Survey results: What you like most/least about Pittsburgh and its activities

As some of you may know, I posted a survey on my Facebook page about Pittsburgh and its attractions. Besides some standard demographic question, I also asked people what they like most/least about Pittsburgh and about some of the more popular things to do here. After 25 respondents, I took the answers and made some pretty little charts and graphs to better visualize everything. People were allowed to pick more than one answer for most questions so a lot of answers add up to more than 25. Hopefully this gives me a better understanding of my readership and some ideas for future blog topics (which I am ALWAYS open to).

Pittsburgh Staycation: age chart

As far as demographics go, most people (16 out of 25) who answered were in the 18-25 age range, with 7 in the 26-35 range, and 1 each in the 36-45 and 46-55 ranges. I didn’t bother making a chart for the gender responses since they were pretty much equal: 13 respondents were female and 12 were male. The same applied for a question asking if the person was currently a college student: 13 said no, while 12 said yes.

Pittsburgh Staycation: location mapClick the map for actual, useful information!

I also asked people what areas of Pittsburgh they lived in, such as Downtown or the East End, and plotted them on this map (click on the image to see the interactive Google map). Important note: I didn’t ask for exact locations so the pins on the map represent the area, not that specific point, where someone is located. The number of people that responded for each location can be seen on a list on the left or by clicking on a pin. Four people were not from Pittsburgh (come on, yinz guys!) and their locations are plotted too. Most people were from the eastern areas of Pittsburgh, with, surprisingly, no one from the western side.
 

Pittsburgh Staycation: what do you like most about Pittsburgh chart

Not surprisingly, people said they liked the sports teams and parks and rivers the most, two prominent features of Pittsburgh, with restaurants and people rounding out the top 4. Some of the other answers written in were the geography, topography, history, location, walking distance, architecture and skyline. All super great stuff!
 
What do you like least about Pittsburgh?
As for what they like least about Pittsburgh, almost everyone said the weather and traffic, which is a shock to absolutely no one. I’m a little sad that someone said what they like least is the people. We love you, Mr. Grinch, whoever you are! One person said the construction is their least favorite thing (can’t argue with that) and the person from Durham said the fact that it’s 8 hours away. Good point.
 
Favorite Pittsburgh professional sports team
Expectedly, the Steelers were most people’s favorite professional sports team in Pittsburgh, with the Penguins and Pirates sharing second place.
 
What's your favorite Pittsburgh neighborhood?
The neighborhood love was pretty evenly spread out, with Squirrel Hill getting the most mentions. Someone (who lived Downtown) answered Station Square too but poor Bloomfield got nothing! Not sure what that’s about because Bloomfield is awesome, especially for Little Italy Days.
 
If you had to pick one "must-do" for a Pittsburgh visitor, what would it be?
Now onto the really good questions: Most people thought riding the incline, eating at Primanti’s, and going to the Strip District on a Saturday morning were musts for Pittsburgh visitors, and rightfully so. In terms of quintessential Pittsburgh-y things, those three (along with sporting events, which ranked 4th) are pretty indisputable. As for the other options, people said the bookstores, Phipps Conservatory, the Ducky Tour, and taking people Downtown to show them all the buildings.
 
What is something you haven't done in Pittsburgh yet that you really want to do?
Lastly, in a question semi-related to the previous one, the Warhol Museum came out the clear winner. Phipps, the Cathedral of Learning, the Heinz History Center, and attending a Penguins game rounded out the top 5. Three wonderful Pittsburghers had done everything on the list and I want to shake their hands. Other great suggestions were kayaking downtown and spending a spring day at Hartwood Acres. But wait, no one’s been dying to go to a Pirates game???  Maybe next year, Buccos.
 
Overall, this survey gave me some great ideas. The Warhol, Phipps, and the Strip District are definitely higher up on my list of places to check out, with maybe some more activities aimed at students. Thanks to everyone who participated!

