Best of Pittsburgh 2008
In our quest for the best Pittsburgh has to offer, we developed some major crushes along the way. Read on for 75 meticulously chosen editor and reader picks. Who knows? You might find yourself head over heels for the Steel City too.
Best Use of Local Potatoes: You’ve heard about the benefits of buying local—now it’s your excuse to bring home great booze! Newly launched premium Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka (available at Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board stores) is made exclusively with Pennsylvania-grown spuds, so it supports our farmers. It’s also hand-crafted here in part of the former Glenshaw Glass Factory, where co-owners C. Prentiss Orr and Barry Young have built the first vodka distillery licensed by the PLCB and Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau since Prohibition. The duo does everything from creating potato mash to tasting the vodka during its triple-distillation process to ensure that only the purest, naturally sweet part of the distilled spirit ends up in the bottle. Info: boydandblair.com.—Kate Chynoweth
Best Reason to Ditch the Kit Kat: The idea that uncooked food retains more of its nutrients and is therefore more healthful is still up for debate in some circles. But there’s no harm in doing potential good, right? Not when you can start by trying the delicious raw-chocolate Super Fudge bar (or the addictive Chocolate Spread) from local company Love Street Living Foods. Organic and vegan in addition to raw, the chocolate is sweetened with agave nectar, which has a lower glycemic index than sugar and is made with cacao butter instead of shelf-stable palm oil. Need we say more? Love Street Living Foods can be found at Whole Foods Market, 5880 Centre Ave., East Liberty; Maggie’s Mercantile, 320 Atwood St., Oakland; East End Food Co-op, 7516 Meade St., Point Breeze, and at its website, lovestreetliving foods.com. —K.C.
Best Post-Yoga Pick-Me-Up: After a grueling hour of sun salutations, even an expert yogi can feel a powerful thirst. Well, nothing slakes it quite as well as the hand-mixed ginger-lemonade from Te Café on Murray Avenue—which happens to be a few doors down from the Squirrel Hill location of Schoolhouse Yoga (schoolhouseyoga.com). If you say namaste elsewhere, don’t fret: You can make this refreshing beverage at home. Combine regular lemonade with a ginger-tea infusion, sold in bulk at the café. Yuuuuoooom. 2000 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412/422-8888, te-café.com.—K.C.
Best Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Treats: Have you ever seen someone with food allergies celebrate? It happens every day at Gluuteny, a tiny bakery that specializes in wheat-free and dairy-free goodies—because these treats actually taste good. One bite of the bakery’s delicious, decadent chocolate brownie, and we bet you’ll be sold. Adorable cupcakes, frosted sugar cookies, pound cakes, muffins and freshly baked loaves round out the offerings. We’ll leave you to ponder this mystery: Even the spelt bread is good. 1923 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412/521-4890, gluuteny.com.—K.C.
Best Re-invented Restaurant: At Red Room Café in East Liberty, a dramatic transformation has been under way for months—and now, things are cooking. New chef Kevin Sousa, whose molecular gastronomy-influenced cooking was formerly found at Alchemy at the Bigelow Grille, has created a new menu with a high-tech twist: Dishes such as walleye with chicken-skin crust, rosemary, purple rice stir-fry, smoked manchego milk and lychee are equal parts surprise and satisfaction. The restaurant’s expansion includes 2Red, a new lounge adjacent to the main dining room, and a rooftop deck that seats 45. 134 S. Highland Ave., East Liberty; 412/362-5800, redroomcafe.net.—K.C.
Best Sushi Roll: We fully admit that this category might raise some eyebrows—after all, what qualifies a sushi roll as a region’s “best” is a topic that could fuel hours of debate. But let’s just say that if you taste the Friday Roll at Chaya Japanese Cuisine, you’ll understand why this particular roll deserves a shout-out. It sounds simple enough: a tuna or salmon roll wrapped in seaweed-enrobed rice, quickly dunked into tempura batter and fried with a light touch. The result offers a delicious study in contrasts, with a warm, crispy tempura exterior that gives way to sushi rice and cool, delicious gems of tuna or salmon. And who can argue with that? 2104 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412/422-2082, chayausa.com.—K.C.
Best Place to Get Custom Coffee: 21st St. Coffee and Tea’s Strip District location was the first place in town to get the famed high-tech $10,000-plus Clover coffee maker. (Now that Starbucks has bought Clover, the gadget may become more ubiquitous.) As at any good farmers’ market, you won’t find the same thing all year—the coffee choices change with the seasons (in September, look for newly arrived beans from Central and South America). Your barista can adjust the grind, water temperature and brewing time to coax the best flavor from the bean of your choice. Now: Caffeinate! 50 21st St., Strip District; 412/281-0809, 21streetcoffee.com.—K.C.
