Eating My Way Through the Pittsburgh Rust Belt

When you think of Pittsburgh, do you immediately think of great food? I know it’s on my top three reasons to visit the city.

Actually, I think about the culinary offerings from Pittsburgh quite often. I mean, Primanti Bros. is all over the Food Network, Pamela’s Diner in The Strip has been visited by President Obama, and DeLuca’s always has a line out the door and down the street.

Why? Because Pittsburgh has amazing food. From the homemade meals and dishes at the local churches to the swanky restaurants that fill the downtown streets, Pittsburgh’s got it in the bag. The tour is all about local businesses that have persevered the recession and steel mill depression as well as new food and brew that are quickly becoming local favorites. The tour meets at Station Square and focuses on The South Side, Swissvale, Braddock, & Homestead, and there’s a little taste of The Strip District thrown in there as well.

Last weekend Mr. Locke and I had the pleasure of taking Pittsburgh’s Rust Belt Culinary Tour– one of the latest offerings from Pittsburgh Tours & More. If you’ve never taken one of their tours, they offer fun themes including movies, sports, and of course, foodie tours. The Rust Belt Culinary Tour focuses on the small towns and communities that flank the Monongahela River and the delicious dishes and desserts that each area is best known for. Lasting 4 hours, we moseyed our way along the river, stopping at popular spots along the way. As for the food and drink? Two words before your tour: eat light!

Here’s the lowdown on the Rust Belt Tour and its highlights.

The South Side

Filled with eclectic shops, mom and pop restaurants, and an all-over hip feel, The South Side has been hugely popular with young adults and those that simply love a good meal.

The Pretzel Shop

With a brick oven from 1872, the three generation, family-owned bakery has been making pretzels since 1981 when the building was purchased from a previous owner. After scalding the pretzel dough in hot water for flavor, each pretzel is covered with salt and placed into the brick oven until baked to perfection. Not only are the pretzels the perfect texture but the price is dumbfounding at 60 cents a piece. The Pretzel Shop also serves sandwiches from the storefront and the ever-popular kids’ favorite- pigs in a blanket.

Swissvale

A working man’s town, Swissvale was the spot where steel mill workers settled down to raise families. Close to work and the downtown area, the community fell when the local steel mills went out of business.

Triangle Bar

Thrillist.com has given Triangle Bar‘s Battleship the prestigious title of a Top 10 Sandwich. Spanning a giant two feet in length, the Italian-style sandwich is loaded with salami, ham, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, oil & vinegar, and salt & pepper for flavor. For 40 years, owner Tom Crombie has been feeding hungry sandwich lovers and the bar is now 2 generations in. Can’t stomach two feet of fabulousness? There’s also a 10″ Destroyer an a 5″ Torpedo.

Braddock

Named for General Edward Braddock, who crossed the Monongahela River at the spot of the now-standing borough, its first official industry was a barrel plant. Andrew Carnegie built a steel plant in Braddock in 1873 and the town’s population rapidly rose. As with the many Rust Belt cities and communities, Braddock took a hard hit when the steel mills closed in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

Brew Gentlemen Beer Co.

Celebrating its one year anniversary, Brew Gentlemen Beer Co. was the college creation of fraternity brothers  Matt and Asa who realized they loved craft beer while just of legal drinking age. Pulling in their lead brewer from Thirsty Dog Brewery in Akron, Ohio, the company offers five flagship brews in addition to seasonal and specialty creations. The bar has a partnership with the Pittsburgh Food Truck scene and you’ll see a different one every weekday parked outside its doors. The business loves to pair their brews with chocolate from Lux Artisan Chocolates and I have to admit, the decadent dessert gives a whole new flavor to the taste of beer.

Homestead

Once only farmland, Homestead saw a great rise in population after the building of a glass factory, iron mill, and railroad. By the early 20th Century, well over 1/2 of its population was employed in the local plants and the areas was a working-man’s place to live. As was the commonality with other towns in the Rust Belt, the borough came upon hard times in the early 1980’s when the Homestead Works steel mill closed. The mill was demolished and the popular Waterfront shopping area was built on its site which now brings thousands of visitors to the small town.

Blue Dust

A modern day gastropub, Blue Dust was named for the hue the steel mill dust took on when hematite is one of the minerals in iron ore. An homage to the successful steel mill years in Homestead, the bar and restaurant has two in-house smokers and its customer favorite, beef brisket sliders, are top notch compliments of the hickory and apple wood the business uses to flavor its meats. There’s always 26 beers on tap and if you can’t find a favorite out of those offered, the pub’s owner, Jerry, has a cooler the length of one wall filled with additional styles and flavors. Blue Dust opens everyday except Monday at exactly 11:37a.m.- a shout out to the owner’s school schedule.

Eating On the Bus!

In between stops, our tour guides always had delicious samplings of local bakeries including a Polish snack pack from S&D Polish Deli in The Strip District, haluski from Kelly O’s in The Strip as well and the best peanut butter chocolate chip cookie from Nancy B’s Bakery in Homestead I’ve ever eaten.

And if that wasn’t enough, we all received a goodie bag with Snyder’s pretzels as the snack for our trip home.

Hungry for Rust Belt food? Pittsburgh Tours and More offers the tour at least monthly. At the time this article published, the tour was $85 for a single ticket with discounts offered on multiple ticket purchases.

Disclosure: I was hosted by Pittsburgh Tours and More to give you fine folks the scoop on what makes the Rust Bet tour so worthy of your hard-earned dollar. I was not asked to state a particular point of view and all opinions are my own. 

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  1. […] for the Pittsburgh culinary scene. The tour focuses on popular food destinations (as opposed to the Rust Belt Culinary Tour which focuses on dining along the Mon River) that locals love and visitors put on their not-to-miss […]

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