Best of the 'Burgh 2012

Our editors pick the best of the best in Pittsburgh.

Best Pupcake:
Doggie Delights

When a loved one’s birthday rolls around, chances are you head to your favorite local bakery to pick up a cake. But what about your furry friend? What should you do on his special day? Well, if you're in the know about Doggie Delights, you can call owner Erica Lowry and order one of her fine pupcakes (available in full-size or mini). Lowry uses only human-grade ingredients (except sugar!) in her batches of carob- and peanut-butter-flavored cakes. What’s more, she’ll donate a portion of profits to a local charity benefiting canines. When placing your order, don't forget to spring for a bone-shaped candle, too — after all, your pooch has been good all year; the least you could do is humor him for a day.  — Kristina Martin


Best Way to Wake Up:
Morning Visit to Espresso a Mano

When considering options for an energizing morning, head to Espresso a Mano for much more than a caffeine boost. Friendly owner Matt Gebis knows most patrons by name and gladly chats with each one as he makes cups of organic coffee (from regional businesses like La Prima Espresso and Commonplace Coffee!). And who said morning networking was off-limits? Many patrons treat the barista station as a bar; with coffee cups in hand, they lean against the countertop engaged in good conversation as if they were at Happy Hour. Rise and shine. — K.M.

3623 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/918-1864,

Most Fabulous Nightlife Lounge:
5801 Video Lounge & Café

One generally doesn’t associate the words “fabulous” and “bingo,” but you don’t become the busiest gay bar in a city like Pittsburgh by virtue of sheer pretension. Staff members characterize 5801 as a “Cheers-like” neighborhood bar, where all are welcome — as long as you don’t bat an eye at the likes of Marsha Mellow, the drag queen who plays host to Tuesday night bingo. This place is no bingo hall, though — during summertime weekends, 5801’s two indoor bars and open-air back patio are shoulder-to-shoulder with revelers soaking up a festive atmosphere energized by applesauce shots and Lady Gaga. — Matt Sober

5801 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside; 412/661-5600,

Best Jewish Penicillin:
Phyllis' Matzo Ball Soup at Smallman Street Deli

Science, shmience — the only known cure for the common cold (and many other ailments) is a hot bowl of chicken soup, preferably with noodles or, even better, matzo balls. The best in the ’Burgh, the kind even a Jewish grandmother might confess is authentically tasty, is at Smallman Street Deli. Being the ideal color and having the perfect blend of spices — this is chicken soup for the body and soul. The deli has other traditional favorites, too, like corned beef, pastrami, chopped liver and excellent potato latkes. You should eat and be well! — Jonathan Wander

2840 Smallman St., Strip District, 412/434-5800;
1912 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill, 412/471-DELI,

Best Palate-Pleasing Program:
The Café at the Frick

Tired of cooking dinner every night? Sick of the same old restaurants and menus? Then spice up your culinary life with something special every now and then. Sign up for an evening or more of the Special Dinners Program at The Café at the Frick. Savor a five-course meal (with wine-pairing available) set on the scenic grounds of Frick Art & Historical Center. Past programs have included a Craft Beer Dinner, a Spring Wine Dinner and an Earth Day Celebration, showcasing sustainable and organic foods. Oh, and let’s not forget the Valentine’s Day Dinner. As of press time, details were not finalized for the upcoming 2012-2013 program; call or check the website for updates. — Mike May

7227 Reynolds St., Point Breeze; 412/371-0600,

Best Bubbly That's Actually Good For You:
Pittsburgh Seltzer Works

Chances are, you’ve never had “real” seltzer water. We’re not talking about the stuff in screw-top plastic bottles they sell in supermarkets. We’re talking about the siphon-topped glass bottles like you’ve seen in old movies. (Yes, the high-pressure ones used in slapstick seltzer battles.) Founded in 1898, Pittsburgh Seltzer Works is one of the few bottlers of “real” seltzer water left in the country. And what makes the seltzer “real” is more than colorful, vintage bottles — it’s the taste and the experience: refreshing, delicious, and tickle-the-nose fizzy. This shpritz is “The Best Fizz In The Biz.” — J.W.


Best Fine-Dining Funnel Cake:

Funnel cake — no amusement-park trip is complete without it. Fortunately, you don't have to wait 'til you visit Kennywood to grab one: Order one off the dessert menu at Willow, a North Hills eatery known for its upscale American fare. Carnival-style and served with pastry cream and berries, it's sure to please — and will probably blow away any other funnel cake you've had. We know it looks good — but please resist the urge to attack face-first; keep forks and knives on hand to properly dig in. — K.M.