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Interview: Pittsburgh for dog lovers, restaurant goers, and, oh yea, Cowboys fans

Vanessa and I first met while working at Camp Bow Wow (doggie daycare and boarding), and her and her fiancé Matt have become some of my dearest friends here. Although they are both not originally from Pittsburgh, they’ve settled into life here easily and love exploring the city, especially with their shih tzu, Wesley. Vanessa’s new line of work means they’ll eventually be moving out-of-state but they’ve had some great memories here in Pittsburgh and hopefully will visit often after they leave! They answered a few questions about Pittsburgh and what they love about it, plus included a few pictures from their Facebooks of them doing “Pittsburghy” things.

Matt and Vanessa attend Pup Night at PNC Park for a Pirates game with their dog, Wesley.

Matt and Vanessa attend Pup Night at PNC Park for a Pirates game with their dog, Wesley.

Tell me a little about your background.

Matt – I’m originally from Lancaster (Lan-KISS-ter), Pennsylvania and came to Pittsburgh to go to Pitt to study Finance. I lived in Oakland during school and now live in the North Side with Vanessa. I currently work at BNY Mellon in the Corporate Actions department and process various corporate events as they occur for our clients. Vanessa and I started a pet tag engraving business a few years ago which is a secondary job for each of us (check it out at www.petidexpress.com).

Vanessa – I grew up about 30 miles south of Pittsburgh in the small town of Belle Vernon, and I made the move up to Oakland to study Neuroscience at Pitt. Once we finished school, Matt and I moved to the North Side and have been here for about two and a half years. I decided to go back to school for Air Traffic Control, which I just finished up this past August and am now waiting on a government job. Currently I work at Pittsburgh International Airport deicing airplanes (you know, spraying them with a glycol solution before they take off in the wintertime) as well as maintaining our pet tag engraving business that Matt mentioned. When we’re not working, we like to explore the city with friends, try out new restaurants, and go places with our dog, Wesley.

Matt and Vanessa in one of the planes Vanessa flew for her Air Traffic Control program.

In one of the planes Vanessa flew during her Air Traffic Control program.

What do you like most about Pittsburgh? Least?

Vanessa – One of the things I like the most about Pittsburgh is how its neighborhoods are set up. Downtown has a large city feel with its towering skyscrapers & daily hustle and bustle, but the city itself is actually pretty small and compact. You can literally walk from one side of downtown to the other in almost no time. Areas like the Strip District, Oakland, South Side, North Side, Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, etc are all not far from downtown, and each neighborhood offers its own unique feel. It’s nice being able to visit Pittsburgh’s different neighborhoods in the same day without having to drive far. And that brings me to what I like least about Pittsburgh – driving. I love to drive, but Pittsburgh is known for its terrible traffic (specifically 376). People around here seem to be “tunnel challenged” so the Squirrel Hill tunnel & Liberty tubes always create a huge backup. There are also a lot of potholes and never-ending road construction.

Matt – I love the architecture: the bridges, PPG Place, The US Steel Building, PNC Park (who plays there?), the Casino, the Cathedral of Learning, I could keep going. My least favorite thing about Pittsburgh is the Parking Authority and parking in general.

Enjoying an Incubus concert outdoors at Stage AE in Pittsburgh's North Shore.

Enjoying an Incubus concert outdoors at Stage AE in Pittsburgh’s North Shore.

What are your favorite things to do in Pittsburgh?

Matt – I really enjoy the Pittsburgh music scene which continues to draw better and better acts. I love going to Market Square during my lunch breaks; there always seems to be something interesting happening. I also enjoy going to different Pittsburgh area parks on nice days.

Vanessa – I love to try out new restaurants & bars (Groupon has been a great tool for finding new restaurants & getting great discounts!). I also enjoy strolling through the Strip District, catching some rays at Sandcastle Waterpark in the summer, & spending time outdoors with our dog. Earlier this year we discovered Riverview Dog Park, which is a hidden gem behind the Pittsburgh Observatory, and we find ourselves there a lot. If you have a dog, it’s a great place to spend an evening with lots of other people and their dogs!

Don't let that face fool you-- Wesley loves exploring the city parks!

Don’t let that face fool you– Wesley loves exploring the city parks!

