Best (and Worst) of Pittsburgh




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With two hard-earned championship titles, accolades from the White House and top honors on the Economist's "Most Livable City" list, 2009 is a respectable time to say you're from Pittsburgh. Celebrate with our expansive list of "Bests," chosen by our editors and from our online "Readers' Poll." You'll come across a London-style double-decker bus tour, a downtown spot to sample Jackie O's favorite dessert, an eco-friendly brewhouse, delicious dim sum, a newly re-opened art-deco-style theater and more. Read on to discover 120+ reasons Pittsburgh is the best place to call home right now.

Food & Drink

Best Philly Cheesesteak (Outside Philly's City Limits): As all you displaced Philadelphians living in Pittsburgh know, you can't get a real Philly cheesesteak anywhere other than Philly. But Campus Deli's version is as close as you're going to get without heading 300 miles down the turnpike. The sandwich is loaded with quality Boar's Head meat, melted American cheese and fried onions. The key ingredient is its fresh Italian roll, which the deli purchases from Pittsburgh's legendary BreadWorks. 400 Semple St., Oakland; 412/683-3200. - Colleen Heavens

Best Dessert Recommendation by a Vanity Fair Blogger: When James Wolcott, the award-winning contributing editor for Vanity Fair, wrote rhapsodically about his visit to Pittsburgh in late June, he raved about his dinner at the Strip District's Eleven, saying, "For dessert fetishists, my sweet tooth highly recommends the Banana Crème Pie." The creation of pastry chef Ericka Idler, the pie is served with such delectable touches as dulce de leche mousse, caramel pastry cream and a topping of graham-cracker tuiles. 1150 Smallman St., Strip District; 412/201-5656, bigburrito.com/eleven. - Jonathan Wander

Best Place to Swing a 10-Pound Beer: Take advantage of one of the few places where dancing atop benches and drinking beer by the liter is completely acceptable. At Hofbräuhaus, you and your 350 soon-to-be best friends will swing your massive glass mugs from side to side as you sing along to songs played by the house band, all decked out in lederhosen. The beer-hall atmosphere, complete with long wooden tables and benches, is modeled after the original Hofbräuhaus in Munich, Germany. This month's special is the 1810 Prince Ludwig, a flavorful amber lager with a spicy hint of hops. 2705 South Water St., SouthSide Works, South Side; 412/224-2328, hofbrauhauspittsburgh.com. - C.H.

Best Slice of New York:
Pizza Sola keeps it simple. Inspired by the stone-oven pizzerias of the five boroughs constituting New York City, the locally owned Sola begins with freshly tossed thin crusts and imported San Marzano tomato sauce and builds from there with endless topping combinations. Go for the ever-classic - and enormous - New York-style pie (sauce, mozzarella and romano). After all, it's not an NYC slice if it's not big enough to fold in half. 6004 Penn Circle, East Liberty, 412/363-7652; 1417 E. Carson St., South Side, 412/481-3888; 114 Atwood St., Oakland, 412/681-7652, pizzasola.com. - C.H.

Best "Green" Beer: Here's a new reason to drink beer - you're saving the planet. At East End Brewing Co., owner and brewer Scott Smith is going beyond the classic sustainability plan, adding an eco-friendly touch to his microbrew business. Of course he buys local, reduces, reuses and recycles. But he's likely one of the few beer makers who go so far as to give their spent grain to a local dairy farm, where it is used as a high-protein feed supplement. Smith also sends his spent hops and trub (the mucky stuff left in the brew kettle after the liquid has been drained) to be composted at Homewood Community Garden. With only a kitchen-sized trash bag of waste every few weeks, this guy deserves a toast. 6923 Susquehanna St., Homewood; 412/537-2337, eastendbrewing.com. - C.H.