634 Camp Horne Road, North Hills; 412/847-1007,

Best Place for an Authentic Belgian Waffle:

The truth is, most people don’t know what a waffle is capable of. The authentic Belgian waffles from Waffallonia have redefined this breakfast treat, thanks to a 200-year-old Liège-style recipe. These goodies — baked with imported pearl sugar from Belgium — will overwhelm your taste buds.  To further satisfy your sweet tooth, choose from a variety of toppings, like strawberries, Nutella and/or ice cream.  Modeled on a Belgian train station, Waffallonia is a cute little hole-in-the-wall. And in the midst of summer, there’s no reason to stay inside. Feel free to walk around Squirrel Hill with your Low Country delight.
— Robert Isenberg

1707 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412/521-4902,

Best Local Moo-ver and Shaker:
Turner Dairy

Sustainability has turned into a buzzword these days, but Turner Dairy certainly practices what it preaches. Founded with just two cows in Depression-era Pittsburgh, Turner now partners with 50 local dairy farms to produce a range of all-natural products. Many of these have won acclaim in the national dairy community — Turner received seven gold medals at the 2011 Los Angeles International Dairy Competition. And while it bills itself as a dairy farm, milk isn't the only product on Turner's menu: The company also produces Turner's Premium Iced Tea, an icon of local refreshment. A list of area stores stocking Turner's products is available online. — Nick Lewandowski

1049 Jefferson Road, Penn Hills; 412/372-2211,

Best Alcohol-Fueled History Lessons:
Wigle Whiskey and Arsenal Cider House

Alittle education with your beverage? Two local spots are happy to oblige. At Wigle Whiskey, your tour of the company’s Strip District distillery — currently the only place in Pittsburgh making whiskey — comes with an overview of the Whiskey Rebellion, where western Pennsylvanians fought for their right to throw back a few on their own terms. And up the road a bit, the (literally) home-brewed output from Arsenal Cider House will introduce you to some of your great-great-great-grandfather’s favorite potables; if you pay attention, you might even pick up a thing or two about local Civil War lore while you’re tasting the day’s offerings. Fanciful cocktail creations and modern microbrews are all well and good, but sometimes you have to get back to your (distant) roots. — Sean Collier

Arsenal Cider House, 300 39th St., Lawrenceville; 412/260-6968,
Wigle Whiskey, 2401 Smallman St., Strip District;

Best Place to Have the Cream of the Crop:
Legends of the North Shore's Coconut Cream Pie

The north shore of the Allegheny River boasts many legendary attractions. Among them: the sports stadiums, The Andy Warhol Museum, The National Aviary and Grandma Mary’s Coconut Cream Pie. That last item can be found exclusively at Legends of the North Shore. This scrumptious dessert — made in-house according to a family recipe handed down from the grandmother of Zoe Bartow, wife of owner/executive chef Dan Bartow — is the pie to die for. It builds on a graham-cracker walnut crust filled with coconut-cream custard. Next comes a white-chocolate whipped-cream topping finished with toasted-coconut. — M.M.

500 E. North Ave., North Side; 412/321-8000,

Best Spot for Celeb Sightings:
Meat & Potatoes

Hollywood has made itself at home in Pittsburgh, to the point that celebrity sightings have become (almost) commonplace. But some of the most consistent stargazing has taken place at a rising star in the local restaurant scene: Meat & Potatoes. Diners have included Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes (several times), Anne Hathaway, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe, Gary Oldman, Casey Affleck, Scott Cooper, Katherine Heigl, and celebrated chef Gordon Ramsay (more than once), according to chef/owner Richard DeShantz. With a killer cocktail menu (featuring Repeal- and Prohibition-style drinks), awesome gastropub fare and a space expansion in the future, who can blame VIPs for wanting to visit? — J.W.

