The Food Lovers' Guide to Pittsburgh
We’ve outlined some of the most scrumptious producers and purveyors in the region—from farms to specialty stores and everything in between.
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The find: High-end pastured lamb
Lamb from southwestern Pennsylvania is a hit with chefs at some of America’s toniest restaurants. Jamison Farm lamb has been featured on menus by New York chefs like Daniel Boulud and Alain Ducasse, but you can order directly from the Latrobe farm yourself. Raised on white clover, bluegrass and wild carrot, Jamison Farm lamb is lean and tender with delicate, deep flavor and none of the greasiness that mars less carefully raised meat. Jamison Farm has created a line of award-winning lamb pies, hearty stews and lean lamb sausages, including a spicy North-African merguez that’s delicious when grilled.
Order online at jamisonfarm.com
Crested Duck Charcuterie
The find: Moroccan lamb coppa
Bringing old-world techniques to locally sourced meats, Kevin Costa creates patés, sausages, confits and artisanal deli meats. As the chef behind Crested Duck Charcuterie, Costa works with 10 area farmers to get his hands on whole heritage hogs, pastured lamb, rabbits, turkeys, ducks and even elk. Try the thinly sliced Moroccan coppa, a dry-aged lamb shoulder that’s been salt-cured and seasoned with a blend of North African spices. Also popular are Costa’s six salamis, like the Penn Avenue, which combines hand-leaned pork with small chunks for fat, fennel seeds and peppercorns. Offerings rotate with seasons and can include products as diverse as duck-leg confit, rabbit rillettes and house-cured bacon.
Available at Pittsburgh Public Market, Farmers@Firehouse and select farmers markets. crestedduck.com
S&D Polish Deli
The find: Kielbasa
Pittsburgh has pierogie mascots but boasts few Polish grocers. Fortunately, S&D Polish Deli is fantastic, offering delicious carryout foods (four pierogies for $4) and a plethora of Polish delights. S&D has some of the greatest sausages in the city—from best-selling kielbasa to more adventurous choices like headcheese. On the pierogie front, S&D offers more than a dozen different dumplings made from imported low-gluten flour and Polish cheese. While basic potato-and-cheese is available, expand your repertoire with mushroom-and-sauerkraut or spinach-and-meat for dinner, followed by plum or cherry pierogies dressed with sour cream. S&D also offers imported jams, blintzes, syrups, teas, pralines and chocolates.
2204 Penn Ave., Strip District; sdpolishdeli.com
Heilman’s Hog Wash Farms
The find: Pittsburgh’s juiciest pork chops
“Pork is one of the easiest meats to differentiate by flavor when it’s raised in nature versus stainless steel and concrete,” says Dave Heilman of Sarver, who has 30 to 60 pigs in his pastures at any given time. Confirm this yourself by grilling one of Heilman’s Hog Wash Farms’ pork chops ($7.50 per pound) with nothing more than salt and pepper. Heilman’s hogs, a crossbreed of standard Yorkshire and heritage Duroc stock, live outdoors, where they root through half-acre paddocks for scattered feed. This gives them two things that conventionally raised pigs never see: greens, which are inevitable as they chomp through the grass to get to their goodies; and daily exercise, which builds muscle, marbles their meat and occupies their intelligent minds so they don’t act out. Heilman raises a small number of animals at one time, so supplies can be limited. No chops available? Try a pork steak. Heilman says it’s his best-kept and most flavorful secret.
Heilman’s Hog Wash Farms is available only at Farmers@Firehouse on select Saturday mornings.
Penn Avenue Fish Co.
