The Southern Suburbs
There’s good reason to envy those who commute downtown from the South Hills. They get to take in the beauty of Pittsburgh’s skyline every time they emerge from the Fort Pitt and Liberty tunnels. Add to that all of the myriad pleasures of these thriving suburbs, and you have plenty to rave about.
photo by chris dilworth via flickr creative commons
Dormont: Home to young professionals, families and retirees — and with convenient access to downtown — Dormont sits just outside the city’s border, with bustling business districts on West Liberty and Potomac avenues.
Mt. Lebanon: With locally owned restaurants, coffee shops and retail stores lining its main streets, this affluent suburb has it all. Mt. Lebanon also boasts highly rated schools, well-tended homes and plenty of recreation space.
Upper St. Clair Township: Go USC! Founded in 1788, Upper St. Clair — one of the ’Burgh’s most well-heeled communities — has been nationally recognized for its school district, in addition to frequent nods as one of the top places to live in the country.
Baldwin Borough: The community’s website bills it as “just a nice place to live,” and it is. Heavy on hometown and school pride, Baldwin recently was named one of the best places in Pennsylvania for home ownership, thanks to its affordable housing and ongoing population growth.
Baldwin Township: Several of Pittsburgh’s city neighborhoods and South Hills municipalities — including Carrick, Brentwood and Castle Shannon — once were part of Baldwin Township before breaking off to form their own communities. Today, the township, home to picturesque Armstrong Park [Pearce Road off of Highview Road], is a small, tight-knit community taking up about 1 square mile.
Castle Shannon: The completion of the Pittsburgh and Castle Shannon Railroad line in 1882 spurred development in this former coal-mining town, which drew its name from David Strawbridge’s farm, Castle Shanahan. The Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railroad tracks still run through the town.
Bethel Park: Perhaps most famed for the Bethel Bakery [5200 Brightwood Road, bethelbakery.com], the large community of more than 30,000 residents is what the suburbs are all about — good schools, lovely houses and plenty of shopping and recreational activities.
Brentwood: Main drag Brownsville Road has been busy since Brentwood’s beginnings. The thoroughfare follows the route of a Native American trail and footpaths, and it once was a major route for stagecoach and Conestoga wagon travel. Today, many local businesses, as well as busy Brentwood Towne Square, line Brownsville Road.
Whitehall: Home to a thriving library, the mostly residential community has a hub of retail activity in the Caste Village shopping center. Whitehall also has plenty of recreational space, with a large swimming pool, tennis courts and a half-dozen ball fields and playgrounds.
Pleasant Hills: The very pleasant borough is proud of its low crime rates and high community involvement, so it’s no surprise the Pleasant Hills Community Day celebration often brings more than 1,000 people to Mowry Park. (Don’t expect a parade in 2015. Due to construction on Old Clairton Road, the parade has been canceled but will return in 2016.)
South Park Township: Now this is a community with some green space. The Allegheny County park of the same name covers most of South Park, and there’s plenty to do there. The park’s amenities include a dek hockey rink, walking and biking trails and a wave pool.
Jefferson Hills: This is where to head for a hike. Named for President Thomas Jefferson, the community offers access to two popular biking and hiking trails. The Montour and Steel Valley trails both are part of the Great Allegheny Passage, which spans 150 miles from Cumberland, Md., to Pittsburgh.
Overbrook: Thanks to the Port Authority’s South busway and T light-rail system, which provide easy access to downtown, Station Square, the South Hills Village mall and other destinations, this city neighborhood is attracting more and more young families.
Banksville: Sometimes referred to as Green Tree City because of its shared border with Green Tree, the city neighborhood’s heavily traveled Banksville Road is a gateway between the South Hills and downtown.
Beechview: The hills are alive in the city neighborhood of Beechview. The community includes some very mountain-like terrain; with its 37-percent grade, Canton Avenue is purported to be the steepest public street in the nation.
Brookline: Housing in Brookline soared after the opening of the Liberty Tunnels in the 1920s. Today, the family-oriented community, which is Pittsburgh’s second-largest neighborhood, is anchored by a thriving business district full of mom-and-pop shops along Brookline Boulevard.
PHOTO BY JOSH GREENBERG
10 Things We Love in the Southern Suburbs
1 Dinner and a movie is so passé. For a more creative date, give breakfast and a movie a try instead. Every month, the Hollywood Theater in Dormont [1449 Potomac Ave., thehollywooddormont.org] invites movie lovers to partake in a light brunch and then view a classic movie.