649 Penn Ave., downtown; 412/325-7007,

Best ’70s Flashbacks:
Wacky Packages

The collecting phenomenon of the ’70s takes Boomers back to the days of flower power and lava lamps. Produced by the Topps Co., Wacky Packages, a series of trading cards and stickers featuring parodies of popular household products (think Crust toothpaste, NeverReady batteries, Cap’n Crud cereal and Skimpy peanut butter), has been revamped for the 21st century. Available at Village Candy ($2.25 per pack). — Julie Talerico

344 Beaver St., Sewickley; 412/741-1490,

Best Choice for the Hottest in Cold:
Fried Ice Cream at Hoffstot's Café Monaco

Maybe Stephen Hawking could figure it out. Something about the concept of fried ice cream seems to break all the laws of thermodynamics. No need to think about it, though. Just chill out and enjoy this hot dessert at Hoffstot’s Café Monaco. A generous ball of vanilla ice cream is coated with graham-cracker breading and then deep-fried. Choose amaretto chocolate sauce, caramel sauce or strawberries for the topping. Not often is fried ice cream found at restaurants specializing in Italian and American cuisine such as this Oakmont landmark, so don’t miss the opportunity to complement your flavorful meal with a thermodynamo dessert. — M.M.

533 Allegheny Ave., Oakmont; 412/828-8555,

Best Spot for Doggone Good Eats:
Woof Stop Barkery

If one of your pet peeves is not being able to find healthy, hearty doggie delicacies to delight your pooch’s palate, then make tracks to Woof Stop Barkery. The Barkery’s low-calorie goodies (which are baked to order) are created from human-grade, organic ingredients and contain no additives, fillers or animal byproducts. What’s more, they’re taste-tested by dogs! Fido or Fifi can enjoy treats in traditional flavors such as beef or chicken; for the more adventuresome, there’s pumpkin & cinnamon or peanut-butter sandwiches. Check out the website to see how your pet could earn barking rights as “Dog of the Month.”  — M.M.

Best Macaron:
Paris 66

There seems to be some confusion about the difference between macarons and macaroons. While macarons are scrumptious little French confections that resemble mini sandwich cookies, macaroons are coconut-based and spherical in shape. There is no confusion, however, about where to get the best macarons this side of (North) Versailles. At Paris 66, master pastry chef David Piquard lovingly creates a colorful array of 18 varieties, everything from chocolate and pistachio to lavender and lemon. With delicate shells around a soft, sweet center, some might say chef Piquard’s macarons have a certain je ne sais quoi. Others among us would say they’re particularly yummy. — M.S.

6018 Penn Circle South, East Liberty; 412/404-8166,

Most Eccentric Local Bar:
Bar 11

Bar 11 is tucked away in an unimpressive building well off East Carson Street, a location that belies the personality inside. This is not your typical watering hole; it's more a crazy fusion of dive bar and performance art. Upon entry, guests receive a "Hi, My Name Is …" sticker and a highlighter, with which they may create a clever introduction or plumb the depths of obscenity (whichever they prefer). The staffers, meanwhile, are fond of hijinks, including adding plastic toys to patrons' drinks, providing them with costumes and (occasionally) setting the bar on fire. — N.L.

1101 Bradish St., South Side; 412/381-0899


Best Bar for Indoor Mayhem:

Some people don’t want to grow up — and thanks to Belvedere’s, they don’t have to. This bar and venue feels like a gigantic rec room, where visitors can rollerskate, play table tennis and occasionally “pudding wrestle” (although not on the same nights). Plus, there’s the recurring ’80s Night, a fixture of Lawrenceville nightlife and one of the most infectious local dance parties. Like a punk-rock fantasyland, Belvedere’s is exactly the right combination of zany and cool, and somehow nobody gets seriously injured. There are lots of nifty spots along the Butler Street corridor, but, for sheer moxie, Belvedere’s beats ’em all.
— R.I.

4016 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/687-2555,

Best Rentable Performance Space:
Grey Box Theatre

Space can be a real bugbear for performers — particularly those looking for well-equipped venues on a budget. Lawrenceville’s Grey Box Theatre offers a solution: a versatile, 150-seat performance space that is a stone’s throw from downtown. Greybox has played host to theater, dance, music — even banquets. All the requisite support facilities are available, including dressing rooms, reception area and back-of-house kitchenette. Another plus: The light and sound systems are state-of-the-art. Grey Box also features broad storefront windows, affording passersby a glimpse of local artists’ masterworks. — N.L.

3595 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/586-7744,

Best Upscale Jazz Club:
James Street Gastropub & Speakeasy

Every brick-and-mortar city needs a basement jazz club. And when the old James Street Tavern reopened as a “gastropub” and “speakeasy,” the North Side haunt turned into a jazz club for the 21st century. In the underground music hall, you’ll find hordes of jazz fans sipping cocktails and applauding after every solo. There are a growing number of places to hear jazz in Pittsburgh, but an updated kitchen, renovated interior, local musicians and elegant crowd make James Street the top refined club in the city. Welcome back, fellas. — R.I.