The find: Sustainably fished seafood
If you’ve ever felt like the fish you’re cooking at home just isn’t as good as what you order at restaurants, you might be right. The solution is Penn Avenue Fish Co., where owners Angela Earley and Henry Dewey’s only goal is to bring sustainable, restaurant-quality fresh fish to home chefs. “This isn’t fish that you have to bread, fry and cover with an inch of tartar sauce to make it taste good,” says Dewey. “This is fish that can stand out in very simple preparations.” Penn Avenue highlights a few in-season selections each week, like Rhode Island skate or Spanish mackerel, to complement a regular stock of high-turnover favorites like No. 1 tuna, snapper, swordfish, shellfish and hand-cut smoked salmon. Specials are unpredictable and depend solely on what Dewey thinks is the best fish available right now, so prepare to be surprised. Penn Avenue also operates an on-site restaurant that’s a favorite for its Taco Tuesdays – two fish tacos for $4.99 – and sushi rolling classes.
2208 Penn Ave., Strip District; 308 Forbes Ave., downtown (restaurant only). pennavefishcompany.com
More Seafood in the Strip
Wholey’s Fish Market
1711 Penn Ave., Strip District
Benkovitz Fish Market
2300 Smallman St., Strip District
Ron Gargasz Organic Farm
The find: Organic grass-fed beef
Ron Gargasz is a certified-organic farmer in Butler County, producing grass-fed beef for conscious carnivores. His pastures are full of nutrients and healthy fatty acids trapped in cellulose, a plant fiber that humans can’t digest. Cows, however, are built to digest cellulose. So, according to the “you are what you eat” principle, Gargasz’s pasture-raised beef—as opposed to its grain-fed counterpart—is full of heart-healthy Omega 3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Indeed, a 2006 Penn State University study showed that Gargasz’s beef had almost four times as many Omega 3s and twice as much CLA as conventional retail beef. Enjoy those health benefits in Franktuary’s “Locavore” hot dog or Sonoma Grille’s burger and short ribs—all of which feature Gargasz’s beef. You can also find it at area farm markets and specialty stores, or fax your order to the farm (see the farm’s website).
Available at McGinnis Sisters Special Food Stores, East End Food Co-Op and other area markets. rongargaszorganicfarm.com
Smallman Street Deli
The find: Smoked fish, all types
Upon entering Smallman Street Deli’s Squirrel Hill location, it’s possible that a ready-to-flake smoked fish (inside the case) will be the first thing you see. Sample Nova lox, whitefish salad, sable, cream herring, peppered trout or mackerel—all ready to be smeared on a bagel, stacked in a sandwich or packaged up for you to take home. Part deli, part restaurant, Smallman Street Deli is Squirrel Hill’s go-to eatery for Reubens, Rachels and pastrami on rye. And while this kosher-style deli might be best known for its sandwiches and matzoh-ball soup, it has also become a favorite destination for time-honored Jewish dishes like matzoh Brie, noodle kugel and potato latkes. Many dishes are available hot or cold, and the deli is a popular source for bar and bat mitzvah catering and holiday feasts.
1912 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill; smallmanstreetdeli.com. Also at 2840 Smallman St., Strip District
The Farmer’s Wife & Henry Family Farms
The find: Hardy heritage poultry
Naragansett. Blue Slate. Bourbon Red. Midget White. Speckled Sussex. Silver-Laced Wyandotte. Freedom Ranger. Maggie Henry’s Lawrence County farm is a living encyclopedia of heritage poultry. Henry raises chickens, turkeys, pigs, cows and goats for the table and also raises laying hens who produce eggs with brilliant orange yolks. Birds peck on chemical-free pastures, eat high-protein heritage grains and are never pumped with hormones or unnecessary antibiotics. Her methods have recently been recognized by Certified Naturally Grown, an organization that offers low-cost certification to farmers using organic techniques in farming. Despite her recent recognition, Henry considers herself more old-fashioned than organic. “I do it the way it was done before any of those chemicals were ever invented,” says Henry. She takes advance orders for holiday birds, both for the common broad-breasted bronze and for heritage breeds, which have a deeper, juicier flavor and a more even balance of dark and light meat. At press time, Henry is still accepting holiday turkey orders.
The Farmer’s Wife products are available at Farmers@Firehouse on select Saturday mornings, at the Whole Foods Farmer’s Market and at the East End Food Co-Op (eggs and veggies only).