Best Short-Ribs Melt: This spring, chef Matthew Porco of Mio Kitchen and Wine Bar brought his meltingly rich, delicious short ribs out from the dark of the dinner menu into the light of day. The lunchtime version, a Braised-Beef-Short Rib Melt, layers the rich meat with honey-thyme caramelized onions and melted provolone cheese on just-crisp grilled Tuscan bread. 225 Commercial Ave., Aspinwall; 412/781-3141, mio-pgh.com.—K.C.
Best Meal for Two Under $25: The food of South India is uniquely delicious. And at Udipi Café, you can get large amounts of it—without breaking the bank. There’s no way you’ll leave hungry after sharing an appetizer of idli, delicious rice-and-lentil cakes served with sambar, a vegetable stew, and a couple of masala dosas, savory pancakes stuffed with spiced potatoes. The low prices come with a no-frills setting, but no matter—your attention will be on your plate. 4141 Old William Penn Highway, Monroeville; 412/373-5581.—K.C.
Best Hippie Breakfast: We all know that food triggers memories. For Proust, it was a madeleine. For anyone who has worn patchouli perfume, has plucked out Grateful Dead tunes on guitar or has worn any form of tie-dye—or still does—nothing satisfies quite like the bowl of yogurt and homemade granola served up at Kiva Han. Best of all, when you walk into this eclectic coffee shop, you know you’re surrounded by folks who just totally get it, man. 420 S. Craig St., Oakland; 412/687-6355.—K.C.
Best Cinnamon Roll: Leave it to cupcake aficionados to improve on the cinnamon roll. At Dozen Bake Shop in Lawrenceville (opened by the owners of Squirrel Hill’s Dozen Cupcakes), the kitchen has turned up the taste on a favorite morning treat. There’s no doubt it’s met with success: a delicious homemade cinnamon roll topped with just the right amount of sweet cream-cheese frosting. A vegan version is available on the weekends or by special order. Our advice: Don’t split it. 3511 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/621-4740, dozenbake shop.com. —K.C.
Best Barbecue Without the Grill: When the rain won’t stop coming down—Hello! This is Pittsburgh, after all—and grilling is out of the question, forget the chicken and ribs and think…popcorn? The barbecue-seasoned popcorn at Popcorn-N-That, perfect as a side for a sandwich or on the couch during a movie, tastes a lot like barbecue chips, but with a more subtle flavor. Other seasonings—jalapeño, Cajun, salt and vinegar, dill pickle, apple cinnamon and parmesan and garlic—will make you wonder why you stuck with the standard butter-and-salt combo for so long. And if dessert is what you’re craving, the caramel popcorn is unbeatable, especially drizzled with chocolate or sprinkled with coconut. 10263 Perry Highway, Wexford, 724/933-8010; 643 Merchant St., Ambridge, 724/266-4050; popcorn-n-that.com. —Nicole DiMario
Best Pastry You’ve Never Heard Of: Even though a paczek (pronounced PON-check) might look like an ordinary jelly doughnut, aficionados know that this pastry is much richer—both in flavor and in history. A pastry made for centuries in Poland, paczki (POONCH-key)—the plural form of the word paczek—are traditionally prepared before Lent to use up the lard, sugar and eggs that are to be avoided during the liturgical season of penance. Fortunately, Pittsburghers don’t have to go as far as Eastern Europe to enjoy the calorific confections. Local bakery Party Cake Shop offers paczki from January through the start of Lent, with fillings such as apricot, lemon and chocolate butter cream. 706 Brookline Blvd., Brookline, 412/531-5322; 297 Beverly Road, Mount Lebanon, 412/343-0101; partycakeshop.com.—Betsy Smith
Best Bite-Sized Feast: OK, so, maybe it’s not a feast in the traditional, medieval goblets clanking and pig-on-the-spit kind of way. But if you’ve got a king-sized appetite, the Royal Feast’s got you covered. Sir Pizza, owned in Pennsylvania by the Filiaggi family, has garnered a devoted following, and the “feast” is the best-seller. The pie starts with dough made fresh each morning, topped with sauce, cheese, house-crafted sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers and onions. This is as close to “gourmet” as pizza gets, but the most distinctive thing about the “feast” is that it’s cut into small squares instead of into traditional slices. Makes for mighty hearty bites—fit for a king. Corner of Sewickley-Oakmont and Rochester roads, Ross Township, 412/367-1333; Franklin Park Village, corner of Brandt School Road and Route 910, Franklin Park, 724/940-7790; sirpizza-pittsburgh.com.—Liz Dice
Best Authentic Carbonara: Even people who live on Mount Washington don’t know about this place. Maybe it’s La Tavola Italiana Restaurant & Pizzaria’s unfashionable Boggs Avenue address or the fire-hall wedding ambience. Yes, it’s like having dinner in your Italian-American grandmother’s scrupulously clean basement. And the food is just as good. So, go ahead, make a reservation. Try to get a window seat. Listen to an absurdly long list of specials. Order two or three appetizers. Then dive into the “traditional” carbonara. There is no cream. No mushrooms. Nothing unessential. It’s the real thing: pasta with bacon, onion, egg and cheese. 1 Boggs Ave., Mount Washington; 412/481-3336, 412/481-6627, latavolaitalianarestaurant.com—Betsy Benson