422 Foreland St., North Side; 412/904-3335,

Best Way to Experience the Red Carpet Without All the Drama:
Pittsburgh Film Office's "Highmark Presents Lights! Glamour! Action!" Event

The envelope, please: This award goes to the annual gala to support the Pittsburgh Film Office. On Oscar Night, you can sashay down a red carpet right here in the ’Burgh to make a grand entrance to this event, which just celebrated its 12th anniversary. Enjoy a champagne reception with local VIPs and watch the Academy Awards in Hollywood via a live telecast. Gourmet food stations, fashion presentations, a silent auction and more add pizzazz to the evening. The PFO is a nonprofit economic-development agency that markets Southwestern Pennsylvania to the film industry. Next year’s event will be Sun., Feb. 24. — M.M.


Best Chinese Take-In:
Maridon Museum

Butler, Pa., has just been ranked seventh on Smithsonian Magazine’s “20 Best Small Towns in America” survey. On the heels of that accolade, we’re pleased to bestow another “Best”:  Butler’s Maridon Museum earns “Best Chinese Take-in.” This cool little museum, which opened in 2004, is the only Asian-focused museum coupled with Meissen porcelain. The collection — featuring jade, ivory, textiles, paintings and other treasures—was formed by the late Mary Hulton Phillips, a local philanthropist who went on to build the museum as a legacy for her hometown. — M.M.

322 N. McKean St., Butler; 724/282-0123,

Best Place to Roll the Dice:
Rivers Casino

It goes without saying that there’s plenty to do at Rivers Casino. Dining, nightlife, music, events, slots, table games — you’ll never lack for great ways to spend the night at the North Shore’s go-to entertainment destination. But if you really want a true casino experience, step up to the craps tables. Holding the dice in your hand and hurling them down the table, past a line of cheering people eagerly tossing chips —  now that’s a good time. Ask somebody how to play beforehand — but don’t worry about the finer points; even rookie rollers can have a great time. The serious gamblers will point out that craps is the game with the smallest house edge of them all, which means you’ve got the best chance of going home ahead here. But win or lose, it’s worth it just to watch the dice tumble away and hold your breath while they roll to a stop. — S.C.

777 Casino Drive, North Shore; 412/231-7777,

Best (and Coolest) Local Strings Players:
Cello Fury

Yo-Yo Ma, you have met your match. Whether plucking or sawing, the Cello Fury quartet can seriously rock out. The band showcases the talents of three classically trained cellists (Simon Cummings, Ben Muñoz and Nicole Myers) and a single percussionist (Dave Throckmorton). Trim and longhaired, they play with head-bobbing gusto — and their harmonies form the soundtrack to your most feverish dreams. What’s most remarkable is that they have no “normal” concerts; each public performance is completely different. They collaborate with dance groups or appear in unlikely locations like Fallingwater — they’ve even played during halftime at a Steelers-Ravens game. Cello Fury appeals to everyone. — R.I.

Best Radical Addition to the Local Lit Scene:
Big Idea! Bookstore

In an age where most local bookstores are struggling to make ends meet, at least one has forsaken profit altogether. The Big Idea! Bookstore is a cooperative venture billing itself as a “friendly neighborhood radical bookstore,” grounded in a “directly democratic, anarchist model.” It stocks hard-to-find titles promoting a kinder, gentler, more class- and gender-conscious world. Needless to say, this has led to some interesting business decisions. Memberships are priced on a sliding scale based on customers’ incomes, for example, and Big Idea! makes space available for performances and other events free of charge. — N.L.

4812 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield; 412/687-4323,

Best Way to See a Snapshot of Pittsburgh’s Past During the Past Year:
“Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story” Exhibit

Legendary photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris (1908-1998) captured Pittsburgh and African-American life here one shot at a time. During his career with The Pittsburgh Courier, as well as other publications, Harris left an amazing legacy of some 80,000 negatives. Through the efforts of Carnegie Museum of Art during the past decade, a substantial portion of his legacy was brought into focus. That culminated in a multimedia show, “Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story,” which celebrated his vision, life and times. It also put Pittsburgh in the international spotlight, with coverage in such media as Time magazine, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, National Public Radio and London’s Daily Mail newspaper. Although the show closed in April, you can still see Harris’ work by visiting — M.M.

