#LovePgh — Visiting Pittsburgh (Day 1)

17 Aug

This post will be in three parts, one for each day. There is just too much to do in Pittsburgh to fit it in just one. (This is Friday. Here is Saturday, and here is Sunday.)

Do you want to come visit Pittsburgh? That was the question posed by an email I received out of the blue a few months ago from Visit Pittsburgh. Actually, the question was a little different. It was: Do you want an all-expenses paid trip to Pittsburgh? So while the answer to the first question would have already been yes, the answer to the second was a resounding yes.

(This is where I provide the requisite disclaimer. Visit Pittsburgh invited Tania and I to visit over a recent weekend and provided us with admission to area attractions and spending money. They placed no limits on what we could see and do, and only asked that we write about our trip in return. What follows then is a recap of the things we did and enjoyed. Payment for the trip may have come from others, but the opinions that follow are all mine.)

I have enough friends from Pittsburgh that I know that they are as proud of their city as we here in Columbus are proud of ours. And I must say, they have a right to be so proud. Their list of cultural attractions is long enough to fill a week’s itinerary and still not see them all. And, as Tania and I would soon discover as we planned out our trip, the same can be said about the dining scene.

Pittsburgh is a fairly easy drive from Columbus; it’s pretty much a straight shot east on I-70 until you get closer to the city. It takes about three hours to get there depending how on how easily your right foot can resist the pull of gravity. The drive along the way is a nice one, and the time seems to pass quickly. Or maybe Tania is just good company in the car.

Renaissance Hotel Pittsburgh

We arrived in Pittsburgh in the afternoon, and checked into Renaissance Hotel which would be our home for the next couple of days. Located right across the river from PNC Park, the Renaissance is extremely well-located for exploring the city by car or by foot. Although convenient, the hotel’s location initially had me a bit worried because there were home Pirates games every day that we were there. But while there was certainly a significant increase in traffic surrounding the hotel (Pittsburgh does love its Pirates), it was never a problem for us. So even if you’re not going to the game, the location is still a good bet.

The view from our hotel room at the Renaissance Pittsburgh.

The view from our hotel room at the Renaissance Pittsburgh.

Our experience with the Renaissance Pittsburgh was certainly great. Our room, as well as the view we had of the baseball stadium and the river was fantastic. The service was top notch and quite accommodating. They were willing to push back our checkout time by an hour, which enabled us to have a leisurely brunch and explore a little bit more of the city before heading for home.

We were meeting the Visit Pittsburgh team and other visiting bloggers on Friday evening for dinner, and Tania and I had about an hour to kill before then. And so, wanting to make the most of our time in the city, we let the exploring commence.

Grit & Grace

Located just around the corner from our hotel was Grit & Grace, a restaurant that I had read about numerous times as we planned out itinerary. Best described (I guess) as Asian fusion, one of Grit & Grace’s signature offerings is their dim sum menu. It’s not like dim sum as you’ve had it before however. Yes, there is a sort-of dim sum cart, in the form of a tray carried around by one of the servers. And yes, everything is small and designed for easy sharing. But the similarities end there.

For example, one of the dishes we had were pork belly bites with in a sweet sauce with a spicy mayo. Even Tania, who is rarely a fan of pork belly agreed that they were delicious. The other dim sum offering we tried, smoked tofu with soba noodles, was less outlandish but still delicious.

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Finally, at the suggestion of one of the bartenders, and sneaking in under the wire of happy hour, we had a steamed bun with housemade mortadella. Kind of like a really well-prepared bologna sandwich on a bao bun, you may think the sandwich might sound a bit unusual. You’d be right. But if you didn’t think that it would also be delicious, you’d be woefully wrong.

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The OTHER reason that I wanted to visit Grit & Grace was because of their tiki drink menu. Here in Columbus, the Grass Skirt Tiki Room has done a lot to rejuvenate the tiki culture that was lost with the closing of the Kahiki. Plus, based on the pictures that I saw, Grit & Grace had a drink that involved fire. Alcohol and fire. What can go wrong? Apparently nothing—unless you add in paper umbrellas, a discovery that delighted Tania when ours went up in flames. 🙂

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We would have been sad that we weren’t able to sample more of the menu at Grit & Grace, if it weren’t for the fact that we then headed off to meet our fellow guests at NOLA on the Square for a dinner that would also prove to be delicious.

NOLA on the Square

But, let me digress a moment.  As good as the food was at dinner, so was the company. First, the folks from Visit Pittsburgh were incredibly friendly and welcoming. Second, the other invited guests, from Buffalo (Nickle City Pretty, Buffablog, and Buffalo Eats) and Cleveland (Cellar Door / Nicole Delamotte) were to a one really nice and outgoing. Everyone at that table also had a lot of pride in their city, which they were eager to share with others. Talking to our fellow guests has certainly inspired us to think about visiting Buffalo (for the first time) and Cleveland (where we’ve been before, but not often enough).

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Ok. Enough digression. NOLA was comprised of multiple different rooms, and at least in the one in which we were seated, it was dark and richly colored with widows into the busy kitchen. Etched on the widows was the number “8″, which we were told meant that that location (not NOLA at the time, obviously) was the eighth to receive a liquor license in all of Pennsylvania following prohibition. The table shared a variety of appetizers, from frog legs to fried green tomatoes, and alligator to a charcuterie platter.

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For dinner, Tania and I both opted for the wood roasted quail. (Note: I decided to order it first and Tania copied me.) Tania’s comment afterward was that she has never gone wrong following my lead and ordering what I order. While I’d like to claim credit here, I think that credit is really due to NOLA and its kitchen. They put together a dish with a really winning combination of flavors. Other highlights from our dinner at NOLA included a very well-sourced local beer list and a set of cocktails that we both delicious and used locally distilled spirits. I know that Tania really enjoyed her Painkiller—and I enjoyed the lone sip that she was willing to share with me. Finally, we ended our meal with a fruit cobbler with sweet corn ice cream and caramel corn. (I must admit, being from Columbus, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to use the presence of sweet corn ice cream to sing the praises of Jeni’s, particularly the seasonal sweet corn and black raspberry, which has long been a favorite of mine.)

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After dinner, several members of our group headed upstairs to check out the speakeasy upstairs from NOLA, which I believe is part of the Perle champagne bar. I’d have loved to have checked it out, as the tales of well-crafted cocktails were music to my ears. But after a long day of travel, and with a jam-packed day ahead of us on Saturday, we decided the wiser course would be save our strength for the adventures to come.

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3 Responses to “#LovePgh — Visiting Pittsburgh (Day 1)”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Columbus Events August 20 – 27 | - August 19, 2014

    […] Sam and I are finally fully recovered from our awesome trip to Pittsburgh last week and even managed a shorter road trip down to Cincinnati on Sunday to eat Yagoot (my […]

  2. #LovePGH — Visiting Pittsburgh (Day 2) | Pie are Round - August 31, 2014

    […] Anyway. I pick up where I left off: Day two of our Pittsburgh trip. (If you missed Day One, it can be found here.) […]

  3. #LovePGH — Visiting Pittsburgh (Day 3) | Pie are Round - September 4, 2014

    […] to our Pittsburgh weekend extravaganza! (For those of you following along at home here are Day One and Day […]

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