Merry Christmas! And happy Pittsburgh snow.

Lake Geneva Switzerland panorama

View of Lake Geneva from Pully, Switzerland. Yes, I’m totally obsessed with the panoramic feature on my phone.

Hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season! While I’m currently in Switzerland visiting family, I hear Pittsburgh got a bit of snow the other day. I made this infographic on snowfall in the region and really liked how it turned out, so give it a look! (click to make bigger)

Pittsburgh snow infographic

It will probably be a few weeks before I post here again so I hope everyone has a happy New Year!

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A perfect day in Pittsburgh: Pamela’s, History Center, PPG Plaza, Market Square, and Fat Head’s

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To get lots of details on what I did for my perfect day, plus see all the pictures I took throughout the day, check out this slideshow of almost 100 photos!

While dealing with the stress from impending finals (and having relinquished most of my social life this semester anyway), I decided to take a break by enjoying what I would consider to be my perfect day in Pittsburgh. It wasn’t hard to envision my perfect day (lots of eating and lots of exploring) but getting down to specifics, and factoring in a rainy day, was tricky. Here’s what I ultimately decided on, primarily influenced by an intense craving for strawberry hotcakes and some holiday cheer.

Map

Pamela’s

Even Obama loves Pamela's hotcakes!

Even Obama loves Pamela’s hotcakes!

So about those hotcakes. Pamela’s has been a Pittsburgh breakfast institution since 1980, featuring their famously delicious crepe-like hotcakes. Even with six locations throughout the city, Pamela’s always get packed with a line out the door on weekends and some weekdays– and for good reason. Thin, crispy, and delectably sweet and buttery, their hotcakes have attracted a cult-like following and, personally, I think I may be addicted to the crunchy edges.My favorites are the strawberry ones, which are rolled up with sliced strawberries, brown sugar, and sour cream (it works) in the middle. They also have blueberry, banana walnut, and chocolate chip banana speciality hotcakes, as well as plain short stacks.

Hotcakes filled with strawberries, brown sugar, sour cream, and topped with whipped cream.

Hotcakes filled with strawberries, brown sugar, sour cream, and topped with whipped cream.

Their omelettes are also delicious, especially the accompanying lyonnaise potatoes which are their heavily caramelized, oniony version of home fries. Besides many other breakfast options, Pamela’s also has lunch options available, but my perfect day was definitely going to start with the strawberry hotcakes. The decor varies by location, with the Squirrel Hill location having checkerboard floors, light blue and metal accents, and vintage photos and rave reviews adorning the walls. They’re cash only at Pamela’s, so come prepared.

Senator John Heinz History Center

Reconstructed trolley on display in the History Center's lobby.

Reconstructed trolley on display in the History Center’s lobby.

After sufficiently stuffing my face, the next stop was the Heinz History Center, which I had been invited to check out after posting this blog post. The roots of the Center date back to 1879 (click here for a timeline on the history of the History Center), making it the oldest cultural institution in Western Pennslvania, but it has only been located at its current Strip District location since 1996. Today it is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute and is the largest history museum in Pennsylvania (take that, Philly!).

Elevator panel from Three Rivers Stadium. With only 22 seconds left in the divisional playoff game against Oakland in 1972 and the Steelers down 7-6, Art Rooney admitted defeat and entered the elevator to travel down to the Steelers locker room. When the doors opened, he was completely confused as to why the Steelers were celebrating-- Franco Harris had made one of the luckiest plays in all of sports, the Immaculate Reception, and the Steelers were advancing in the playoffs... and Art Rooney missed it.

Elevator panel from Three Rivers Stadium. With only 22 seconds left in the divisional playoff game against Oakland in 1972 and the Steelers down 7-6, Art Rooney admitted defeat and entered the elevator to travel down to the Steelers locker room. When the doors opened, he was completely confused as to why the Steelers were celebrating– Franco Harris had made one of the luckiest plays in all of sports, the Immaculate Reception, and the Steelers were advancing in the playoffs… and Art Rooney missed it.