Carnegie Museum of Art, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland; 412/622-3131,

Best ’Burgh-Born Viral Sensation:
“Pittsburgh Dad”

We’ve been blindsided by the whole thing,” says Chris Preksta, co-creator of “Pittsburgh Dad,” about the online sitcom’s meteoric popularity. Preksta and Curt Wootton, who stars as the Dad himself, write the script for each show and post new episodes on their YouTube channel Tuesday mornings. Each short episode truly is classic Pittsburgh; the Stillers, Klondikes — and even Sally Wiggin — receive mentions. Fans from all over the world, including those in Japan, Brazil, England and “every corner of the globe” (as Preksta says), are watching in droves — causing the duo to rack up more than five million views since October 2011. Preksta says their favorite comments come from troops stationed all over the world, who love getting a weekly taste of their beloved hometown. — J.W.

Best Addition to Pittsburgh’s Comedy Universe:
Steel City Improv Theater

Baltimore, Philly, Washington, Boston, New York, Chicago, even Buffalo — plenty of neighboring cities have well-established homes for improv comedy. And until early 2011, Pittsburgh could not join them on that list; while we had talented performers, there wasn’t a go-to space hosting off-the-cuff hilarity. Fortunately, Steel City Improv Theater (SCIT) showed up to expand our horizons. In an intimate, tucked-away North Side space, SCIT presents between one and three shows every Friday and Saturday night, along with budget funny in the form of its weekly Totally Free Mondays showcase. SCIT also offers classes for improvisers-to-be. If you’ve only ever seen improv at Chicago’s Second City — or if you’ve never seen live improv before … period — head to the North Side, where the group is ready to introduce you to some homegrown talent. — S.C.

808 Tripoli St., North Side; 412/322-1000,

Best Place for a Horror-able Weekend:

It will be a Theater of Blood (in more ways than one) come September at Riverside Drive-in. Theater of Blood, with Vincent Price, is one of eight creepy and campy flicks — Horror House, Countess Dracula, The Death Wheelers and more — that will be screening at this year’s Monster-Rama on Fri., Sept. 7, and Sat., Sept. 8. Grab a ghoul-friend, or pack a car with your most fiendish family members, and sign on for the graveyard shift in front of the big screen at this cool old drive-in. Want to stay overnight? Camping options are available, too. — M.M.

Route 66, North Vandergrift, Armstrong County; 724/568-1250,


Best Place to Play Disc Golf:
Deer Lakes

Disc golf is a free activity that’s easy to learn and takes place in a public park. Everybody likes throwing Frisbees. Everybody appreciates the basic idea of golf. So what’s not to love about disc golf? Players shoot for a wire basket as opposed to holes in the ground. But for fans, not every disc-golf course is created equal. Most local undergrads learn to play in Schenley Park, which is a grand place to start — but when they want something more challenging, they journey to Deer Lakes, where the woods are deep, the drives are long and one 18-hole game can take two hours. Steep hills and babbling brooks await the intrepid disc golfer, plus the occasional sightings of groundhogs. And it’s remote: Located 30 minutes from Pittsburgh, players may not run into another soul. — R.I.

1090 Bailey Road, Tarentum; 724/265-3520,

Best Place to Soar to New Heights:
JUKARI Fit to Fly Classes at FullBody Fitness Club

The gym can get a little tedious, especially with all that most workouts entail. If you ever find yourself mired in the workout doldrums, try FullBody Fitness Club’s JUKARI Fit to Fly classes. Developed in partnership with Reebok and Cirque Du Soleil, classes are designed to simulate the sensation of flight. Participants are temporarily suspended from the ceiling using a trapeze-like contraption. According to research, this activity benefits coordination, balance and core muscle strength. It's also the closest most of us will get to joining the circus. — N.L.

4070 Brownsville Road, Brentwood, Brentwood Towne Square; 412/692-1600,

Best Trend in Marketing:
Local Athlete Food Products

Have I ever thought about Pascal Dupuis while reaching for the mustard? Nope. But would I be more pumped about adding a little kick to my BLT if I felt like the condiment had his endorsement? Oh, yeah. See, some of our beloved hometown sports stars have been recently popping up in the grocery aisles. You can dip your nachos in Brett Keisel Salsa, pour milk on your morning bowl of Fleury Flakes or crack open a bottle of Bleier’s Brew (brewed and bottled at Penn Brewery). And, yes — you can now top your favorite sandwich with Dupuis Dijon. It’s the work of local sports marketing firm Koeberle & Associates, who know that our love for everything Steelers and Penguins extends beyond the living room and well into the kitchen. — S.C.

