Travel Pennsylvania – Exploring Pittsburgh’s Strip District

Sharing is caring!

Travel Pennsylvania - Exploring Pittsburgh’s Strip District

Travel Pennsylvania – Exploring Pittsburgh’s Strip District

Travel Pennsylvania – Exploring Pittsburgh’s Strip District

By Habeeb Salloum

If you want to know the new Pittsburgh, especially its throbbing heart, you must explore its Strip District. Located between the Allegheny River and green hills, this half square mile in the heart of Pittsburgh is a tourist mecca and a playground for locals where they mingle and socialize. Its authentic ethnic foods, eateries and retail outlets dot the whole district and when the weather is sunny and temperate, the whole historic market district is a beehive of activity and enjoyment. The aromas of fresh roasted coffee and freshly baked breads saturate the atmosphere and people moving back and forth seem to be happy and content.

Pittsburgh Strip District - St. Patrick Church

Pittsburgh Strip District – St. Patrick Church

This is Pittsburgh’s famous Strip District where visitors looking for food and all types of entertainment head. The Strip has been reborn as a foodie heaven and a world of authentic homemade goods. Despite not really looking like paradise, it’s worth the adventure into this world of local flavours.

Pittsburgh Strip District  - Enrico Biscotti Company

Pittsburgh Strip District – Enrico Biscotti Company

At one time the Strip was filled with mills and factories. By the early 20th century, the area became an actively busy network of wholesalers, the vast majority selling fresh produce, meat, and poultry. Restaurants and grocery stores quickly developed to feed the mill and factory workers. By the 1920s, the Strip became the economic hub of Pittsburgh but by the mid to late 20th century wholesalers, produce sellers, and manufacturers were leaving the area seeking out larger land on which to expand and to be closer to highways.

Today many of the ghost warehouses have been renovated becoming specialty shops, art galleries, restaurants, bars, delis, and nightclubs. Residential developers have even purchased many of the delinquent sites renovating them into lofts and apartments. The Strip is now a glorified retail section of the city constantly busy with streams of customers and visitors, especially actively vibrant during the summer months. On weekends when street vendors sell their wares, farmers’ markets come alive with freshly picked produce and homemade baked items and preserves, and party-lovers come out in droves to dance and drink the night away.

A group of us visiting the Strip began our adventure by stopping at the 200 year old St Patrick Church, the first Irish Catholic Church built in Pittsburgh and the gateway to the Strip. Our guide, Richard, a history buff, gave us quite a detailed history of the area but grumbling stomachs overtook the history lesson while we waited to begin our culinary experience of tastes.

Pittsburgh Strip District - Parma Sausage Company

Pittsburgh Strip District – Parma Sausage Company

We began walking on our Burgh, Bits, and Bites Tour by entering Parma Sausage, an establishment that offers fine Italian meats by descendants of a family who emigrated from Parma, Italy five generations ago. Before us in the display cases were dozens of types of prepared Italian style meats. Soon we were sampling these delicacies. These meats are special because of the family’s tradition of maintaining the original recipe and using the highest quality of meat. The young man that offered us samples of Parma’s prepared meats was so passionate and proud about his grandparents’ hard work to create this generational establishment that he expects it to continue well into the next generations of his family.

Pittsburgh Strip District - Labad's Mediterranean Grocery & Cafe's Hummus

Pittsburgh Strip District – Labad’s Mediterranean Grocery & Cafe’s Hummus

With the taste of Parma’s meats still with us, we crossed the street to Labad’s Mediterranean Grocery & Cafe where some Pittsburghians say offers the best hummus in the country. Faiad Labad, a second generation Syrian-American, offered us samples of his hummus while he explained what makes his dish so tasty and unique. All the ingredients used to make it are unadulterated and pure, adding that by using dried chickpeas rather than the canned makes for a better tasting dish. His extra virgin Syrian olive oil and just enough tahini to taste give his hummus an authentic and old country taste. It was apparent to us that Faiad loved to make the best of hummus and talk to his customers about it. I don’t know whether it was Faiad’s long handlebar moustache or his hummus that made my visit to his place a memorable experience.