Readers’ Poll: Best Dessert: At The Cheesecake Factory, you can belly up to the bar for a drink or peruse the (very) long dinner menu, but be absolutely sure to save room for dessert—the restaurant offers more than 30 flavors of cheesecake. Looking for a guaranteed taste sensation? Try the famous Godiva Chocolate cheesecake. 415 S. 27th St., South Side; 412/431-7800, thecheesecakefactory. com.—Kathrine Murphy
Readers’ Poll: Best Takeout: Sesame Inn has been offering a menu of Chinese specialties ranging from sweet-and-sour chicken to shrimp lo mein at reasonable prices ($7-$9 for lunch; $11-$17 for dinner) for the past 21 years. All of the restaurant’s entrees come with fried or white rice and taste delicious reheated—important, because portions are huge. Nothing could taste better in those cute, little Chinese takeout boxes—except maybe the fortune cookie. 61 Station Square East, Station Square, 412/281-8282; other locations in Peters Township, Mount Lebanon and Ross Township; sesameinn.net.—Christie Succop
Best Fountain of Youth: The spring water at Bedford Springs Resort, just an hour-and-a-half drive from here on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, has been said to have medicinal properties since the original resort, now a historic landmark, opened in the early 1800s. After a renovation was completed with painstaking attention to historic integrity (even the colors of the linens are historically accurate), the resort re-opened last year. The prized spring water is still used in the spa and Olympic-sized pool. If the water doesn’t cure whatever ails you, try out the golf course, state-of-the-art spa and award-winning food. 2138 Business Route 200, Bedford; 814/623-8100, bedfordspringsresort. com.—L.D.
Best Place to Face the Heat: At Anastasia Skin Care in Shadyside, aestheticians place smooth, hot stones onto your face to penetrate heat through the skin. Next is a dermal quench—a refreshing procedure that saturates the skin with vitamins, antioxidants and peptides to create a soft and radiant glow. But what you might find most unusual about this facial is that it starts with your feet. Your visit begins with a foot soak and massage, which progresses up the body into a hand and arm massage to dissolve stress—leaving your complexion soothed, hydrated and totally rocked. 5541 Walnut St., Shadyside; 412/687-1558, anastasiaskincare.com.—Reese Randall
Best Full-Service Gas Station: Take a ride back into time to the Gulf gasoline station on West Ingomar Road in Ingomar. Pull in and hear the bells jingle. Stay in your car while manager John Gaydos greets you with a smile. While he fills the tank, don’t be surprised if he notices the air in your tires is low or your inspection sticker has expired. In fact, Gaydos knows the names of most of his customers, along with their kids’ and dogs’ names, at this full-service station that is sadly a dying breed. Owners and twins Gary and Craig Roznowski are continuing the tradition their dad began in the 1970s when the station was a Sunoco. “My dad was always good to customers, a people’s person,” says Gary. Some things never change. Roznowski Services Ingomar Gulf, 739 W. Ingomar Road, Ingomar; 412/366-5778. —Julie Talerico
Best Charity: You’ve heard that “charity begins at home”? The Pittsburgh Foundation, the 14th-largest community foundation in the country, is dedicated specifically to improving life right here in Pittsburgh. Since 1945, the foundation has evaluated and addressed community issues and connected donors to critical needs. To date, donors have established more than 1,000 funds at the Foundation. The inspiring website has comprehensive information about how to establish funds, to contribute to the Foundation as a whole and to see the results of what the foundation has accomplished. Info: 412/391-5122, pittsburghfoundation.org. —Jonathan Wander
Best Reason to Get Mummified: Forget the beach this summer and instead head to Sewickley Spa for the seaweed botanical wrap. Warning: This isn’t for the faint of heart. The treatment starts with an aesthetician wrapping your body from ankles to neck in Ace bandages soaked in a warm liquid of oils and herbs. Next, as you rest your “mummified” body, you’ll enjoy a stress-relieving neck and face massage as your skin begins to absorb the oils, which help to rejuvenate and purify the skin. After the bandages are removed, your aesthetician will coat your arms and legs in lotion infused with seaweed extract. The treatment helps to improve circulation, firms the body and helps with aching muscles and water retention. 337 Beaver St., Sewickley, 412/741-4240; 112 N. Market St., Ligonier, 724/238-3878; Wisp Resort, 290 Marsh Hill Road, McHenry, Md., 301/387-7000; sewickleyspa.com.—N.D.
Best Zippy Delivery: Want a better morning brew? Order with Jake’s Java, a Peters Township-based company that stocks raw coffee beans. Jake’s will custom-roast them to your preference and deliver to your door within 48 hours. You can even request to have samples sent so that you can choose among the rotating varieties (some are rare, limited-supply beans such as Panamanian Esmerelda) or four classics (Sumatra and Colombian, in regular and water-process decaf). Info: 724/942-1174, jakesjava.net.—K.C.