Best Hotcakes: On the corner of a quaint little street in Dormont, the Dor-Stop Restaurant is about as American as apple pie. And while we have yet to try the pie, we can guarantee that the light and fluffy breakfast hotcakes are irresistable. They're smothered in buttery and syrupy goodness and are available in 11 different flavors, including pumpkin, apple cinnamon, oatmeal-walnut and chocolate chip. With breakfast fare this good, it's no wonder Food Network star Guy Fieri featured the restaurant on the first season of "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives." 1430 Potomac Ave., Dormont; 412/561-9320, dor-stoprestaurant.com. - C.H.

Best Wintertime Taste of Summer:
"Frozen" isn't something we tend to like around Pittsburgh in the winter - frozen roads, frozen windshields and frozen fingers to name a few. But Bruster's seasonal peppermint-stick ice cream is the frozen exception. Available throughout December, this holiday sweet starts with creamy homemade vanilla ice cream and adds a kiss of red and green peppermint flakes. It's festively tasty and perfectly sweet. brusters.com. - C.H.

Best Retro Treats:
Village Candy is a vintage-style shop offering nostalgic sweets. (Candy blocks shaped like Legos, anyone? Wax lips? Or how about some Lemonheads or candy lipsticks?) Of course the shop carries all the standard candies too, including gummies of every shape and 50 varieties of jellybeans. But wait - it gets better. This heaven-on-earth candy shop regularly offers free pop and chocolate tastings. How sweet it is! 344 Beaver St., Sewickley; 412/741-1490, villagecandy.net. - C.H.

Best Meatloaf: Kleiner Deutschmann restaurant serves up the full German experience, from bratwursts and potato pancakes to steins of ale and heirloom decor. One dish you can't miss is the German meatloaf. It's made with veal, pork and beef, and tinted with just the right amount of German-imported Maggi seasoning - a savory European spice mix. Served with red cabbage and mashed potatoes and your choice of sautéd onions or mushroom gravy, it's comfort food you won't soon forget. 643 Pittsburgh St., Springdale; 724/274-5022, thekleinerdeutschmann.com. - C.H.

Best Quick Seafood Lunch:
Penn Avenue Fish Co. brings a whole new type of fish market to the Strip District, adding deep-sea chic to the fish-slicing counters of this endearing eatery. Grab a seat for lunch and you're instantly transported to a seaside port town. Busy fishmongers and chalkboard menus are complimented by chill music and modern decor. And unless you go out and hook your own, you won't be able to find fresher fish. Try a classic fish sandwich made with battered English-style cod or choose from the extensive sushi menu. 2208 Penn Ave., Strip District; 412/434-7200, pennavefishcompany.com. - C.H.

Best Dim Sum:
Family-owned Jimmy Wan's Restaurant and Lounge offers a little taste of everything on its dim-sum menu. The traditional Asian tapas are perfect for sharing with friends alongside a pot of Chinese tea. Try the vegetable and steamed-shrimp dumplings or pork shu mai (pork, shrimp and mushroom filling wrapped in a handmade pasta shell). Pair these with an order of lotus-leaf-wrapped rice stuffed with chicken, roast pork, Chinese sausage and shiitake mushrooms, then steamed. 1686 Route 228, Cranberry, 724/778-8978; 1337 Old Freeport Road, O'Hara, 412/968-0848, jimmywans.com. - C.H.

Best Fried Chicken: Southern cooking this good is hard to come by on our side of the Mason-Dixon Line. But at Jean's Southern Cuisine, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, potato salad, black-eyed peas and cornbread are the definition of classic soul food. Of course, these down-home sides go best with the main dish: Jean's mouthwatering fried chicken. The juicy, fall-off-the-bone meat is smothered in a peppered-to-perfection batter, creating the most wonderfully crispy and flaky crust. It's Southern comfort at its golden-brown best. 730 Penn Ave., Wilkinsburg; 412/242-4084. - C.H.

Best Grilled Cheese: Point Brugge Café's grilled cheese is definitely an upgrade from Mom's quick-fix lunch for the kiddos. Fresh, classic rye from local bread bakery Mediterra is topped with a blend of cheddar and gruyère cheeses and roasted red peppers, then griddle pressed to perfection. Although it's served with a salad or apple and cabbage slaw, order a side of the Brugge frites, twice fried in true Belgian fashion and served with basil mayonnaise - a delightful complement to an already-delightful sandwich. 401 Hastings St., Point Breeze; 412/441-3334, pointbrugge.com. - C.H.

