Best of the 'Burgh 2014

60 of our favorite things — from mobile fashion trucks to off-menu items and big-top apprenticeships.



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Best Regular Food Event with Ever-Changing Themes

Pierogi Night
Pierogi Night is the Goldberg Variations of comfort food. Since 2010, hosts Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski have been upending familiar culinary themes. The couple’s monthly pop-up nights, held at the Stephen Foster Community Center in Lawrenceville, pit pierogies “against” a challenger from the street-food staples — banh mi sandwiches, for example. Skowronski and Lasky don’t make the Mrs. T’s potato-and-cheese variety; a recent batch contained buckwheat, roasted leeks, mushrooms and carrots, and the contending cuisine boasts similar culinary chops. Having built a loyal following through word of mouth, the duo is pursuing plans to establish a permanent eatery in the East End. — EL

286 Main St., Lawrenceville; twitter.com/PierogiNight; photo by Laura Petrilla

 


Best Place to Zip Along

Go Ape
Remember that time in high-school gym class when you went outside into some scrappy little clump of woods to climb trees and tightrope-walk between the trunks? Go Ape is kind of like that, but you can enjoy a much-improved social dynamic — and you’re up much higher. Cleverly designed for users of most ages and abilities — there are some restrictions — this treetop obstacle course sends you ascending rope bridges, jumping from great heights into the safety of nets and ziplining through the leaves. — KB

303 Pearce Mill Road, Allison Park; 800/971-8271; goape.com; photo by Chuck Beard

 

Best Form of Encouragement for Aspiring Thespians

Gene Kelly Awards
Once high-school musical season ends, artistic students can look forward to the Gene Kelly Awards for Excellence in High School Musical Theater, presented by the Pittsburgh CLO and the University of Pittsburgh. Prizes go to the best musical, ensemble, all-student orchestra, crew, choreography, direction, actor and actress, supporting actor and actress and costume, lighting/technical execution and scenic designs. This year, 29 schools elected to compete, and some accolades are bestowed in three budget levels. The annual awards presentation is a production itself, with performances by select nominees. — LD

412/281-2922, pittsburghclo.org

 


Best Example of Farm to Pint Glass

Hop Farm Brewing Co.
You know you’re in Lawrenceville when many things that can be described as local and organic surround you. Lucky for you, we’re into that sort of thing, as are the folks at Hop Farm Brewing Co. They grow their own hops, more than 1,500, to be exact. They handle their own brewing. They even have an eight-point list of sustainable reasons to explain why they chose aluminum cans instead of glass bottles. If you ask nicely, though, they have bottled seasonal specials. — AW

5601 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/408-3248, hopfarmbrewingco.com; photo by John Altdorfer

 


Best Workout Fueled by Distraction

Club Cycle
As Madonna sings about her love being on the borderline and you see your instructor and DJ joke around, you realize spinning can be great fun. Veteran spinner Stacie Adams and DJ Bill Bara run Club Cycle, the first U.S. studio to have DJs on-site during class and use technology to monitor rider metrics. Employing special-effects lights and music videos, the pair helps cyclists to become entranced as they ride to the beat for an hour. Adams and Bara will relocate their Dormont site and offer “destination” classes atop Mount Washington and elsewhere; they also aspire to launch more regional studios along with a franchise model. Club Cycle provides towels and live beats; you bring the drive and your best karaoke voice. — KM

3281 W. Liberty Ave., Dormont; 412/726-6641, clubcycleonline.com; photo by John Altdorfer

 

Best Mix of Community, Coffee and Groceries

52nd Street Market
The corner grocery used to be a starting place for aspiring entrepreneurs. A storefront, merchandise and some grit helped many families to get out of poverty. Supermarkets made those stores obsolete but not irrelevant, as 52nd Street Market proves. The side-street shop — once home to the Bloomfield Market — sells staples, produce and coffee, but founders Deirdre Kane and Dora Walmsley, who work at other jobs, are chasing a new American Dream. Their store grew from community planning and was partially crowd-funded. It’s stocked mostly with local products that neighborhood residents request or refer to the pair. Old grocery stores strengthened communities by chance; this market is doing it intentionally. — EL

601 52nd St., Lawrenceville; 412/408-3798, 52ndstreetmarket.com

 


Best (Inexpensive) Night Out for Young Professionals

Mix@Six
Looking for a different kind of weeknight activity? Why not head down to the Pittsburgh Public Theater to see a show — and throw in a Victorian parlor game or a cornhole toss? Held once during each show’s run at the theater, Mix@Six affords young adults an opportunity to mingle while playing games at the pre-show event, with a theme that correlates to the stage production. The $25.75 ticket price covers the performance plus light bites and beverages; those 26 and younger pay $15.75. — LD

621 Penn Ave., downtown; 412/316-8200 x704, ppt.org/mixsix; photo courtesy PPT

 

