Where 8 Meets 28
The inner ring of Pittsburgh’s suburbs blends some of the best features of the city and the ’burbs — it has good schools and more affordable home prices but also is just a quick jaunt to downtown for work.
photos by john altdorfer
Sharpsburg: The birthplace of H.J. Heinz Company, this tiny town — just one square mile! — sits on the northern bank of the Allegheny River, tucked between Etna and Aspinwall. A revived Main Street is helping the old mill town, as well as the fact that Sharpsburg kids attend the top-notch Fox Chapel Area School District.
Shaler Township: Just shy of 30,000 people live in Shaler Township, a residential community composed largely of the village of Glenshaw. It also happens to be the hometown of former Gov. Tom Corbett, who got his political start serving as a Shaler Township commissioner.
Reserve Township: If you’d like a wooded lot just a couple miles from the city skyscrapers, Reserve is a fine choice; it originally was a site for Revolutionary War veterans’ homesteads.
Millvale: Riding the hot development coattails of Lawrenceville — which is across the Allegheny River — Millvale has seen a mini-boom, with salons, breweries and galleries opening in recent years.
Etna: As the gateway to the North Hills communities up Route 8, Etna is a small old town with an eclectic mix of bars, fitness studios and our favorite old-school hardware store, Winschel Hardware [346 Butler St.].
Aspinwall: This riverfront community is distinguished by lovely older homes on tree-lined streets and a small but bustling downtown strip of shops and restaurants. It is in the midst of building a park on the Allegheny.
10 Things We Love Where 8 Meets 28
1 The family-run Grist House Brewing [10 E. Sherman St., gristhousebrewing.com], near Millvale’s main drag, is one of our favorite breweries in the city, boasting top-notch beer (try the hoppy Camp Slap Red or the smooth Double Vice Coffee Porter), food trucks and a big, dog-friendly outdoor deck.
2 We pretend to go to Patty’s Farm Market in Aspinwall [703 Freeport Road] for the fresh, affordable produce, but we’re really there for the homemade pretzels and apple pies.
3 When driving north on Route 8, it’s hard to resist pulling off to ogle the showroom full of gleaming motorcycles at Three Rivers Harley-Davidson [1463 Glenn Ave., threeriversharley.com] in Shaler Township.
4 The lower North Hills are home to some of the most splendid churches in the region. Among them are St. Juan Diego Parish in Sharpsburg, with the domes you can see at the intersection of Route 28 and the Highland Park Bridge [201 9th St., saintjuandiegopgh.org], and St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in Millvale, designed by famed local architect Frederick Sauer and featuring murals by artist Maxo Vanka [24 Maryland Ave., stnicholascroatian.com].
5 For nearly 150 years, Millvale lacked a library — a wrong that was righted in 2013, with the opening of the quaint Millvale Community Library [213 Grant Ave., millvalelibrary.org]. Today, the popular community gathering center attracts kids with educational programs as well as free summer lunches.
6 Aspinwall Riverfront Park [285 River Ave., aspinwallriverfrontpark.org] is a work-in-progress, but we like what we see: a hillside amphitheater, a winter skating rink, walking trails and a huge bronze playground statue by artist Tom Otterness.
7 Loads of restaurants serve Buffalo wings in town, but few compare to the double-fried hot wings at Sidelines Bar & Grill [621 Evergreen Ave., sidelinesbarandgrill.com] in Millvale, washed down with a pint of Fatheads Headhunter IPA.
8 Brother Tom’s Bakery [808 Main St.] in Sharpsburg has been open for less than a year, but the homemade pastries — especially the bear claws — already have won our hearts.
9 When you’re looking for some Halloween terror, it’s tough to beat the sociopaths at Etna’s ScareHouse [118 Locust St., scarehouse.com], consistently ranked as one of the best haunted houses in the country. Just don’t go in the Basement. (Unless you’re way tougher than us.)
10 Don’t let the diminutive size of the Greek Stop [3392 Saxonburg Blvd., greekstop.net] in Shaler Township fool you — it’s home to some of the best gyros in the region.
Under-the-radar food and drinks
The slogan of Millvale’s Draai Laag Brewing Company [501 E. Ohio St., draailaag.com] is “Wild By Design.” And what a wonderful wildness it is. Their yeast-forward beers stand out from a typical American brew. The brewery’s attached Saints and Turncoats Public House has six taps, and a few of those often are dedicated to special beers found only on-location. Stop by Feast on Brilliant [27 Brilliant Ave., feastonbrilliant.com], a high-end corner store in downtown Aspinwall, for quick-fix grocery needs. The freezer is stocked with Jeni’s ice cream and Gelato Fiasco, and the shelves are full of snacks, cocktail mixers and even fancy cleaning products. You can get a nice sandwich and an assortment of prepared foods at the deli counter.
— Hal B. Klein
Find your dancing shoes and head to Art & Style Dance Studio [318 Butler St., artandstyledancestudio.com] on the main strip of downtown Etna. Owners Terry and Rozana Sweeney hold international titles in ballroom and Latin dance, so you’re going to be in good hands. Check out their workshops — $20 buys instruction and an evening social dance. (A recent offering was beginning, intermediate and advanced hustle.) On Sunday evenings, they also hold a regular social dance from 5-7 p.m. — Jennie Dorris