I’ve wanted to do a food tour for a while now, considering I’ve visited and lived in some pretty spectacular culinary destinations (Spain, Mexico, France). However, my first food tour ended up being in Pittsburgh, my city of residence. Now I know what you’re thinking-Pittsburgh? Foodie city? Yes to all the above. What Pittsburgh lacks in regards to a decent number of direct flights (well, this one is paramount for me) makes up for it in its foodie side. Pittsburgh’s restaurant scene is becoming more and more fabulous with each passing year, so it should come as no surprise that there’s a pretty spectacular company that offers food and cultural tours right here in the ‘burgh.
‘Burgh Bits and Bites Food Tours was established in 2008 and offers people a chance to explore the history and culinary delights of the Steel City. A total of five tour locations are offered (the Strip District, Lawrenceville, Bloomfield, Brookline and Dormont-the last two are in the South Hills, an areal I’ve never really blogged a lot about before). Tours are offered every week (typically on Friday and Saturdays) although tour locations vary from week to week. I seriously considered signing up for the Strip District tour since it’s my favorite neighborhood in the city, but as I work there and frequent many of the shops, I thought it might be too “repeat” for me. So I settled on a neighborhood I had only been to twice but spent numerous times driving through, Bloomfield, otherwise known as Pittsburgh’s Little Italy.
The tour begins at Groceria Italiana, which is right next to a large pay parking lot (in a lot of Pittsburgh’s older neighborhoods street parking is a problem so it’s always a plus when there is an abundance of clearly marked spots). Our tour guide was Richard who, simply put, was excellent in his duties. His professional background was in education and history, so you could clearly tell he was passionate about the history portion of the tour as well. I learned from him that Bloomfield actually got its name from none other than the first Commander in Chief of the United States, George Washington, as he wrote in his journal while traveling from Liberty Village (the section that is modern day Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh) along “the high ground through a field of many blooms.” I also learned that Bloomfield is a very tight-knit community and that while other historic neighborhoods in the city have seen a lot of residents coming and going, in Bloomfield, here homes are either passed down or sold to people you know. I found this very interesting that such a sense of community still exists. Bloomfield was originally founded by German immigrants but it was Italian immigrants at the turn of the last century who gave it its identity that is still prevalent today. And even though one sees a myriad of other ethnicities present on Liberty Avenue, the main business drag, Italia clearly still runs the roost.
|The stunning Saint Maria Goretti Parish|
Back to Groceria Italiana-this was one of my favorite stops. It’s a small little grocery store in which the owner, an older woman who appeared to not even be five feet (but a real pistol, let me tell you) explained that just about everything is made in-house-the raviolis, the sauces, even the sausages. Our tour was on a very hot day and the owner explained that she had already been up for hours making sausages in the stifling shop. Our tasting there was chef’s choice and was homemade pasta, red sauce, and delicious meatball. As was just about everything on the tour, tasting portions were extremely generous.
Our next stop was Merante Gifts, just a few doors down. It’s an Italian specialty gift shop that we got to walk through (beautiful wares for the kitchen that I would love to go back and buy). Then right next door in the upstairs was basically a kitchen. It was there that we met Maria and tasted an antipasta, tomato and cheese concoction, and mushrooms…We learned that Maria actually offers cooking classes, private dinners, and more (trips to foodie destinations). If there was ever a warm and inviting woman even at first interaction, it was she. There was also espresso at the end of the tasting.
From there we had a disappointing tasting but this was no fault of ‘Burgh Bits and Bites. Previously there had been a stop at a gelato shop but we were told the business had recently closed so we went to Oh! Yogurt instead. Not that frozen yogurt isn’t good but when you’re on an Italian kick, it’s just a bit lackluster.
Our penultimate stop was Donatelli’s, another Italian grocery store although on a larger scale. This was another place that did a lot of homemade creations (raviolis and biscoti for starters) and it was wonderful to hear that the current owner was the third generation owner. You often don’t find family businesses still existing today. Our tasting here was biscoti, with our choice between two flavors.
And since it was a tour in a Little Italy, our final tasting was at Angelo’s Pizza, an authentic New York style pizzeria. While I’m not pizza obsessed like some, I still appreciate a good slice now and then and this was definitely good.
It was truly a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours, especially feasting on such delicious foods. I’d love to take another tour sometime in the future, but whether you’re a local or visitor to Pittsburgh, this is something I think just about anyone would enjoy.
Sorry for the lack of actual food photos…but seeing as how it was a food tour, I was too busy, you know…eating 🙂
(Tours are $37 per person and all participants are given a bottle of water at the start of the tour. Tickets can be purchased though its website.)