What are your favorites places to eat in Pittsburgh? Drink? Go out at night?

Vanessa – Some of my favorite places to eat around here (and there are LOTS!) are Nicky’s Thai Kitchen, DiBella’s Subs, Lindo’s, Primanti Bros, Sushi Boat, Antoons, Fatheads, Taj Mahal.. the list goes on and on. I enjoy going out at night to Pittsburgh’s South Side and visiting the various bars along that strip (some favorites that come to mind are the Rowdy Buck, Locals, & Mario’s). I also like to visit the River’s Casino from time to time.

Matt – I like to eat at Nicky’s Thai, Mix Stirs, Monterey Bay, Madonna’s, Taiwan Café, and many more. I like going out to various bars in the South Side but can’t always remember their names. I also enjoy hanging out at friend’s places.

What is your favorite neighborhood in Pittsburgh and why?

Matt – My favorite neighborhood in Pittsburgh is Oakland because it is the first one I knew and I have a lot of good memories there including meeting my fiancé Vanessa!

Vanessa – I could say my favorite neighborhood in Pittsburgh is Oakland for the same reasons as Matt, but for a little variation I will go with the North Side because it’s where I live now, and I love it here. While Pittsburgh’s North Side is sometimes known for its somewhat “shady” areas, there are also some very nice areas here. I can honestly say that I have never felt unsafe living here. I think Pittsburgh’s North Side is turning into a beautiful part of this city, and I’d love to see how far it’s come in a few more years.

Wesley and his friend Fleury playing hard at Riverview Dog Park in the North Side.

Wesley and his friend Fleury playing hard at Riverview Dog Park in the North Side. Photo by Kent Noble

Matt- What’s it like being a Cowboys fan in Steelers country?

Other than the death stares I get when walking downtown wearing my jersey, it’s not that bad. The Cowboys haven’t been very good for a while now so I don’t think Steelers fans feel threatened. At work, I am constantly defending Tony Romo (I think Steelers fans are jealous). [Editor’s note: HAHAHAHA]

A photo Vanessa took of Pittsburgh while flying for her Air Traffic Control program.

A photo Vanessa took of Pittsburgh while flying for her Air Traffic Control program.

Describe your perfect day in Pittsburgh from start to finish.

Matt – Wake up and watch the sunrise on Mt. Washington then head down the incline and go into the Strip to enjoy breakfast and coffee while walking around the shops. Next, stop by the Furry convention [?!] and then head out kayaking on the river. After kayaking, grab some sustenance at Primanti’s and then head to Soldiers and Sailors to lie down before the food coma sets in. After I awake, travel to the North Side for a show at Stage AE and then back home to my warm cozy bed.

Vanessa – My perfect day in Pittsburgh would begin by sleeping in a little and then going out to breakfast somewhere (I’d say Lindo’s because their breakfast is awesome, but I’d prefer to try somewhere new). After breakfast, I would spend the afternoon out on a boat on the river with some friends & some brews. Once evening starts setting in, we’d get dressed up and go out to eat somewhere fancy on Mt. Washington, and then maybe go catch a show downtown at the Benedum before heading home.

City Dining Cards offer $10 off at over 50 Pittsburgh restaurants

Pittsburgh City Dining Cards

While catching up on some blog reading, I noticed a several-week-old blog post from the wonderful people at eatPGH.com. Apparently City Dining Cards have arrived in Pittsburgh, with each card offering a $10 discount to one of over 50 Pittsburgh restaurants. And best of all, the included restaurants are all locally-owned and many are some of Pittsburghers’ favorite establishments. Respected places such as Square Cafe, The Church Brew Works, Abay Ethiopian Cuisine, OTB Bicycle Cafe, and Sausalido joined the program.


Click the image to see an interactive map of all the participating restaurants.