Best (and Most Inventive) Local Race:
Pittsburgh Triathlon & Adventure Race

We’ve seen a rash of unusual races lately — from The Ruckus Run to the Run For Your Life zombie race. They’re all fun, madcap and challenging, but none of them were invented here. The most inventive local contest is the Pittsburgh Triathlon & Adventure Race. A miniature version of the Pittsburgh Triathlon, the Adventure Race cuts the cruelty in half: Athletes bike 20 kilometers (instead of 40) and run 5 kilometers (instead of 10). The race also substitutes kayaking for swimming, since kayaks have become über-popular (and frankly, some of us would rather paddle than swim). Hosted by Friends of the Riverfront, the Adventure Race (which will be held July 28 and 29) is a showcase of our cityscape, put together by the people who know it best.
— R.I.

Best Place to Rebuild a Bicycle from Scratch:
Free Ride

Ineed a new bike,” people say. “I need to get back into shape.” The thing is, most people already have bikes — rusty, old Schwinns that take up precious garage space. Need a tune-up? Free Ride exists to reuse and recycle old parts. You’ll find stockpiles of seats, chains, gears and wheels. Under the guidance of Free Ride’s expert mechanics, you’ll quickly learn how to repair your old model. And after a little tweaking, you might try the ultimate Free Ride challenge: build an entire bike from spare parts. You may not know what a “derailleur” is, but after an afternoon in the shop, you’ll quickly catch on. Just be gracious and prepare to pay for the parts. — R.I.

Construction Junction, 214 N. Lexington St.; 412/254-3774,

Best Bargain in Sports Nosebleed Seats:
Behind Home Plate at PNC Park

Here in Pittsburgh, we’re fortunate enough to have a ballpark like PNC Park — somewhere to catch a game, gab with friends and eat some fabulous fare (try the chicken nachos). But the best part about major-league baseball season is that Pittsburghers can attend games at bargain basement prices. At PNC Park, grandstand seats behind home plate go for a mere $16-$18 (less for kids under 12); move left or right a few sections, and prices drop as low as $10. As a result, Pirates fans get tickets, snacks, and even a frosty beverage or two for less than the price of entry at other major league venues. A spectacular view of the city skyline rounds out the value-for-money proposition. — N.L.

115 Federal St., North Shore; 412/323-5000,

Best Boot Camp for Aspiring Jillian Michaels Types:
Panthro Fitness

When he was a kid, Reggie Dulaney wanted to have a physique like one of his favorite superheroes, Panthro from the cartoon series “ThunderCats.” Fast-forward into adulthood, and Reggie has achieved the physique for himself, and he’s helped a growing legion of loyal clients do the same at his Export-based Panthro Fitness. Dulaney and his staff help men and women by providing a balanced approach of “spirit, mind and body,” including nutritional counseling and meal planning. In addition to private, semi-private and group training, Panthro Fitness offers a popular (and intense) boot camp for women; gearing classes toward the dedicated, Dulaney mixes things up at each session. — J.W.

4491 School Road South, Export; 412/951-2906,

Best Beach Sport in the 'Burgh:
Pittsburgh Sand Soccer

Love the summery joy of beach volleyball but prefer working with your feet instead of jumping for a spike? Pittsburgh Sand Soccer is calling your name. The first organized beach soccer group in western Pennsylvania has courts at the Iceoplex at Southpointe and Blueberry Hill Park — and applications are being accepted for an eight-game late-summer session. Got a team? Lead them to sandy glory! Want to make friends? Register as an individual, and you’ll be placed on a squad. All age groups and experience levels are welcome, so you don’t need to be a Premier League addict to compete — in fact, you don’t even need to know what the Premier League is. Limber up and find those shin guards! — S.C.

Best Way to Get Fit Virtually Anyplace:
Cycling Fusion

Spinning classes are great — but only if you can make it to one. And when winter descends, the Steel City is no place for two-wheeled aerobics. So what’s a busy ’Burgher to do, when a tight schedule and endless sleet keep you indoors? Just subscribe to Cycle Fusion, bicycling for the Information Age. The actual exercise studio, based in Oakmont, occasionally offers classes on-site — but owner Gene Nacey has produced video DVDs around the world, starring some of the best bikers on the circuit. Budding cyclists can access them anywhere there’s Wi-Fi and learn techniques for breathing, pacing and climbing (not to mention stretching and dietary regimens). All you need is a bike of some sort. Nobody’s around to watch you sweat, and you get the finest instructors imaginable. The only thing missing: locker-room gossip.— R.I.

