Being Thankful in Pittsburgh
Post food blogger conference, you’d think I’d have run home and immediately posted about it. That post is coming–promise. This past week has been a whirl of finishing up projects for the class I’m taking (seriously, taking a course on top of working full time AND freelancing is ridiculous) and photo shoots and all that other stuff that keeps a body busy through the week. It’s been so crazy that I can’t even remember the last time I cooked. Thanksgiving maybe?
Note: perfect segue into an epic-length Thanksgiving post.
This year, G & I drove up to Pittsburgh to spend the holiday with his family. It’s a five-ish hour drive, so stopping for lunch in Winchester was a must. As I often do when traveling, I ran a Yelp search to see what was in the area and what might be good and The Butcher Station caught my eye. A little bit tough to find, the Butcher Station is situated in the back corner of Creekside Station. I’d worried that business might be tough in the shopping plaza (we were the only lunch customers), but Sandy, the chef/owner, assured me that they do a busy dinner service.
Focusing on local foods, our sandwiches featured local pork and beef alongside Route 11 potato chips for me (fries for G since he’s allergic to peanuts and the chips are cooked in peanut oil). The burger was a little overcooked (more well than medium), but the local beef was juicy and savory, the bacon nice and crispy. My Station Cuban sandwich (featuring house-roasted pork, diced dill pickles, prosciutto, melted baby swiss and creole mustard) was a great balance of salty pork, tangy pickles, and spicy mustard. A little nitpicking on the bread, I wish it had been a little more substantial to hold up to the meat, but otherwise a fantastic dish. The side of coleslaw didn’t do much for me, something in it was gloopy sweet, but on the whole, both sandwiches were well worth driving a bit of the path for.
After arriving in Pittsburgh, we settled in and caught up with the family over pizza from D’s Sixpax & Dogs, but I, of course, had to be a little difficult, and ordered a salad for something a little lighter the night before Thanksgiving. Only in Pittsburgh does a portobello mushroom salad come with french fries on it. No really, it’s the way it comes. It’s not something I’m going to start doing, but I’ll admit that the fries did help the pretty weak iceberg salad out.
Thanksgiving Day was relatively chill for me since I’d already made everything ahead of time. Green Bean Casserole Redux, Chorizo & Olive Stuffing, Pioneer Woman’s Cranberry Sauce (holy crap, was this recipe good), Roasted Butternut with Parmesan and Sage, Apple Pie Cheesecake, Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie, and Pumpkin Pie all hit the road with us and were reheated & served for dinner. G’s sister cooked the turkey and made mashed potatoes with potatoes from her neighbor’s garden, and plenty of wine was enjoyed. A fantastic, intimate family meal.
Our Pittsburgh Black Friday was spent roaming buying SmartWool socks at REI (I found knee socks for $10–winning!) and roaming around the Strip District, Pittsburgh’s food area. One of my favorite places in Pittsburgh is found in the Strip District–S&D Polish Deli. Not only is it a full fledged Polish grocery store with Polish cheese, meat, frozen pierogies, and dry goods, it also has a lunch cafe that I’ve fallen in love with.
For lunch, we ordered an assortment of fried pierogies (potato & farmers cheese, sauerkraut & mushroom, potato & cheddar), mushroom stew, and kielbasa with onions and mustard. My favorite by far as the mushroom soup which was rich and creamy with various kinds of mushrooms mixed in–it’s a hearty, winter stew. The pierogies are great too because they’re definitely different than the ones G’s mother makes us, and the kielbasa was perfect paired with the caramelized onions and sharp yellow mustard. It’s hard to leave the store, but, thankfully, you can also take some of the lunch favorites home with you, including the mushroom stew which is frozen and kept in the back of the store.
After eating, we bought spices at Penzeys and visited another favorite–the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company. A giant Italian grocery store, Penn Mac is a dream to walk around. You can purchase over one hundred kinds of cheeses, stock up on cured meats, choose olives from five gallon tubs, and buy olive oil on the cheap. Not to mention all the fresh pastas, bread, cheap spices, sauces, and produce. It’s hard not to go hogwild and buying everything in sight–G’s good for holding me back.
