mom Sue and her husband Peter picked us up for lunch. We ordered sandwiches at Kubideh Kitchen, the first and current incarnation of the Conflict Kitchen, an art project/take-out restaurant that features one menu item at a time inspired by the cuisine of a country the US is in some way in conflict with. The item/country in question changes every four months. We had a completely delicioius Iranian wrap style sandwich served in an informative wrapper, but by next month the kitchen will be serving an item from Afganistan. The intention is provoke thought, but they also happen to serve an extremely tasty sandwich of beef, basil, mint and onion wrapped in flat-bread. It may have been the best thing we ate this trip.

After lunch Matt borrowed the car, and we went to the somewhat newly reincarnated Penn Brewing. The trouble with travel, is that so much of what I want to do in any given city involves consumption. I do not have a huge appetite, but by sharing a single Kubideh sandwich Matt and I managed to save room for a shared bowl of saurkraut soup and a potato pancake each. We washed them down with a couple of beers and enjoyed the atmosphere of the place, which was nice although quiet since it was a weekday afternoon.

We then went for a walk around Carnegie Mellon University, and checked out the Carnegie Library before a thunderstorm interrupted what would have been a longer walk. We stopped by East End Brewing for some free(!) tasters and to fill Matt's mom's growler for our then upcoming weekend trip to the country. The East End employee was very friendly, their beers were good, and thanks to their Illustration Ale, we learned about the Toonseum, which I'll describe in a few paragraphs.

Because Diners, Drive-ins and Dives has featured a number of Pittsburgh establishments, we would have been remiss not to check one out. For dinner Wednesday we ate at Big Jim's in the Run. It was fun, about what I expected: large portions of decent food served by a waitress that calls you "hun."

Meatball sandwich at Big Jim's.

Thursday was our big day. We walked all around downtown, beginning with a farmer's market with free food sponsored by Toyota. Then we got some hot dogs from Franktuary (a hot dog joint in the basement of a church) and ate them at the August Wilson Center, where they were having a line dancing event on the patio. We also checked out the exhibit there, and saw some very nice photos by Charles "Teenie" Harris. Across from the Wilson Center is the Toonseum, a modest but totally awesome museum/gallery focused on cartoons of every variety, from animation and comic strips to comic books and graphic novels. Their current exhibit featured dogs, including Snoopy, Scooby, and many others.

The August Wilson Center

Cool statues at the building next to the Toonseum.

Then we crossed one of the many bridges to the North Side, where we climbed into the lap of the Mr. Rogers statue (Fred Rogers was born in Latrobe, essentially Pittsburgh, and when my boyfriend was a kid they attended the same church!), and then had beers at Rivertowne, where they had a handful of San Diego beers on tap, and oddly enough, none of them were Stone. Then we walked back to town and just meandered about until we eventually met up with the family for dinner at Yo Rita on the South Side. It was strange eating tacos in Pittsburgh, and they weren't "authentic" tacos, but they were seriously tasty. The folks the run the place are creative and clearly consider the season in developing their menu. I had the watermelon habenero gazpacho and a summer squash taco, with a blood orange margarita to drink. Even though I was pretty full, we ended up borrowing the car again to make sure I got my ice cream fix from Dave & Andy's. Out of the ice cream in options in Pittsburgh, I picked Dave & Andy's because it seems to be an institution. The ice cream was good, not great, but it was ice cream so of course I liked it.

I will totally be your neighbor.

And that's it for Pittsburgh. Friday, we had a lazy morning before departing on the next leg of our journey: Confluence, PA.


  1. Sounds fantastic! Considering I live on the East coast I'm a little disappointed with myself - I've never been to Pittsburgh. It's fun to hear about places closer to me as a travel destination. Interactive art sounds cool, much better than regular modern art. Glad you got so many experiences in PA & hope you have a safe trip home!

  2. Thanks for reading and for the well-wishes! The East coast seems to be packed with interesting cities so if I were in your shoes I probably wouldn't have made it there either. As a Californian I hadn't actually been to San Francisco until a couple years ago, and that's way more egregious than not going to Pittsburgh! But Pittsburgh is a fun city, definitely worth an eventual visit.