There are six floors of permanent collections, such as the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, Clash of Empires: The British, French & Indian War, the new From Slavery to Freedom exhibit, and the Heinz 57 display, which is about the Heinz company and products (and sadly was closed when I visited). There are also several traveling exhibits, including the extensive and incredible Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Most Super Bowl wins graph

Super Bowl wins percentage

I always forget just how gigantic the History Center is– you easily could spend the whole day there, wandering through the Special Collections (which houses artifacts from Pittsburgh’s history and of different ethnic groups), learning about Lewis and Clark’s famous journey through a recent recreation by the Rooney family, or discovering Pittsburgh’s once-thriving glass industry. The library and archives are considered the ultimate resource for Western Pennsylvania history, with thousands upon thousands of photos, documents, and personal collections (and it’s free for students and staff with a valid school ID). More details on the specific exhibits are in the slideshow at the top so check that out. All the collections are fantastic, educational, and well-organized, and I only wish I had alloted more time to really take in everything. Thanks again to the History Center for inviting me!

PPG Plaza and Market Square

The Christmas tree at PPG Plaza.

The Christmas tree at PPG Plaza.

The rain seemed to be holding out for a few hours so the next stop was PPG Plaza and Market Square to experience some Christmas cheer. As everyone from Pittsburgh is well aware, every winter PPG Plaza between Third and Fourth Avenue is transformed into an outdoor skating rink, featuring a large Christmas tree in the center during the holidays. Skaters can bring their own skates or rent some from the rink and practice their best hockey moves and double axels throughout the winter season. The plaza and surrounding areas are decked out with lights and other decorations but, best of all, Market Square is currently hosting a holiday market.

Market Square Holiday Market.

Market Square Holiday Market.

Based on traditional German Christmas markets, the one in Market Square has regional, national, and international vendors selling their wares, plus live music and Santa’s house if you want to tell the big guy what you want for Christmas (the Santa we saw had a real beard so he gets my approval). It’s open every day until December 23, plus the city is offering free all-day parking (warning: PDF link) on Saturdays at downtown parking garages until December 22 to encourage business in the area (street parking is always free after 6 p.m. and on Sundays). The holiday season is thriving in Market Square and wandering around the little shops and admiring all the pretty lights officially put me in Christmas mode.

Fat Head’s

Cover of Fat Head's menu.

Cover of the menu at Fat Head’s.

After being out and about all morning, afternoon, and early evening, we headed home to spend some quality time with my dog, Daisy. In an ideal scenario, Daisy and I would have enjoyed a long walk in Schenley Park as part of my perfect day but we may be waiting a few months until the weather cooperates enough for us to do that again. Eventually, appetites at the ready, we headed down to South Side to eat and drink our hearts out at Fat Head’s. While my waistline and wallet disapprove, I love Fat Head’s for their enormous draft list and giant headwiches, which are aptly named for being as big as your head and stuffed with an assortment of meats, cheeses, and toppings.

Fat Head's impressive draft list.

Fat Head’s impressive draft list.

They have a giant and intense menu of sandwiches, wings, appetizers, burgers, and even salads. Fat Head’s also has their own brewery in Ohio and always has a few of their own beers on tap, including their delicious and award-winning Head Hunter IPA. We started with an order of garlic fries and my goodness, was there a lot of both. Our waitress brought out a heaping mountain of fresh-cut fries topped with a frightening amount of garlic and parmesan cheese. If you get heartburn or don’t have mints on hand, you should avoid these, because they are seriously delicious and very seriously garlicky. Next up, the Jack-O headwich: sliced steak, onion rings, roasted red peppers, sharp cheddar, and their spicy ranch.

The Jack-O: Strips of sirloin steak topped with onion rings, roasted red peppers, sharp cheddar and Killer Ranch.

The Jack-O: Strips of sirloin steak topped with onion rings, roasted red peppers, sharp cheddar and Killer Ranch.

I’ve always eyed it up but was wary of their self-proclaimed Killer Ranch, which luckily ended up being the perfect amount of heat (I’m admittedly a huge wuss when it comes to spicy food). The whole thing was super tasty, with tender marinated sirloin and flavorful peppers, and was accompanied by their wonderfully crunchy homemade chips. The Jack-O was definitely added to my list of favorites, which includes the SouthSide Slopes headwich (kielbasa, pierogies, American cheese, grilled onions, and horseradish sauce– which I omit, being a hater of horseradish), the honey chipotle char-grilled wings, and the Hoff-witch (grilled chicken, original hot sauce, cheddar, bacon, goat cheese, black olives, lettuce, cilantro tomatoes and garlic-parm mayo). After a few more rounds of beer and the occasional peck at garlic fries, we closed the place down and headed home with more than enough leftovers for a few days.