Best Place for (First) Friday Night Fever

First Fridays at The Frick
You don’t need bell-bottoms, and there’s no disco ball at these events. Relax on the cool lawn of the Henry Clay Frick estate and channel music of many varieties. For 20 years, Pittsburghers have been enjoying this evening event on the first Friday of June through September. Create a gourmet picnic with goodies from The Café at the Frick. Upcoming: Jerry Grcevich Tamburitza Orchestra on Aug. 1 and Sean Jones Quartet on Sept. 5. Closed July 4. — MM

The Frick Art & Historical Center, 7227 Reynolds St., Point Breeze; suggested donation: $5 per adult; 412/371-0600; thefrickpittsburgh.org

 

Best Spot for a Brew and Bulldog

Packs & Dogs
Many trends are not worth the time. We’d like to see tasty hot dogs stick around, though. Besides Smith’s and all-beef varieties, Packs & Dogs offers veggie dogs. All are available in pooch-themed varieties ranging from the Bulldog (sauerkraut and mustard on kielbasa) to the Mutt (create your own). Packs & Dogs has the added benefit of boasting a selection of 500-plus bottled beers to wash down your dog. — KB

231 Shiloh St., Mount Washington; 412/431-1855, packsanddogs.com

 


Best Annual Parade of Pooches

Bark Shadyside
“Oh where, oh where has my little dog gone ...?” Fido or Fifi may be at Bark Shadyside, a yearly fundraising event for the Animal Rescue League Shelter & Wildlife Center. That’s where canines of all kinds join their two-legged companions to strut their stuff on a 1-mile walk. In April, 139 pooches lent their paws to help less-fortunate critters at the second event, sponsored by Petagogy and Think Shadyside. — MM

412/682-1298, barkshadyside.com; photo by Jenny Karlsson

 

Best Use of a Brown Paper Bag

Pajer’s Bakery’s Brown-Bag Apple Pie
The age-old notion of baking an apple pie in a paper bag is alive and well at Pajer’s Bakery. The practice is said to yield a flakier crust (a feat for dedicated bakers) than traditional methods. Bakers craft the pie, popular in the fall, by folding apples and spices into a sugar-cookie crust. Loyals swear by it; first-time buyers quickly find out why. — KM

240 Ekastown Road, Sarver; 724/353-1577, pajersbakery.com

 


Best Place to Have Fun After Work N'at

Games N’ At
Tough day at the office? Wind down after work, or anytime, with some games at Games N’ At. Look for the big blue building housing what’s presented as “Pittsburgh’s largest video arcade.” Find pinball, ping-pong, pool tables, driving games, shooting games, foosball, air hockey, bubble hockey, Xbox, PC games and more. There’s even duckpin bowling, and you won’t have to rent ugly shoes. “Everyone thinks it’s a kids’ game,” says owner Marian Jones. “Duckpins are hard!” — MM

2010 Josephine St., South Side; 412/481-2002, sites.google.com/site/gamesnatsite; photo by John Altdorfer

 

Best Way of Sampling Flicks from Multiple Cultures

Pittsburgh Lesbian & Gay Film Society’s Annual Reel Q
Reel Q was cited, with PrideFest, as one of the reasons The Advocate this year listed Pittsburgh as the nation’s 15th-gayest city. But Reel Q isn’t just a site for expanding gender diversity. It’s also a huge supporter of films from diverse American and international cultures. The festival, Oct. 10-18, frequently partners with other local cultural film festivals and has screened films from Taiwan, Israel and the United Kingdom. — KB

412/422-6776, plgfs.org

 


Best Locally Produced Fizz

Natrona Bottling Co.
A summer cocktail should be sweet and refreshing. Instead of using artificially sweetened mixers for your drinks, we suggest using high-quality products shipped from Natrona Bottling Co. Its pop contains all-natural cane sugar and can take the edge off the heat; see the website for recipes featuring its Jamaica’s Finest Ginger Beer. Flavors including cherry and grape also make the brand an attractive alternative to the high-fructose soft drinks usually marketed to kids. — GB

natronabottling.com

 

Best Place to Thrift for a Cause

East End Community Thrift
First, East End Community Thrift is bafflingly affordable: When you bring $1 items to the register, the cashier knots her eyebrows and says, “Hmm, expensive.” The store also supports the area: As an entirely volunteer-run operation out of the Thomas Merton Center, East End Community Thrift partners with nonprofits to give some merchandise — worth approximately $300 a week — to community members in homeless shelters, halfway houses and low-income lodging though merchandise vouchers. The thrift store stocks clothing, housewares, toys and occasionally fresh, organic veggies and eggs. Hurry — the good stuff is never around for long.  — KB

5123 Penn Ave., Garfield; 412/361-6010, thomasmertoncenter.org/thrifty
 

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