Best Place for a Timeout:
New Multiuse Facility (aka Highmark Stadium) for Riverhounds and Passion

After playing their home matches at Chartiers Valley High School Stadium for the past four years, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds finally have a place to kick up their feet and call home. Construction of Highmark Stadium, a new 3,500-seat stadium for Pittsburgh’s professional soccer team, is expected to finish in the fall or winter.  The primary users will be the ’Hounds, plus the Riverhounds Academy, the club’s youth development system of more than 650 players. But the Riverhounds won’t mind if guests get the artificial carpet dirty: The Pittsburgh Passion women’s football team, colleges, high schools and youth leagues will also use the stadium.  Situated on part of Trib Total Media Amphitheatre’s former site (along the Mon between the Fort Pitt Bridge and Sheraton Station Square), the new $10.2 million facility will revert to its roots and occasionally host concerts. — M.S.

Station Square Drive, Station Square;


Best Nerdy Gamer’s Paradise:
Pinball Perfection

If you miss the heyday of arcade games, consider Pinball Perfection for three reasons: (1) It’s a “museum” of more than 200 machines, the largest public display of vintage games in the city (best visiting hours are on Fridays and Saturdays). (2) It’s a “player’s club,” which means you can actually test your mettle on said machines. (3) Pinball Perfection specializes in “pinball machine restoration,” which means that these guys can fix that old pinball machine you ripped from the wall of a defunct pizzeria. And while Pinball alone is an awesome pastime, you can also try your hand at Sega Baseball, Pac Man and a Mario Brothers machine from 1982. Here, “two bits” still means something. — R.I.

231 Perry Highway, West View; 412/931-4425,

Best Fiery Thrill for Two:
Dragon's Den Slide at Sandcastle

If your summer seems to be draggin’, here’s a way to fire up the season: Enter the Dragon’s Den. This newest attraction at Sandcastle is not to be missed. The water park has scaled new heights — literally — with the Den, the park’s highest water wonder and its biggest addition in a decade. You and a partner — each person must be 48 inches or taller — will hop into a tube and go slip slidin’ down. The first slide drops you into a large bowl where you’ll encounter The Dragon — a 9-foot-tall monster spitting a misty faux-fire at all intruders. Several loops around the bowl later, you’ll escape down another slide and splash down into a landing pool — the tail end of a soggy and scaly adventure. — M.M.

1000 Sandcastle Drive, West Homestead; 412/462-6666,

Best Place to Go Off on a Tandem:
Bicycle Heaven

If you want to take a trip down Memory Lane, why not go by bike? While you’re pedaling along, you might ponder what happened to your old Schwinn Stringray — that beloved relic with the banana seat. Perhaps, like many good bikes, it went to Bicycle Heaven. Located on the North Side near one of the city’s bike trails, this combination museum (with specimens from the Civil War era to “Wonder Years”), new-model showroom and rental and repair facility provides a one-stop shop for the two-wheeled world. — M.M.

R.J. Casey Industrial Park, 1800 Preble Ave., Manchester; 412/716-4956,

Best Way to Spend a Sunday:
Free Summertime Concerts at Hartwood Acres

While technically part of the weekend, Sunday evenings can be downright depressing. The antidote? A free show at Hartwood Acres. Presented by Allegheny County, the summer-long series always includes at least a couple of acts that most music fans would eagerly pay to see — someone like blues-rock goddess Grace Potter, who channeled Janis Joplin as daylight melted into darkness during a scorching performance last August, or Cello Fury, who will play July 1. So throw a blanket in the car, stuff some refreshments in a backpack and spend a warm summer evening chilling with thousands of others who refuse to let the grim prospect of Monday morning spoil their Sunday evening. — M.S.

2914 Middle Road, Allison Park; 412/767-9200,


Best Way to Have Your Facial And Eat It, Too:
Aniko’s Hungarian Skin Care & Spa

If completely relaxing facials are your thing, you’ve got to pay Aniko a visit. Trained by the best in the spa industry (including the founder of Hungary’s Ilcsi Skin Care), she pampers all clients via her European spa facial treatments. Even better: The products are edible; fruits (like cherry) and herbs from Hungary are found in each product, ensuring that clients’ faces receive the tastiest TLC ever. Bonus: Once Aniko makes your skin glow, you can pay her husband, accomplished chef Jim Kaufmann, a visit at Cafe Chocolade, the bakery/cafe located below her place that serves chocolate-mousse cake and so much more.
— K.M.