Pittsburgh Strip District - Jimmy Sunseri & Nino Company Pepperoni Rolls

Pittsburgh Strip District – Jimmy Sunseri & Nino Company Pepperoni Rolls

Moving on a few meters down the street we climbed the stairs to meet Jimmy Sunseri, owner of Jimmy Sunseri & Nino Company, whom our guide referred to as the unofficial Mayor of the Strip.

With his trademark huge unlit cigar hanging from his mouth, he talked about his traditional Italian products emphasizing his famous pepperoni rolls on which we munched while he talked about the Strip. According to Jimmy, to visit the Strip is to experience a combination of euphoria and self-abuse because it is hard to navigate through the crowds of shoppers and other visitors. Shopping in the Strip is a tradition for Pittsburghians as this is the district where products such as cheeses, olive oils, prepared meats, spices, clothing, antiques, and other products are not easily found in other parts of the city.

As we continued on our tasting journey, only a few minutes away, we reached Enrico Biscotti Company, a small bakery filled with the enticing aromas of all types of biscotti. These twice-baked cookies are huge. Handmade on-site and made only with natural ingredients, this little bakery produces over (455 kilos) 1,000 pounds of biscotti per day. Needless to say, I had the time of my life nibbling at one type then being drawn to another. The only way I stopped was because our tour guide tugged me by the arm assuring me that there was even more to enjoy at the next stop.

Pittsburgh Strip District - Colangelo's Bakery Meles

Pittsburgh Strip District – Colangelo’s Bakery Meles

The next stop was Colangelo’s Bakery offering Italian comfort food made with fresh ingredients and Old World flavours such as soups, salads, and pizzas, with an emphasis on pastries. Everything was tempting but having stuffed ourselves on the samplings of the Strip, we sat down to enjoy delicious sweets inspired by northern Italy. I chose the almond mele while my daughter opted for the raspberry version. Light and crispy with a hint of sweetness, it was a gourmet experience.

A few feet further, we entered the S&D Polish Deli, the home of pierogis. Despite feeling full, these hot fresh pierogis enticed us and we dug in with no regrets. Fresh, hot, and with 15 flavours to choose from, these Polish dumplings are just one of the innumerable incredible offerings in this multicultural culinary milieu.

To cap our tour, we left the ethnic foods of the Strip to the ethnic architecture of the countries from where the immigrants came to settle in the Pittsburgh area. At the University of Pittsburgh in the Cathedral of Learning, 29 working classrooms have been erected dedicated to and designed in the tradition of the countries from where the immigrants came.

Named the University’s Nationality Rooms, we toured a number of these rooms ending up at the Syrian-Lebanese Room where we rested awhile enjoying the ambiance of Syrian architectural splendour. Maxine Bruhns, Director of the Nationality Rooms and Intercultural Exchange Programs, a 91 year old scholar and world traveler, considers this room the finest of them all. Looking around, her words appeared to be true. It was a great way to end our tour of ethnic Pittsburgh with its exotic foods and architecture from the four corners of the globe.



Habeeb Salloum

Habeeb Salloum is a Canadian author who grew up in Saskatchewan, joined the RCAF during the Second World War, and then worked for the Canadian Department of National Revenue for 36 years. For the last 30 years he has been a full-time freelance writer and author specializing in food, history and travel. Besides 7 books and 20 chapters in books, he has had hundreds of articles about culture, food, travel, history and homesteading in western Canada appear in such publications as the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, the Western Producer, Contemporary Review, Forever Young, Vegetarian Journal and Saveur.

Habeeb was awarded the 2013 Saskatchewan Tourism Travel Media Award by the Saskatchewan Tourism on April 10, 2014 for his literary work on travel, tourism and the culinary arts of that province.


Sharing is caring!

One Response to Travel Pennsylvania – Exploring Pittsburgh’s Strip District

  1. Pingback: Pittsburgh’s Strip District featured in WAVEJourney travel e-zine - NEXTpittsburgh

Leave a Reply