My perfect day in Pittsburgh was indeed perfect: I got to eat tons of delicious food, learn all about Pittsburgh and its history, and walk outside and soak up some Christmas cheer. In the next few months, I hope to embark on a similar perfect day with all new destinations, so stay tuned! I’d love to hear what you would include in your perfect day!

What would your perfect day in Pittsburgh be like?

Where would you go? What would you do? Where would you eat?!

This incredible shirt is available at here from Compress Merch-- that is, unless I buy them all first.

This incredible shirt is available here from Compress Merch or at their store at 1931 E. Carson St in the South Side (where I took this photo)– that is, unless I buy them all first.

I set out on my perfect day this past weekend, documented with lots of photos, and had a wonderful time. Check out the blog post tomorrow to see exactly what I did as part of my perfect day in Pittsburgh!

A Steelers fan’s dream: the Heinz Field experience


I went to the Steelers-Kansas City Chiefs game at Heinz Field on November 12, 2012 and taped the experience. While the NFL doesn’t allow you to take video of plays during the game (you hear that, Belichick?), I took a lot of shots of Heinz Field and interviewed a first-time Steelers game attendee and a Heinz Field employee. I will admit, my video skills are lacking, so if you get extremely motion sick, you might want to pass on it. Otherwise, give it a view!

When football is as large a part of life as it is in Western Pennsylvania, it tends to transcend simple entertainment. After a reigning dominance in the 70s, a resurgence in the 90s and more recent years, and the values the Rooneys have instilled in the franchise, Steelers football has become more than just a game for many current and former Pittsburgh residents. On game days, it’s hard to escape the excitement, joy, and, sometimes, disappointment that seems to overwhelm the city.

The current Mecca for Steelers fans is Heinz Field, located on the North Shore of Pittsburgh. When the stadium opened in 2001, it replaced the much-loved and storied Three Rivers Stadium, which also housed baseball games for the Pirates. Heinz Field is the current home for the Steelers and University of Pittsburgh Panthers, and also hosted the 2011 Winter Classic between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins (which the Penguins sadly lost). It also sees local high school playoff football, several concerts a year (most notably Kenny Chesney every summer), and was featured in The Dark Knight Rises.

Heinz Field Steelers gameThe Steelers beat the Tennessee Titans 38-17 on October 9, 2011.

On Steelers game days, tens of thousands of fans fill the surrounding parking lots and restaurants to eat, drink, and be merry (while drinking some more) before entering the stadium. Inside they can visit numerous food and drinks stands, explore merchandise stores, listen to live bands, and wander down the Great Hall. The 40,000-square-foot concourse contains many Steelers and Panthers memorabilia, including replicas of all six of the Steelers’ Super Bowl trophies, as well as a Walk of Fame on Steelers history. Perhaps best of all, from their seats fans can admire the spectacular views of Pittsburgh through the open south end of the stadium.

Once the game begins, the crowd truly unites to support the team. They join together to rile up the defense, celebrate when the Steelers score, and commiserate if the opposition does well. An exciting game day atmosphere is created through numerous videos and songs aimed to engage fans. Most loved of all is the song Renegade by Styx. When the scoreboard screen turns black during the later half of the game, seasoned fans know what’s coming: an action-packed montage of impressive Steelers defensive plays meant to fire up the crowd during a particularly crucial play.

Heinz Field Steelers gameSteelers versus the Cleveland Browns on December 8, 2011, winning 14-3.

It’s not certain what makes the Steelers so ingrained in the culture of Pittsburgh. Perhaps it’s the hope and distraction their success in the 70s offered residents during a rough time for the city as the steel industry began to collapse. Maybe it’s the upstanding principles and strict standards enforced by the ownership on the organization, as others in the NFL seem to be faltering. It could be their continued success throughout the past 40 or so years, winning the most Super Bowls and AFC Championships in NFL history and repeatedly being playoff contenders. Either way, if you’re from or live in Pittsburgh, there’s only one thing to say: Here We Go, Steelers!