20 Things You'll Miss if You Dare Leave Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Student Work
by Tyler McCloskey Jun 8, 2015

1. Capicola and cheese with a frosty Yuengling

Primanti’s started as a Depression-era street sandwich cart in the early 1930’s for hungry freight truckers passing through the industrial steel city. It was a meal that could be eaten with one hand while driving and open for those late-night hauls passing through at 3am. Meat and cheese stacked on thick Italian bread with sweet slaw and fresh-cut fries, still served up on a skin of wax paper (sans plate like the old days).

2. The growing bike culture

Kraynick’s Bike Shop has been around since 1946 and acts as a bike collective that looks like a hoarder’s bunker where you can use the shop/space/tools/parts to repair your bike at little to no cost as long as you pay it forward and teach someone else how to perform repairs. Bike Pgh is the biggest champion of developing designated biking lanes that connect and snake throughout the city and outlying neighborhoods that also tie into the Great Allegheny Passage which hooks up to the C&O Canal down to DC. The newly launched bike share program aims to expand the city’s pedal power.

3. The strong breakfast diner scene

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Greasy spoons abound, partly because they’re cheap and delicious, partly because us Yinzers like to drink. Grab a plate at any one of these veteran diners for a booze mop that will get your GI tract rallying for the next night’s drinking binge — Ritter’s Diner, Kelly-O’s, DeLuca’s and Pamela’s are all cherished institutions of the hangover cure. And, yes, we can tell an out-of-towner by how you struggle to pour your ketchup out of a glass Heinz bottle. Hint, hint — 57.

4. Zombies

5. The Strip District

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It’s where you can find any ethnic food item from fertilized duck eggs to camel meat to locally distilled genièvre. Also the stomping grounds of Jimmy Sunseri — from Jimmy & Nino Sunseri Co. — the wisecracking, sidewalk-dwelling deli purveyor that will sell you pepperoni rolls and your own pants back to you all beneath a chewed-up cigar butt and sly grin. He is a permanent, well known and much beloved Yinzer personality.

6. Pierogies

Nothing speaks to Pittsburgh’s strong Polish heritage more than the ubiquitous presence of pierogies on a surprising number of appetizer menus throughout the city’s restaurants, not to mention the Great Peirogie Race at every Pirates baseball game. Fry up the onions, get out the sour cream and satisfy that Yinzer nostalgia.

7. Conflict Kitchen

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This place stirs up contentious dialogue while dishing out cheap, tasty ethnic fare. Receiving death threats isn’t new to this CMU professor’s side project—a walk-up kiosk that only sells cuisine from countries with which the United States is in conflict. Past permutations have included Cuban, Palestinian, Venezuelan, Iranian, Afghan, and North Korean.

8. Schenley Park

A photo posted by Kurt Pfaff (@kurtpf) on

And the entire Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy for that matter. While many cities are concrete jungles, Pittsburgh makes sure to reserve and maintain green spaces and forested areas big enough to get lost in and forget that the urban landscape exists just outside of it.

9. Cathedral of Learning

It’s that iconic tower that you can see from almost any vantage point in the city—enough to inspire an art installment (365 Views of the Cathedral of Learning; a series of day-by-day oil sketches of distinct and unique views of the structure from around the city throughout a single calendar year). Also, it doesn’t hurt to mention that the interior of the place seems like it was the inspiration for Hogwarts with its vaulted ceilings, narrow twisting staircases and ornate detailing. Plus there’s a Peregrine Falcon nest up on the 40th floor maintained by avian mama Dorothy. Servant to a shape-shifting, Gandalfesque wizard on 41? Don’t trust every rumor you hear.

10. Cityscapes

A photo posted by Michael Borrero (@mike.g.borrero) on

The kind that are — POW! — in your face. Most notable examples are coming inbound popping out of the Fort Pitt Tunnel, 376 East rounding the bend before the Oakland exit, and the famous Grandview in Mt. Washington. I never tire of the PPG smoky mirrored-glass, Highmark’s color-morphing pyramid, or the Steel Building all clustered at the three rivers point.

11. Churches

The hypnotic baroque churches with vaults, arches, buttresses and spires make you forget about that little thing called time as you’re absorbed into their intricate detail. St. Paul’s, Cathedral of Hope, Heinz Memorial Chapel are just a few. Other churches such as Church Brew Works and Altar Bar give a secular repurposing (albeit sacrilegious by some standards) to otherwise abandoned structures, serving up microbrews and hosting concert series.

12. Terrible towels

Myrone Cope, the sportscaster known as the voice of the Steelers, invented this little gimmick to attract sponsors to NFL broadcasts. Little did he know the overwhelming popularity in store, especially in 2008-2009 when the Steelers won the Super Bowl and the Penguins took the Stanley Cup. Pittsburgh regained its former glory from the 70s as The City of Champions. These towels can be seen at any and all professional sporting events from football to hockey to baseball.

13. The Doc Ellis No-No Story

14. New inventions by CMU students

Quite the track record — emoticons ‘82, wifi ’94; field robotics and unmanned vehicles, GigaPan Camera System with multibillion-pixel images, the hashtag for Twitter grouping and the litany goes on endlessly. Live bus maps as an afternoon public service project? No problem. It’s no surprise that Google, Intel, Apple, and Microsoft all have research labs there. I just can’t wait for iTeleport to be realized this summer.

15. Dinosaur statues everywhere

In a PR effort to market their extensive dinosaur fossil exhibit, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History produced hundreds of artistic dinosaur statues for auction to fund the exhibit’s development. They were then scattered all over the city as public art. I never get sick of seeing the obvious — Alphabetasaurus or the Skeleton Stego — but still delight in discovering new ones tucked away throughout the city.

16. Pittsburghese

Yinz gwon dahtahn tah see nem Stillers n’at?

It’s a blue-collar Appalachian accent through and through. Easy to pinpoint someone born and bred in the Burgh from the phonetic shifts, deletions and abbreviations that are all rooted in local history. Think jagoff is a homophone with a sexual connotation? Get your mind out of the gutter. While its etymology is disputed, the most local rendition comes from the steel mills where jag was a term for leftover scrap ore in steel production. The lowest guy on the totem pole was tasked with scraping it off the production machinery to be re-melted and reused, thus earning the disparaging and jocular reputation as the jagoff. Need a lesson on Pittsburghese? Behold.

17. Bridges

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Pittsburgh has the most bridges in the world — 446 (depending on criteria and opinion) — dwarfing other locations known for their bridges (Venice, ahem!). After the first few times (or years) of driving downtown, passing the building you had intended to arrive at, then finding yourself crossing yet another river yet again and unleashing expletives that would make your mother blush, you’ll figure out that it’s trial by fire and be able to (eventually) navigate the labyrinth.

18. Rent prices

I’m somewhat hesitant to even share this one. By the time you read this, prices will have inflated…so don’t bother. Stay out, Brooklyn!

19. Friendliness and diversity

The kind that comes from a working-class, small city: one of the largest Italian-American communities, 5th largest Ukranian, largest Croatian, strong Polish and Latin American communities, refugees and immigrants abound (the Lost Boys from Sudan also called it home). Point being, it’s a place where you can be completely out of your element, yet feel welcomed, included, accepted—a rarity in big cities.

20. The writing that comes out of this place

Birthplace of the genre creative nonfiction by the Godfather, Lee Gutkind; Pittsburgh is also home to Annie Dillard, Gertrude Stein, Rachel Carson, and personal favorites Lori Jakiela and Dave Newman.

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