Here’s more specifics on the cards themselves:

  • It’s $20 for a set of 52 cards. 5% of each purchase gets donated to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
  • 50 of the cards are valid at a different Pittsburgh restaurant for $10 off purchases of $30 or more. Each one can only be used once.
  • Then there’s 2 wildcards with each giving you either a free small coffee or espresso at Espresso a Mano or one free beer at The Church Brew Works (go for the beer, people!).
  • Can only be used towards the food portion of the bill, which means it can’t be used for alcohol, tip, or tax.
  • Expire at the end of 2013.

Even better, eatPGH is offering free shipping if you order online! Just enter “eatPGH” for the Promo Code AND Shipping Code (you have to do it for both), and you’ll get free shipping on as many as you want. Thanks, eatPGH! You can also find in-store retail locations to buy a pack.

I haven’t been to a decent amount of the restaurants on this list (quite a few are out of my current price range) but some perennial favorites appear, as well as places I’ve been meaning to check out. Bites and Brews in Shadyside is my favorite place for pizza and beer, with an extensive draft list and build-your-own pizzas and sandwiches. Across the street is another one of my staples, Harris Grill (whose website has been down for a while). It’s been mentioned on here before but bacon night deserves to be mentioned as much as possible. They have a fantastic, unique cocktail list and on Tuesdays after happy hour, they put out baskets of free bacon for patrons to munch on.

D's Six Pax and Dogs

Oh yes. That’s a hot dog topped with macaroni and cheese from D’s. Photo by somenametoforget on Flickr.

I used to go to D’s Six Pax and Dogz in Regent Square almost every week, at the very least to explore their beer cave featuring more than 1,000 (according to them) craft micro-brew and import bottles. They also have pretty great food with slightly atypical pub food, creatively-topped beef, turkey, and veggie hot dogs, and tasty pizzas. Industry Public House in Lawrenceville features a modern wood and metal decor, a wonderful draft list, artisanal cocktails, including a signature smoked bourbon drink, and creative, homemade food.

The Round Corner Cantina

Tequila, Cointreau, and grapefruit drink from Round Corner Cantina. Photo by somenametoforget on Flickr.

I’m most excited to finally check out the Church Brew Works, Round Corner Cantina in Lawrenceville, and Pi Coal Fired Pizza in South Side, and even possibly splurging on a meal at Root 174 in Regent Square. Overall, the City Dining Cards are a great deal and an excellent opportunity to explore new restaurants. Your purchase will pay for itself with just two uses and, as far as price and types of cuisine go, the options are varied and extensive. They’d also make a great holiday present for any food-loving friends and family, so go ahead and grab a deck or two!

Interview: What do you love about Pittsburgh?

PittsBurgh

Photo by Sakeeb Sabakka on Flickr.

This week I asked two dear friends what they love about Pittsburgh. One, as expected, is a born-and-raised Pittsburgh girl with nothing but the best to say about the city and the other… a life-long Cleveland resident. Who, surprisingly, also had great things to say. See? Pittsburgh is pretty great no matter who you ask.

Music: “The Happiness of Larry” by radiotimes.

Jessica is a resident of Shadyside and employee at the Pittsburgh Zoo. She loves to dine out, go dancing, and destroy a cup of Razzy Fresh as much as I do. Craig, sadly, still lives in Cleveland but is looking to make the move to the better city. Both have lists of their favorite places in Pittsburgh that they gladly shared.

PNC Park Pittsburgh View

Although he loves the Cleveland Indians, as an avid baseball fan, Craig is impressed by PNC Park. It’s a great venue with picturesque views, wonderful food options (for a stadium), and maybe, if you’re lucky, some decent baseball too. Mt. Washington also features spectacular views, especially via the incline, that even a Cleveland resident can enjoy. He also likes visiting the city parks in Pittsburgh, having spent quite a few afternoons exploring the trails in Schenley Park.

1106 Strip District_31

The Strip District. Photo by Devon Christopher Adams on Flickr.

Jess loves the Strip District for the variety of activities they offer. From speciality food stores, tons of places to buy Steelers gear, delicious restaurants and cafes, flea markets, and clubs and bars, there’s literally something for everyone. She also loves how supportive and active the LGBT community is in Pittsburgh, with her favorite bar being 5801 in Shadyside. Also a big salsa dancing fan, she usually can be found dancing up a storm at Mexico City, Cabaret at Theater Square, or Emiliano’s.