Best Reason to Clown Around: Dying for a diversion destined to delight even the dullest of colleagues? Why not engage your company in a form of celebration-centric entertainment that’s been giving guests the giggles since the 1500s? Call a clown! Husband and wife team Glitter Dot and Dapper (a.k.a. Elaine and Daniel Scaif) have been in the biz for 15 years. Armed with face-paints, balloon tricks and the region’s only rentable clown car, they’ll be the life of the party at your next shindig. Info: 724/468-8153.—K.M.
Best Old-School Barbershop: Sometimes, when it comes to a guy’s hair, he needs to return to his roots (so to speak). He wants a real haircut, something he can’t get at a fancy salon or at an anonymous national chain. Cercone’s in Bloomfield provides cuts with character in a genuine barbershop, with a barber pole outside, real barbershop chairs, the whole deal. Most important, the place has real barbers. Dan Cercone opened the shop in 1932, and it continues under the capable clippers of his grandson, Dennis Scullion. Now go get a haircut. Seriously. 4720 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield; 412/621-7797.—J.W.
Readers’ Poll: Best Karate School: Maybe we don’t all have it in us to be the next Karate Kid, but since Lions Den Family Karate opened two years ago, we can give it a try. Here, students ranging from age 6 to 40 practice two forms of martial arts: the Korean practices of Tae Kwon Do (think the high kicks and flying sidekicks) and Hapkido (a form of self-defense that teaches coordination). Classes are divided by belt ranking and age, and are offered weekday evenings and Saturday mornings. 4985 Tuscarawas Road, Brighton Township, Beaver County; 724/495-7646.—N.D.
Readers’ Poll: Best Auto Dealership: When it came to choosing a favorite car dealer, our readers thought Baierl Automotive stood out. The dealership wins kudos for service, but could be chosen on the sheer volume of the makes of cars it carries: Acura, Buick, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Honda, KIA, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Scion and Subaru. 10430 Perry Highway, McCandless; see website for other locations; 888/422-4375, baierl.com.—J.W.
Readers’ Poll: Best Financial Services: It’s more than just a name on the Pittsburgh Pirates’ ballpark and omnipresent branch locations with friendly tellers. It turns out that PNC is a corporate citizen that people can be proud of. In addition to its business awards such as Fortune’s “Most Admired Companies,” BusinessWeek’s 50 top performing companies and “Small Business Lender of the Year,” PNC also has received such awards as “100 Best Companies for Working Mothers,” “25 Noteworthy Companies for Diversity,” “Top 100 Adoption-Friendly Companies” and “World’s Most Ethical Companies,” and has earned recognition for its certified green buildings. 888/762-2265, pnc.com.—J.W.
Best Place to Sip Hot Tea in the Dark: Maybe you’re hoping to improve your Italian at a foreign film. Perhaps you’re channeling your “indie” side or looking to get caught up in a classic story. Whatever the case may be, you’ll find a film to match what you’re looking for at the Regent Square Theater. (Sorry, current Hollywood blockbusters don’t make the lineup here.) One of the most appealing things about the theater is found behind the concession stand, where you can get fresh-brewed hot tea for $1. Part of Pittsburgh Filmmakers, the theater shows only one film per day, sometimes with multiple screenings, so check the website for show times before making the trip. 1035 S. Braddock Ave., Edgewood. Adults, $8; students, $6. Info: 412/682-4111, pghfilmmakers.org.—N.D.
Best Mystery of Pittsburgh: In the world of handlebar mustaches, wooden pipes and funny-looking plaid hats, Mystery Lovers Bookshop reigns supreme. With more than 10,000 mystery titles filling the shelves, this place has more private eyes and plot twists than a season of “Magnum P.I.” Bookshop regulars and other fans of the whodunit come together each year at the store’s annual “Festival of Mystery,” now in its 14th year, when loyal readers can meet their favorite mystery authors. The next Festival of Mystery will be held Mon., May 4, 2009. 514 Allegheny River Blvd., Oakmont; 888/800-6078, mysterylovers.com. —Colleen Heavens
Best Thing Left Behind: 2007’s “Year of Glass” may be over, but Pittsburghers won’t soon forget it, thanks in part to the magnificent Dale Chihuly glass chandelier hanging from the rotunda in the foyer at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Named “Godenrod, Teal and Citron Chandelier” and featured in the glass exhibit “Chihuly at Phipps: Gardens & Glass,” which ended in February, this 12-foot beauty, with long spirals of yellow, orange and blue glass and a handful of glass flowers, was designed by Chihuly specifically for Phipps. In July, Phipps brought back eight more Chihuly pieces, now displayed in its Palm Court room. 1 Schenley Park, Oakland. Mon.-Thurs., 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Fri., 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. $10; seniors, students, $9; children 2-18, $7; under 2, members, free. 412/622-6914, phipps.conservatory.org.—N.D.
