Now that I’ve gotten my mom thoroughly addicted to food tours, it seemed like the perfect unique activity when she came to Pittsburgh for a visit earlier this month. My first ever food tour was right here in Pittsburgh so it was fitting that I should go on another one, especially when it happened to be in my favorite foodie neighborhood.
I can’t say enough good things about Burgh’ Bits and Bites Food Tours. I had unfortunately procrastinated when it came to booking our Lawrenceville food tour and when I finally got around to doing so (just over two weeks in advance), the calendar on the website listed it as sold out. But before becoming entirely crushed, I did what every tech social media savvy person does today- I tweeted them asking if they could possibly add another tour. Although not expecting a positive response, I did hear back right away saying they would see what they could do. And lo and behold, less than a week later, a second tour was added and it was a go. And the second tour ended up being sold out too! Goes to show you how popular food tours have become no matter the locale. So the moral is, when faced with defeat, head to Twitter-you never know.
I first started frequenting Lawrenceville a few years ago and it’s truly amazing to see how much it has transformed even in that short time. More and more restaurants and other businesses have opened and the neighborhood continues to get much buzz on a national level too. (Unfortunately some residents who have lived there for decades are being priced out.)
While I knew many of the buildings along the popular and busy Butler Street drag, I didn’t know, for instance, that the famous Dough Boy statue, which stands in the middle of where Butler Street and Penn Avenue split, actually sports a gas mask, a symbol of the mustard gas warfare that was prevalent during the Great War. It’s one of those little details you often hear when on food tours, lest you think it’s entirely food talk all the time.
Cheryl was our tour guide and like every other tour we’ve been on, she was fabulous and clearly loved what she was doing. Extra props to her as the day of our food tour was one of the hottest summer days in Pittsburgh this year and while it’s tough for the tour attendees, it’s more so for the person doing all the talking but she was great.
We stopped at seven places, a combination of restaurants, a bakery, and a specialty shop which I’ll list below in the order that we visited them.
This is actually a brand new tour spot and our group was the first one to try it out. Having dined here last New Year’s Eve, I was pleased to see it had been added. We had two types of delicious bruschetta here. And even though I’m not the biggest fan of salmon (especially cold), the taste was exquisite. I like Senti because it’s totally the anti-Olive Garden from an Italian food front (the owner is from Italy). You’re getting the real deal here.
While I’ve always heard of Salonika Imports, I had no idea they were in Lawrenceville. It’s a specialty store selling all sorts of Mediterranean goodies. We had a sampler plate that included olives, feta cheese, Greek yogurt (this was incredible), a Greek style cookie, a date, and toast topped with a red pepper sauce. Of all the stops this was probably my favorite as I loved the variety.
Bella Christie and Lil’ Z’s Sweet Boutique-
This is a gorgeous bakery and the smell upon entering is overwhelming (as in you’ve died and gone to heaven). We each had our choice of cupcakes. I went for a pink lemonade, D a gooey chocolate, and my mom an almond amaretto type. I think what I liked most was that the cupcakes were wonderfully moist.
This is your stereotypical Pittsburgh hole in the wall whose décor clearly beckons back to when Pittsburgh was a hard scrabble mill town and yet it’s also quite the institution. It’s someplace D has always wanted to try so I was happy to see that it was a stop on the tour. Here we had a sausage that was good on its own, and with the bun it was in, even better.
Franktuary is known for its hot dogs but go figure, we had a vegetarian option here, a fried onion and cheese pierogi. Not much to say on it except fried pierogis and croquetas are definitely my culinary weakest link.
Pastitsio is a Greek deli that I’ve walked by for years and always said to myself, “oh, I should stop in” but then never did . Here we were treated to spanakopita, one of Greece’s most famous dishes. I got mine to go as I was near to bursting by then but it was just as delicious later on.
On our final spot on the tour we were given the most food. We had pasta with a scrumptious vodka sauce. It tasted so much better than the jar stuff (no surprise there) and thankfully we could have boxes to put leftovers in as I definitely needed one. Matteo’s is an Italian restaurant in Lower Lawrenceville that I’ve wanted to dine at for some time, so now that I’ve had a tasting there, hopefully I’ll be back for a full meal in the near future.
This was probably one of my most food-heavy food tours which isn’t a bad thing at all; I’ve found some are much too light on the food options. My only (minor) quibble is that I wish the cupcake stop had been the last one. We had to eat them rather quickly and by this time we had already had two tastings and had four more to go. While we were given the option of takeout containers, there’s no way the frosting would have held up in such hot temperatures.
All in all, this was a fabulous tour and definitely a highlight of my not so intentional Pittsburgh summer staycation.