Fully fooded out, we browsed records at Paul’s, an old haunt of G’s, where he picked up an original My Dad is Dead vinyl and, though chatting with the guy working there, found out that the two of them had been at the same ~15 person show in Pittsburgh in the early nineties. Small, small world. I also found a super creepy angel statue for Pittsburgh’s police. Not sure what to make of it, so take it as is.
Saturday, we awoke to snow. Bye bye sunny, 60 degree weather, hello winter. Definitely not my favorite.
Perfect for warming up with some vada & chai at Udipi, my favorite restaurant in the entire city. (Which, by the way, was completely packed–as in we had to wait 10 minutes–at 2:30 pm. Crazy)
That evening we met up with some of my friends in Squirrel Hill for drinks which we followed up with midnight pizza at Mineo’s–another old school place (established in 1958!) that G used to frequent. Let’s talk for a second about midnight post-drinking pizza-by-the-slice. It’s never good. Normally the crust is like limp cardboard, the sauce generic, and the cheese plasticy. (Oh, wait, that’s pizza anywhere in Roanoke…) I know not to expect the best–especially out of an old school dive. Mineo’s, however, blew me away. Do you see that crust? The char? How it was obviously fermented for at least a day? And I wish you could taste it. The cheese is insane–a blend of mozzarella and something else (Asiago, maybe?) that gives it an intensely cheesey profile. Plus that’s definitely a Great Lakes Christmas Ale I’m pairing with it. My jealousy knows no bounds over the fact that local Squirrel Hill residents can eat this whenever they want.
Sunday was a full day of football and playing Rockband with G’s childhood friends. Let’s not talk about what happened to the Steelers. My team (the Falcons) won, at least. And I finally got to try the infamous Primanti’s sandwich. Our’s? Fried capicola topped with the usual coleslaw, tomato, and french fries. Yup, the fries strike again. It’s definitely not a sandwich for the faint hearted and, while I’m not jonesing for another right now, it was good. I’m glad we split one sandwich though, I don’t think there’s any way that I could ever polish off one of those giants on my own.
Rockband night featured my favorite non-Dorian cat, Ivy, who’s an Ocicat–the most amazing mix of Siamese, Abyssinian, and American shorthair–and plenty of Rockband, of course. I suck at Rockband. No, really, I do, even though I play the easiest settings on the keyboad. Drinking helps me get through the night at least–that and the fun company.
The next morning, G’s birthday!, we had to drive home, but not without another lunch break in Winchester. This time, we opted for Snow White Grill, a tiny hamburger joint that opened in 1948. It was my first time in downtown, historic Winchester, and town is really cute! There’s a pedestrian mall area where most of the restaurants and shops are located, and all over town you’ll see these painted apples (Winchester is home to the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival)–this one featuring General Jubal Early of the Confederate Army cracked me up. Also, that gorgeous building? The public library!
Snow White Grill itself is a trip back in time. The inside seats only a few people at the counter and you can actually order at a window at the front for to-go meals. Famous for their sliders, I ordered a deluxe with bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onion. The burger patty is thin and grilled on the flat top, the bacon deep fried to crispy perfection. Paired with cheese topped fried tater tots, it was a cheap, quick, and totally delicious lunch.
Finally back in Roanoke, we collapsed on the couch and Dorian never left her nest on my lap–it’s always good to be home.
The Butcher Station
3107 Valley Ave
Winchester, VA 22601
D’s Sixpax & Dogs
4320 Northern Pike
Monroeville, PA 15146
S&D Polish Deli
2204 Penn Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Neighborhood: Strip District
4141 Old William Penn Hwy
Monroeville, PA 15146
Mineo’s Pizza House
2128 Murray Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15217
Neighborhood: Squirrel Hill
3847 Northern Pike
Monroeville, PA 15146
Snow White Grill
159 N Loudoun St
Winchester, VA 22601