Best Pittsburgh Export: This is art. Crazy, brilliant, athletic art. Art your 5-year-old will understand. Part Mummenschanz. Part Cirque du Soleil. Part mysterious Gypsy troupe passing through town. But this troupe is an organic product of Pittsburgh. And, these days, on tour a lot of the time. Just imagine a bunch of citizens in Albuquerque taking in the Zany Umbrella Circus at a cool, local festival. Transfixed, they watch the acrobatic performance take shape. A set made of found objects and high wires. The players, an assortment of elastic young people in slightly tattered costumes. The intriguing stories unfold. Mystical. Mysterious. Zany. They’re from Pittsburgh? Oh, yes. Info: 412/390-4054, zanyumbrellacircus.com.—B.B.
Best Frame Up: Joy Borelli-Edwards’ Be Galleries holds three galleries inside its large Lawrenceville gallery space. Two display ceramics, photography, paintings and mixed-media art, and the third is a Japanese-print gallery. B.G. also offers services such as framing—including a line of eco-friendly moldings made of bamboo and sassafrass—fine-art appraisals, estate sales, general and archival framing, installations and print and painting restoration. 3583 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/687-2606, begalleries.com.—R.R.
Best Room With A View (for Guys): It could possibly be the best bathroom in the country—literally. The men’s room at Jerome Bettis’ Grille 36 is one of the 10 nominees for the coveted “America’s Best Restroom” award presented by Cintas Corp. No lie. Sure, the marble tile is nice, but the one-way mirror above the urinals enables patrons to monitor the 50 hi-def TVs in the bar…and if anyone’s hitting on their dates. What sort of evil genius would combine voyeurism and relieving yourself? The sort that doesn’t want you to miss any action on the multitudinous big screens—or leaning against the bar, presumably. Mother Invention would be so proud. 393 North Shore Drive, North Shore; 412/224-6287, jeromebettisgrille36.com, bestrestroom.com.—Mike Lee
Best Authentic Norebang: Walk through the kitchen and up a narrow staircase at Korea Garden in Oakland, and you’ll find a set of small rooms equipped with big-screen TVs, microphones, disco balls and tables big enough for you and your 10 closest friends. In Korea, this is called a norebang—a room you can rent to eat authentic, family-style Korean food (try the kimchi and bi bim bap) and sing karaoke. Belt out tunes as loudly (and as off-key) as you want because here, unlike at a typical karaoke bar, the only people listening are the ones you invited. To add to the quirkiness, Korean soap operas play on the big screen while you sing. 414 Semple St., Oakland; 412/681-6460.—L.D.
Best Dance Floor: Ironically, it’s not about the floor at all. It’s about the wall: The two-story wall of LEDs that light up a rainbow of colors to the music flooding through your ears and the bass beats reverberating through your bones. The stairs on both sides ascend to second-floor balconies that overlook the action. You’re at Diesel—the closest thing Pittsburgh will see to a reincarnation of the famed yet ill-fated Studio 54. Maybe not. But if you’re looking to dance, this is the floor to do it on. 1601 E. Carson St., South Side; 412/431-8800, dieselpgh.com.—M.L.
Best Way to Blow Your Stimulus Check: $295 a head may seem expensive, unless you realize what you’re getting. Dinner at award-winning Lautrec is one of the hallmark experiences at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa, and the Grand Tasting Menu is as good as it gets. Exquisite dishes prepared smartly by chef Dave Racicot and his staff are presented by a wait staff choreographed with military-like precision. Combined with wine selections from one of the region’s biggest and best wine cellars, this is a dinner to be savored over hours. Economy, taste buds: stimulated. That was easy. 1001 LaFayette Drive, near Farmington, Fayette County; 724/329-8555, nemacolin.com/lautrec.—M.L.
Best After-Bar Eats: It may just be the best eating establishment you’ve never heard of. Those who know have undoubtedly been witness to the breakfast food at JoJo’s, which can most accurately be described as a life-altering dining experience—especially at 2 a.m. Late-night party-goers, club-hoppers, insomniacs and truckers are the regulars at this spartanly decorated diner, which opens at 11 p.m. and closes at noon. 110 24th St., Strip District; 412/261-0280.—M.L.
Best Selection of Beer: Throughout the meccas of beer-worshiping temples, there is one shrine that shines slightly brighter than the rest. Many have the cavalcade of taps extending the length of the bar, but no one has the “Beer Cave” you’ll find at D’s Six Pax & Dogs, home to nearly 1,000 brews, including the truly obscure and rare. The different permutations of mix-and-match six packs are mind-blowing and will take your decision-making abilities to the brink. 1118 S. Braddock Ave., Regent Square; 412/241-4666, regentsquare.net/ ds6pax.html.—M.L.
