creative ideas without needing a huge financial investment.
Some, like chef Pete Tolman’s Iron Born Pizza (Detroit-style deep dish with a wickedly good fermented crust that caramelizes as it bakes in steel pans), move on to open their own brick-andmortar restaurants.
Others shift to a new concept: Chef Summer Le had a hit with the Vietnamese pop-up Bahnmilicious at Smallman Galley in 2017, and recently opened Shaka (Hawaiian poke bowls and Vietnamese pho) at Federal Galley.
Brian McCollum, who has been organizing Pittsburgh Restaurant Week since 2012, says independent chefs like Le are “driving more of the innovation,” and that’s had a positive ripple effect on restaurants in general.
“It’s almost as if the more corporate restaurant groups are having to be just as innovative” to compete, he says.
Chef Bethany Zozula, who helms the Whitfield restaurant at Pittsburgh’s Ace Hotel, says the city’s close-knit community of chefs encourage one another. In this relatively small city, “everybody knows each other,” she says. They’re willing to help each other source the right ingredients, “or if you need a phone number of a forager.”
So what should you try on a weekend of dining in the Steel City?
Dinner at Smallman Galley in the Strip District will give you a choice of four pop-ups, all offering elevated comfort food. Try the chicken and biscuits at the popup called Home and finish off your meal with sweets from the pop-up Sultry.
If you’d prefer a more upscale vibe, try Zozula’s restaurant, Whitfield in East Liberty. She sources beef from a ranch two hours away in Bedford, Pennsylvania. The cocktail menu is strong (try the Queen Bee: bourbon, chamomile honey syrup, lemon and pineapple) and the vibe inside this rehabbed Y.M.C.A. building is effortlessly cool.
Then hit one of the many craftbeer taprooms a short drive away in Lawrenceville. Eleventh Hour Brewing Company is among the best, offering a sublime nitro stout and a range of other brews.
Craving a late-night snack? There’s a little izakaya called Umami tucked upstairs on the second floor above the Round Corner Cantina on Butler Street. They serve authentic Japanese skewers until 2 a.m. on weekends.
Sleep in, then wander in the Strip District and grab an early lunch — either authentic pierogis at S&D Polish Deli or fresh seafood at Wholey’s Fish Market.
For dinner, make a reservation at chef Kevin Sousa’s Superior Motors in Braddock (about a 20-minute drive from downtown Pittsburgh), named among Food & Wine’s Restaurants of the Year for 2018. Plates are small but exquisite, and the location inside a former car dealership across the street from U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Works couldn’t be more dramatic.
Dig into breakfast at Coca Cafe, where an ample avocado omelet served with apple-smoked bacon, jalapeno muenster and house salsa manages to feel indulgent and healthy at the same time.
Have time for one more meal before leaving town? Pittsburgh’s longtime favorite, Primanti’s, serves huge sandwiches on thick Italian bread with French fries and vinegar-based coleslaw tucked inside. It has locations all over town, including a new one inside Pittsburgh’s airport.