Fat Head's Pittsburgh Headwich

Head Brewben and PCI (Pretty Cool Italian) Headwiches at Fat Head’s. Photo by Craig Zeltner

Of course, I had to ask about their favorite restaurants in Pittsburgh. Jess had quite the list: Church Brew Works, especially for their pierogie pizza; Emiliano’s for great lime margaritas and flautas; Harris Grill, particularly on their famous bacon night; and Mercurio’s for fantastic wood-fired pizza and dozens of flavors of gelato. She also goes nuts at Crazy Mocha for chai lattes and Prantl’s Bakery and Oakmont Bakery for their sweets, which she says she’s an unofficial expert on. Craig will be the first to admit that he’s slightly obsessed with Fat Head’s for their superb beer selection and gigantic, delicious sandwiches. Both of them also said they enjoy the lively atmosphere and large, tasty beers at Hofbrauhaus, although Jess prefers Penn Brewery for a more authentic German experience.

So give it a listen and hear what a long-term Pittsburgh lover and a recent convert have to say about our lovely city!

The 2012 PittsBurgher Burger Competition and Music Festival

2012 PittsBurgher Burger Competition and Music Festival sign

Click the above picture to see a slideshow of the event with 26 photos!

When a Living Social deal for two tickets to the PittsBurgher Burger Competition and Music Festival found its way into my email, I was instantly smitten: unlimited tastings of one of the best foods known to man at over 40% off– sold! The event, held last Saturday, September 29 at the Rivers Casino Amphitheater, didn’t reveal in advance which restaurants were participating. I crossed my fingers that places such as Burgatory, BRGR, and Tessaro’s (old school– no website), which are all renowned for their delicious burgers, would be in attendance but, sadly, I was disappointed on that front. The actual contestants still provided some fantastic burgers to be voted on by all the attendees for the title of “Best Burger in the Burgh” (which is a dubious title considering the lack of participants but we’ll let it slide this time).

Tents at the 2012 PittsBurgher Burger Competition and Music Festival

Held on the lawn next to the casino under a few tents, the PittsBurgher benefited the American Liver Foundation. After checking in and collecting an assortment of wristbands (one for free admittance for the music festival, another for one complimentary beer, and a final one that tells Rivers employees we’re 21 and to stop hassling us for our IDs) and tickets to exchange for burgers, my fellow burger enthusiast friend and I shuffled into the crowded tents and randomly picked a fast-moving line to quickly abate our hunger (burger festivals require a mini-fast, naturally).

2012 PittsBurgher Burger Competition and Music Festival- Bonnie and Clyde's in Wexford

The first offering, from Bonnie and Clyde’s in Wexford, was topped with coleslaw, cheddar cheese, a pierogie, lettuce, tomato, and onion, all on a soft slider roll. It was tasty but could have done without either the coleslaw or the pierogie (never!) as both were overkill. The meat had definitely been previously frozen and was a little chewy.

2012 PittsBurgher Burger Competition and Music Festival- BZ's Bar and Grill

After a bit of a wait, the next burger was from yet-to-be-opened BZ’s Bar and Grill in the North Side. My personal favorite of the day, this special blend of fresh ground beef had bacon, sharp cheddar, their own BBQ sauce, and fried onion and jalapenos on a sweet slider roll. Every ingredient was fresh and well-made and complemented each other perfectly. If I hadn’t been so eager to try all the other burgers, I would have come back for seconds (or more…) of this one.

Not being nearly as ravenous as when we first arrived, we decided to tackle the longest and slowest-moving line for, supposedly, the best burger there. However, while standing in that line, I snuck off to the River’s Casino table to grab two of their burgers to enjoy while we waited.

2012 PittsBurgher Burger Competition and Music Festival- River's Casino

The Casino had a bacon and beef blend burger with white cheddar, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, sea salt, and mayo on a caraway seed bun. They were the only table without much of a line and, consequently, a lot of their food sat out for a while and wasn’t very fresh. I wasn’t too impressed with this burger, despite being excited for the bacon and beef blend, and didn’t finish it. They were also offering a dessert burger (I KNOW!), but we’ll get to that later.