7061 Steubenville Pike, Oakdale; 412/788-4005,

Best Place to Skirt Fashion Flops:
Panello Boutique

Another successful offering from Cara Moody, Panello Boutique features unique, carefully chosen, affordable women’s fashion, footwear and accessories from small and independent designers (some local, some not). Like Jupe, its South Side sibling (also owned by Moody), Panello means “skirt” (in French and Italian, respectively). Both stores offer the same designers and price points but different selections. Would you rather shop virtually? Selections from the buying team at Jupe and Panello are offered on Designers include BCBGeneration, BB Dakota, Willow & Clay, Free Bird, Mink Pink and Line & Dot. — J.W.

3703 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/621-2640,

Best Handheld Tour of America’s Greatest House:
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater App

Aspectacular home deserves a spectacular app, and that’s just what Fallingwater received with “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater,” an app for iPhone, iPad and Android. This is an app with polish, a slick user interface to guide you through 275 color photos (from all four seasons), 17 interior and exterior 360-degree panoramas, 25 minutes of video, and exterior and floor plan renderings from the Frank Lloyd Wright archives. Of course, there’s nothing like experiencing Wright’s architectural masterpiece in person, but the Fallingwater app is an extraordinary way to carry the beauty of the home with you. Visit the website for a video demo plus links to download the app. — J.W.

Best Shop for Nifty Knicknacks:

If you laid out all the gift cards given out in the last few years end to end, they would probably circle the globe at least once or twice. But while plastic presents may help you save on gas, they lack the creative flair that makes getting presents, well … fun. Divertido (which, not coincidentally, means “fun” in Spanish) aims to shake things up by putting some creativity back into gift-giving. Its twin specialties are unique books and cute kitsch. The title Dads are the Original Hipsters, for example, depicts fatherly types from bygone eras “sporting big headphones, ugly sweaters, bowties, mustaches, ironic tees and other staples of hipster culture.” — N.L.

3609 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/687-3701,

Best Place for a Smoke-Out:
Maduro Smoke Shop

In the male-dominated world of tobacco shops, 25-year-old Rachel Springer is right at home in Squirrel Hill’s Maduro Smoke Shop. The shop’s young owner grew up in the smoke-shop biz; thus, she knows her way around fine cigars, pipes, and other tobacco and tobacco accessories. When Springer opened Maduro, she wanted a welcoming spot that would include the best in tobacco retail with a comfortable lounge where purchasers could light up for free. She admits that she thrives off of knowing her product and ensuring that her customers remain content. — J.W.

5835 Forward Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412/521-2112,

Pioneer in Local Relaxation:
La Pomponnee

La pomponnee” is a French term meaning “one who has been dolled up." La Pomponnee Salon & Spa has spent 20 years living up to the name. It opened in 1992 with just a few staff members, some of whom have remained on board. The salon and spa now serves some 150 clients a day, and has expanded to a second location in Mt. Lebanon. La Pomponnee offers a full range of products and services, everything from makeup consultations and massage therapy to “gentle hair removal.” Men are welcome, too—at La Pomponnee's everyone deserves to live the good life. — N.L.

659 Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon, 412/563-3990; 4137 Washington Road, McMurray, 724/941-8226,

Best Place to Find Goods to Deck the House:
House 15143

Sewickley certainly has its share of beautiful homes. Since last September, homeowners there, and elsewhere, have turned to House 15143 in Sewickley for a stylish array of furniture and home accessories. The store offers an eclectic mix of vintage and new finds — some of them personalized, like house numbers and framed artwork, and all reflecting the tastes of owners Kristin Bordeau and Danielle Franks. In addition to products, House 15143 offers design services, helping homeowners strike the right mix and presentation for their homes, including for home staging. Clearly, House 15143 (named after the Sewickley ZIP code) is a labor of love for the owners — and it shows in their motto: “You love your home; we love to help.” — J.W.

439 Beaver St., Sewickley; 412/259-8953,


Photos by John Altdorfer, Chuck Beard, Dawn Biery, John Colombo, Heather Mull and Laura Petrilla

Categories: Arts & Entertainment, Best of the ‘Burgh, From the Magazine, Hot Reads