2 Go on, pick up a Hitchhiker. And by that, we don’t mean the guy standing on the side of the road with his thumb out. The Hitchhiker Brewing Co. in Mt. Lebanon [190 Castle Shannon Blvd., hitchhikerbrewing.com] offers growlers of its small-batch craft brews to go.
3 Get a surprise for dinner at Wild Rosemary in Upper St. Clair [1469 Bower Hill Road, wildrosemary.com], one of our 2015 Best Restaurants. Because the Mediterranean-inspired restaurant focuses on fresh, seasonal ingredients, the menu changes from week to week. And don’t forget to make a reservation! Limited seats at this small, rustic destination often must be booked weeks in advance.
4 Why pay ballpark prices for food — or for parking? Leave your car in Dormont and catch the T to the North Shore for a Pirates game. When you get back, enjoy beers, wings and sandwiches at Cain’s Saloon [3239 W. Liberty Ave., cainssaloon.com].
5 Catch what could be Pittsburgh’s next star during community open mic night at Cannon Coffee in Brookline [802 Brookline Blvd., cannoncoffee.com]. BYOB for those age 21 and older, the local music and poetry night is held at 7 p.m. every Wednesday. Forget your instrument? Cannon Coffee has you covered: The coffeehouse has a guitar on hand for jam sessions.
6 Make like Elsa and head to the Ice Castle [990 Castle Shannon Blvd., icecastlearena.com] in Castle Shannon on a Friday or Saturday night for the ice arena’s cosmic and laser-light skating sessions. Home to the Pittsburgh Predators Amateur Hockey Club, Ice Castle’s amenities include two NHL-sized rinks, a pro hockey shop, a snack bar and an arcade.
7 The Strip District isn’t the only place to head to fulfill all your black-and-gold needs. Definitely You in Brentwood [300 Towne Square Way, twitter.com/defyoupitt] has a vast supply of Steelers, Pirates and Penguins gear, including jerseys, bobble heads, posters and anything else you can stick a logo on.
8 Run, walk or jog at the South Park Oval [Buffalo Drive, alleghenycounty.us/parks]. The former horse track recently received a $1 million facelift, including a half-mile walking trail with a natural aggregate stone surface to replace the old cinder track.
9 Once you’ve finished perusing the small-batch beer menu at Spoonwood Brewing Company (which you can read more about below), head to nearby Kelley’s Dari-Delite [5999 Baptist Road, twitter.com/daridelite] for dessert. The old-school ice cream joint serves up a variety of soft-serve and shake options, which you may need to share with a friend — Kelley’s is known for its generous portions.
10 The secret’s out: Miniscule Our Little Secret Café & Catering [332 Curry Hollow Road, ourlittlesecretcafeandcatering.com] in Pleasant Hills serves huge breakfasts, including a whopper of a blueberry pancake. The café is open only from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. daily, so don’t miss out on an oversized omelet by sleeping in.
PHOTO BY JOHN ALTDORFER
Ice skating enthusiasts rejoice — you’ve got the gamut at the Ice Center in Mt. Lebanon [900 Cedar Blvd., mtlebanon.org/index.aspx?NID=173#Hockey], from open skating for leisurely laps to competitive hockey teams. Note the public sessions (times vary throughout the year); admission ranges from $5-$8. For those harboring Olympic dreams, there are figure-skating class and adult hockey classes. Also offered are broomball and short track speed skating. — Jennie Dorris
photo by cory morton
Under-the-radar food and drinks
Spoonwood Brewing Company [5981 Baptist Road, spoonwoodbrewing.com] in Bethel Park is a welcome addition to the region’s brewing scene. There are 12 house-brewed beers on tap; Good-Eye Sniper, a hoppy, boozy (8.7 percent) double IPA, is especially enjoyable. What sets Spoonwood apart from other local breweries is the full kitchen, complete with a wood-fired pizza oven. Signature pizzas include The Great Hambino (California plum tomato sauce, bacon, ham, sausage, pepperoni, housemade mozzarella and Calabrian chili flake) and the Wake & Bake (bacon, sausage, banana pepper, freshly cracked egg, smoked provolone, housemade mozzarella, basil and Sicilian oregano). — Hal B. Klein