Best Mojito: The simplicity of good ingredients and freshness always wins. Mint, limes and real pomegranate juice in a simple syrup are combined with delicious 10 Cane premium rum for Seviche’s 10 Cane Pomegranate Mojito. Top it off with soda, and what you have is an artfully refreshing and smooth concoction. Just what a mojito is meant to be, in a place properly designed to serve the Cuban classic. 930 Penn Ave., downtown; 412/697-3120, seviche.com.—M.L.
Best VIP Table: If highly conspicuous exhibitions of your pimpitude and crowd scoping are your bag, best to chill first floor, center, VIP-style at Privilege Ultralounge. All of the standard VIP accoutrements such as bottle service, frequent waitress visits and even your own velvet rope are standard, but the real luxury here is the amount of space you get to comfortably seat and host your bevy of BFFs with your six-hundy bottle of Cristal champagne. 1650 Smallman St., Strip District; 412/253-7330, privilegepgh.com.—M.L.
Readers’ Poll: Best Cigar Bar: Milk and cookies, tea and crumpets, coffee and…cigars? OK, so that might not be the most likely combination. But the brains behind Leaf and Bean cigar and coffee shops have seen the potential in the unexpected pairing and have created an attraction that’s downright smokin’. With a walk-in humidor featuring scores of cigars, fresh roasted coffee, live music on Saturdays and free WiFi, Leaf and Bean offers something for everyone, even some in Iraq. Curiosity burning? Through its care-package service, you can send cigars, coffee and other novelties to American troops overseas. 2200 Penn Ave, Strip District, 412/434-1480; 3525 Washington Road, Peters Township, 724/942-6670; leafandbeanstrip.com.—B.S.
Readers’ Poll: Best Place for a First Date: Sweaty palms, a beating heart, an awkward laugh. Oh, the joys of a first date. At least you don’t have to worry about how you’re going to impress your date because the city, namely the view from the Mount Washington lookouts, is already doing that for you. A quick jaunt up to Grandview Avenue gets you a full view of the downtown skyline, Station Square, our famous rivers and bridges, PNC Park, Heinz Field—really, this list could go on forever. There’s no cover charge (lucky you), and this spot is always a winner, especially if your date happens to be an out-of-towner. Who knows? If things go really well, after many more dates, maybe you can check out the same view from a slightly different, pricier angle, say, from LeMont restaurant.—N.D.
Readers’ Poll: Best Local Blog: An interactive repository of great things about our town, IheartPGH.com encourages lovers of Pittsburgh to “spread the word about its awesomeness.” The site says it best: “IheartPGH.com is a place to showcase all the people, places and things we love about our hometown. Sometimes the things we love about Pittsburgh are not so easy to find, and we hope this site can help uncover some of those hidden gems.” The site is always looking for more written contributions, so sign on and speak up!—J.W.
Best Pumpkin Patch: Is your little pumpkin precocious as a peanut? Help him or her discover the Great Pumpkin this fall at Soergel Orchards’ pumpkin patch. Providing such autumnal pleasures as hay rides, balloon chases, a full-blown corn maze, and, of course, a pick-your-own pumpkin patch, Soergel’s promises a kid-friendly pastoral experience. Stop by on festival weekends for the whole agricultural affair, and you’ll experience an autumn your family won’t soon forget. Fall Festival Weekends run the last weekend in September through the end of October. 2573 Brandt School Road, Franklin Park; 724/935-1743, soergels.com.—K.M.
Best Reading Nook: When it’s too rainy and cold to play outside, what’s a kid to do? We know just the place to cure the rainy-day blues: The cozy window reading nooks at Carnegie Library’s Squirrel Hill branch. There, kids can snuggle up with their parent and a favorite book in one of the brightly painted square niches. Located in the heart of the business district, the nooks also allow kids and their parents to overlook bustling Murray and Forbes avenues, which could give even Richard Scarry’s Busytown a run for its money! 5801 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412/422-9650, clpgh.org/locations/squirrelhill—B.S.
Best Neon Bowling: Give your kids a break from school and treat them to cosmic bowling at FunFest Entertainment Center. The bowling alley’s four flat-screen TVs allow kids to bowl with their favorite music stars’ music videos. FunFest’s cosmic bowling features black lights, a disco ball and disco lights. There’s also laser tag, an arcade, billiards and a restaurant. Don’t forget to dress the kids in white—they’ll glow! $5.25 per person per game; shoe rental, $3.50. 2525 Freeport Road, Harmarville; 412/828-1100, funfestcenter.com.—C.S.
Best Spray Park: Here’s some heat relief with some good ol’ H2O: No swimming training required. With its 3,600 square feet of spouting sprayers and flowing fountains, the Goettman Street Spray Park is a hot spot to cool off. Kids can dodge oversized water cannons and romp about this 3-D world of water, which opened last month. 1200 Goettman St., Troy Hill. Free. Info: 412/255-2539 —C.H.