Best Wine Made in a Firehouse: Duane Rieder is a man of many hats - and the latest on his résumé? Wine maker extraordinaire. His gorgeously renovated Penn Avenue firehouse is home to his photography studio, rentable venue space and the Roberto Clemente Museum. And as if that weren't enough, he decided to start making wine in the basement under the name Engine House No. 25 Wines. Rieder orders grapes from California and Chile to his wine-press cellar, where he concocts delectable zinfandels, cabernets, chardonnays and merlots in state-of-the-art, temperature-controlled stainless-steel tanks. 3339 Penn Ave., Lawrenceville; 412/621-1268. - C.H.

Best New Wine Bar:
We raise our glass to Sewickley's newest wine bistro. The vine-covered pergola and rustic Mediterranean accents at The Naked Grape make this intimate space feel as if it is straight out of Tuscany. Seasonal dishes are served alongside the diverse list of wines, which range from value merlots to fine chardonnays. And whether you're a serious wine connoisseur or just dabble, the pairings are sure to please the palate. Try Giuseppe's Artisan Cheese & Fruit, served with gourmet mustards and paired with a full-bodied, buttery white wine. 515 Broad St., Sewickley; 412/741-6420, nakedgrape.net. - C.H.

Best Pre-Prohibition-Style Cocktails:
Embury, a speakeasy-style cocktail bar on the first floor of Firehouse Lounge in the Strip District, is keen on classic spirits such as bourbon and whiskey. And if you're lucky, you'll find Fred Sarkis behind the bar, where he mixes up cocktails such as the Guilty Rose (made with Campari, gin and St. Germain elderflower liqueur) and the Jefferson's Quill (bourbon, lemon juice, blackberry syrup, aged bitters and two mint sprigs). Sarkis uses only quality liquors, fresh juices and herbs, and homemade tinctures and syrups. At Embury, every seemingly sinful sip is worth savoring. 2216 Penn Ave., Strip District; 412/434-1230. - C.H.

Best Celebrity-Inspired Dessert:
Christos' Mediterranean Grill's cuisine may be Greek, but its feel is all-American. Owner Christos Melacrinos, once personal chef to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis aboard the Onassis yacht, has decorated the walls with old photos and personal mementos from his days cooking for the American icon. It's only fitting he include her favorite cake on his dessert menu. The Jackie O is a scrumptious vanilla cake topped with custard, honey, cinnamon and whipped cream. It's a sophisticated treat for before or after a Cultural District event. 130 Sixth St., downtown; 412/261-6442. - C.H.

Readers Poll: Food & Drink

Best Neighborhood Joint:
Point Brugge Café
401 Hastings St., Point Breeze
412/441-3334, pointbrugge.com

Best Wine Cellar: (tie):
The Wine Loft Pittsburgh
2773 Tunnel Blvd., SouthSide Works, South Side
412/586-5335, thewineloftpittsburgh.com

Eleven Contemporary Kitchen
1150 Smallman St., Strip District
412/201-5656, bigburrito.com/eleven

Best Coffee Shop:

Crazy Mocha Coffee Co.
crazymocha.com

Best Bakery:
SweetHouse Bake Shop
118 Grand Ave., Mars
724/687-0170, sweethousebakeshop.com

Best Caterer:
big Burrito
bigburrito.com

Best Local Winery:
La Casa Narcisi Winery
4578 Gibsonia Road (Route 910), West Deer Township
724/444-4744, narcisiwinery.com

Best Wait Staff + Service:
Enrico's Ristorante
5863 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside
412/661-1050, enricos-shadyside.com

Best Cup of Coffee:

Coffee Tree Roasters' Caramel Café
Locations in Squirrel Hill, Mount Lebanon, O'Hara and Shadyside
coffeetree.com

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