After a more than a 30-minute wait, we finally arrived to Melange Bistro Bar’s table. The downtown establishment had the smallest operation at the festival, with only two guys manning one conventional-sized grill, which resulted in the slow production speed. However, they were also slicing their mammoth burgers simply in half, giving patrons the biggest burger sample of the festival. They had two options available: an All-American burger with American cheese, spinach, tomato, onion, ketchup and mustard, or a bacon cheddar cheeseburger, both served on their signature pretzel buns.

2012 PittsBurgher Burger Competition and Music Festival- Melange Bistro Bar

We both opted for the bacon cheeseburger and were immediately impressed with how flavorful it was. The frozen patties had been seasoned with some sort of garlic powder mix on the grill but it quickly became overwhelming the more we ate as it overpowered the other flavors present. I think since they were in such a rush to produce burgers, they were being a little careless with their production.

2012 PittsBurgher Burger Competition and Music Festival- Sundog6

Sufficiently stuffed and with complimentary Amstel Lights warming our bellies, we walked around outside the casino for a while and let everything digest. It was a beautiful day out, sunny yet still in the 60s, and people were lounging around the casino grounds listening to the live band Sundog6 performing in the amphitheater. They did a pretty good job covering popular songs and the female vocalist sounded nearly identical to some of the original artists.

After a brief break, we headed back into the tent intending to hit up the last few stations we had missed (sadly, including Winghart’s, which was the one place present that I previously had heard of as having great burgers), but bulging tummies and impending food comas told us we should wrap it up. Of course…

2012 PittsBurgher Burger Competition and Music Festival- Dessert Burger from River's Casino

… I had to at least try the dessert burger from Rivers Casino, which was a panko-crusted chocolate custard with passion fruit “cheese,” strawberry, kiwi, raspberry and mint. And I’m glad I did because it was surprisingly delicious! It was a little cold from, once again, sitting out too long, but the rich chocolate, crunchy coating, and tasty fruit flavors perfectly wrapped up the day.

Overall, the PittsBurgher was a great event. The food was yummy and varied, the location was perfect, and it was for a fantastic cause. However, they really seemed to suffer from an organizing perspective: the tent was WAY too small and crowded, there was no real information on all the restaurants attending, and, as I learned after the competition, there was a website for people to vote on their favorite burger yet no one provided that information. Many people complained, several were getting short-tempered, and others were cutting into long lines (jerks) so they definitely suffered from this serious oversight. Hopefully this event takes place again next year because I did have a great time despite all the problems and would love to see how it evolves in the future.

Oh, and which burger won? Turns out, it was the bacon cheddar burger from Melange!

2012 PittsBurgher Burger Competition and Music Festival- Melange's winning burger

They must have gotten the seasoning right on some of them.

Remember to check out the slideshow here for ALL my photos from the event!

Unique activities to entertain every group of friends imaginable

Simon Sky Diving

In their April 2011 issue, Pittsburgh Magazine featured a list of a dozen fun things to do in Pittsburgh with friends and it was nothing if not unique. From drag queen bingo to exploring a local cemetery, they featured varied activities for any group of friends to enjoy. Adventurous pals can go skydiving up by Grove City, Pa., while more laid-back groups can sit back and enjoy smoking hookah at The Sphinx Cafe in Oakland. And there’s plenty of suggestions for friends who prefer their memories together to be a bit hazy: downing steins of homemade beer at Hofbrauhaus in the South Side, enjoying the craft beer offerings of The Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville, and helping East End Brewing Company deliver their beer by bicycle in the Pedal Pale Ale Keg Ride.

This list, along with the three others they did in a series linked within this article, presents many surprising and previously-unknown pastimes (apparently there is a manor in Swissvale full of bizarre taxidermy animals). Their suggestions are so different from each other while still being unique to the city of Pittsburgh that residents and visitors alike can find something to easily entertain themselves.