Readers’ Poll: Best Local Newscaster (Male): He’s an anchor with a comfortable delivery and serious journalistic cred—he’s won a National First Place Associated Press Award and awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association. He also gives us a glimpse of his sly sense of humor. In town since 1988, the hard-working Ken Rice anchors the weeknight editions of “KDKA-TV News” at 5 and 11 p.m. with the “KDKA 10 O’Clock News” on CW in-between. He’s also a co-host of “The KD/PG Sunday Edition” and does a bit of an Alex Trebek-ian turn as host of “Hometown High-Q,” a high school quiz show.—J.W.
Readers’ Poll: Best Local Newscaster (Female): You know she loves her black-and-gold local sports teams. You may know that she’s won widespread recognition for her news reporting, including receiving Emmy, Associated Press and United Press International honors. But did you know that fan-favorite Sally Wiggin graduated from the University of Alabama and earned her master’s degree from the University of Michigan in—Chinese studies? The anchor of Channel 4’s weekday noon and 6 p.m. newscasts joined WTAE in 1980 and has been a trusted member of Pittsburgh households ever since.—J.W.
Readers’ Poll: Best Local Meteorologist: Whether the weather is dreary or dazzling, it’s never more important to know the details than when you’re heading out the door for the day, and readers chose Demetrius Ivory as the one from whom they want to get the scoop. Ivory delivers the forecasts on “Channel 4 Action News This Morning” weekdays from 5 to 7 a.m. A graduate of Ohio State University with a degree in atmospheric sciences, Demetrius, who has been forecasting at Channel 4 for three years, is still active in the school’s Meteorology Club and, back in the ’Burgh, he produces music in his home studio and is an avid movie-goer.—J.W.
Readers’ Poll: Best Radio DJ (Female): The mid-day host on 96.1 KISS FM, Cathy Schodde, known to fans as “Tall Cathy” (she’s 6 feet tall), is a Pittsburgh native who, she says, “has black and gold running through her veins.” At KISS events, she is surrounded by listeners who want to pose for photos and talk about their favorite parts of her show. She actively updates her popular page on KISS Nation, the station’s online social network, with information and photos, and replies to as many listener messages as she can handle. Tall Cathy clearly has a giant place in her listeners’ hearts.—J.W.
Readers’ Poll: Best Local Athlete: When Penguins favorite Sidney Crosby isn’t busy with slap shots or headshots, he can be found in our very own town of Sewickley. Crosby lives there with the Mario Lemieux family (picture that power play of a family dinner) during the NHL season, but is originally from Nova Scotia. Those Canadians sure know how to breed their hockey players, eh? But you’re much more likely to find this hockey hottie shirtless in an issue of GQ or Vanity Fair than running around in a flannel shirt and earflap hat. Crosby has finally given the ladies something to look at in a sport typically reserved for toothless mouths and crooked noses, and he’s a rare icon to bring attention to the sport of hockey nationally. Not to mention all the awards and records—he was the only teenager to win a scoring title in any North American major-league sport. —C.H.
Readers’ Poll: Best Radio DJ (Male): Is it any surprise that Jim Krenn is yet again chosen by the readers as their favorite? As half of the “Jim and Randy Morning Show” on 102.5 WDVE, Krenn brings his multiple comedic talents, including impressions and characters, to the airwaves. These are the same talents he brings to the stage because Krenn is also one of the area’s most popular stand-up comics. He’s shared the stage with Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Dennis Miller and other national names—guys who know “funny” when they hear it.—J.W.
Readers’ Poll: Best Reason to Stay in Pittsburgh: Readers chose “the people” as the best reason to stay in Pittsburgh. So, how about a slogan to go along with this: “Pittsburgh: We’re Not A Bunch of Phonies.” As a town we’re true to ourselves. We say what we mean, and you can trust us to mean what we say. We’re the real deal and, from what visitors and locals say, we’re real friendly. Need directions? “It’s easier just to follow me.” As a group we’re known for working hard, helping out and being generous. What’s ours is yours! (Except for our parking spots. Go find your own.) —J.W.
Best Fashion Trend: The newest trend in fashion sounds like a culinary term, but going vegan can also refer to your closet. Equita (an Italian word meaning “fairness”) is a Lawrenceville shop that focuses on selling cutting-edge designs that are eco-friendly and sweatshop-free, and geared toward fostering fair trade and sustainable employment in developing countries around the world. Equita’s fashion-forward merchandise includes labels that adhere to using organic materials. 100 43rd St., Lawrenceville; 412/353-0109, shopequita.com.—R.R.
Best Tea Assortment: Coffee, tea or me? The answer is obvious at Marktfrau, Inc., a tea lover’s paradise that has moved front and center in Wexford’s Country Inn Shoppes on Perry Highway. Owner Betsy Hollweck once worked in Germany at the Viktualienmarkt in Munich, hence the store name. The global tea village offers white, green, oolong and black brews—in bulk or bags—from India, China, Japan, Britain and South America. Taste the many exquisite blends, including Jasmine Phoenix Pearls or Organic Silver Needles, both $14.95 for two ounces. Tea partiers also will find tea stationery, teapots, tea sets and even tea stirrers made of crystallized sugar. Take your libation up a notch by adding one of Marktfrau’s flavored honeys, including mango mania, wild watermelon and sour grape. Country Inn Shoppes, 10441 Perry Highway, Wexford; 724/934-5828, marktfrau.com.—J.T.
Best New Upscale Grocery: McGinnis Sisters has been a longtime favorite with food lovers for its specialty goods as well as for its attention to details—like great meat and cheese departments and a full-service bakery. A newly opened location in Adams Township makes the store’s gourmet offerings accessible to those who live north of the city (the current two locations are south and east of town). This new 17,000-square-foot store also has a café with free wireless Internet and cozy seating. 700 Adams Shoppes, Adams Township, Butler County; mcginnis-sisters.com.—K.C.
Best Pint-Sized Ride: Smart on gas, smart for parking (two cars fit into an average spot), smart cars have been a hit in 37 countries around the world. Not to mention they’re irresistibly cute. The “smart fortwo” is aptly named because it’s a car built, well, “for two.” But they’re amazingly comfortable, even for tall folks, and surprisingly safe. A joint design venture of Swatch (of Swatch watches fame) and Mercedes-Benz, the smart car is the only currently produced car on display in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City. In Pittsburgh, get ’em exclusively on the fifth floor of the Mercedes-Benz of Pittsburgh dealership in Shadyside. 4709 Baum Blvd., Shadyside; 412/688-7000, smartcenterpittsburgh.com, smartusa.com.—J.W.
Best High-End Place Settings: The best example of “great taste” for dinner guests (besides the food) is in the place setting. Contemporary Concepts helps customers, including a huge bridal-registry clientele, set a dramatic table with an exceptional selection of high-end offerings from lines such as Simon Pearce, Heath Ceramics, Versace, Anna Weatherly, Limoges, William Yeoward and Sambonet. The second-generation business provides personalized guidance to achieve each customer’s desired style. Duncan Manor Shopping Center, McCandless, 412/635-0122; 5820 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill, 412/521-2500; contemporaryconcepts.com. —J.W.
Best Toy Store: Have you ever gazed in wonder at the magical rows of toys and overstuffed, life-sized animals at the FAO Schwartz toy store in New York City? There’s something so whimsical about it, no matter what age you are. Luckily, thanks to downtown’s S.W. Randall Toyes & Giftes, which has been open for 38 years and is owned by local businessman Jack Cohen, you can get that same feeling in Pittsburgh. Here, wooden nesting dolls and marionettes dance overhead to the sound of music boxes. Climb to the second floor and enter a universe of puzzles, Slinkys, kites, trains, Legos and toy soldiers. It’s especially magical around the holidays. 630 Smithfield St., downtown; 412/562-9252. —Amanda Hoover
Readers’ Poll: Best Grocery Store: “Yinz goin’ food shoppin’ dahnna Iggle?” If you’re from the Pittsburgh area, chances are the answer is yes. Giant Eagle ranks high on the list of Pittsburgh icons, right “uppair” with pierogies and Myron Cope. Locations range from colossal supermarkets to simple convenience stores and everything in between. With additional services such as dry cleaning, on-site child supervision and fuelperks!, it’s easy to see why Giant Eagle Inc. has become the No. 1 supermarket retailer in the region. So, next Sunday, when your pantry “needs filled,” grab a “buggy” at Giant Eagle…”n’at.” Info: gianteagle.com.—B.S.
Readers’ Poll: Best Health-Food Store: What began as one small store in Austin, Texas, blossomed into Whole Foods Market, a leading retailer of natural and organic foods. For you “localvores” who have cultivated the need for more Western Pennsylvania-area food in your diet, Whole Foods supports local growers by selling their fruits, veggies, fresh flowers and herbs. Want to do your part in reducing, reusing and recycling while food-hunting? Whole Foods encourages its patrons to BYOB—Bring Your Own Bag(s). 5880 Centre Ave., East Liberty; 412/441-7960, wholefoodsmarket.com.—A.H.
Readers’ Poll: Best Local Furniture Store: Wait—we’re not supposed to be hip, are we? Then what are readers doing choosing Perlora as the Best Local Furniture Store? The ultra-cool Perlora is one of the names in modern (but comfortable) furnishings in our area, with one of Pittsburgh’s most memorable advertising campaigns. The Perlora emphasis is not on style without substance, though, as it is known for carrying only quality furnishings and accessories, many of them surprisingly affordable. Owners Perry and Lora Sigesmund (the “Per” and “Lora” in “Perlora”) are simply heroes to Pittsburgh design lovers. 2220 E. Carson St., South Side, 412/431-2220; Perlora Leather, 2837 Smallman St., Strip District, 412/434-7425; perlora.com.—J.W.