The Holidays in Pittsburgh

January 16, 2020

Now that the holidays are over, I’m having time to reflect on our adventures throughout the season. In early December we did a day trip to Pittsburgh to see our sister-in-law Abbey’s shop in Lawrenceville. True to form, we turned it into a full experience.

We started the day, a Saturday, in the Strip District. If you’re just getting to know Pittsburgh or visiting for the first time, I’d recommend visiting the Strip. It’s a former (still is, really) industrial area featuring a variety of shops, vendors, markets, and restaurants. And it’s certainly the place to stock up on your Steelers gear.

We started with coffee, finding Commonplace Coffee inside Smallman Galley. If we had had time for a full breakfast, we would have lingered there. Smallman Galley is used as a launchpad for new restaurant concepts, so the offerings are always growing and changing.

One of our must-haves in the Strip is Jimmy & Nino Sunseri’s, home of the pepperoni rolls. They’re usually selling the rolls from a small stand out front. The monster pepperoni rolls are a steal at only $6. They’ll pack them up for you, but let’s be honest… when you smell the hot pepperoni and cheese stuffed into the soft roll, you’ll be promptly cutting it apart and making a greasy mess of your fingers as you consume it walking down the street.

We spent time browsing My Sweet Lilly before taking home armloads of strudel, snoballs, cookies, and other treats.

Then it was to Reyna Foods, a Latin grocery store loaded with colorful piñatas hanging from the ceiling. A machine cranks out fresh tortillas in the back. While we watched it, one of the employees grabbed a few hot off the line and handed them to us.

Nothing beats a fresh tortilla. We promptly bought a couple bags.

And then we continued our wanderings, popping into the bustling Pennsylvania Macaroni Co., Parma Sausage, Grandpa Joe’s Candy Shop, and other stops.

Plus a final stop for espresso at La Prima.

Then it was off to Lawrenceville! In addition to the Strip, we’d put Lawrenceville as a must-stop in the city. The district stretches a long ways along Butler Avenue and the surrounding streets, and is home to shops, restaurants, bars, great architecture, and much more.

My sister-in-law Abbey runs the Candle Lab in Lawrenceville. We visited the neighborhood for the annual Cookie Tour, a weekend in early December when local businesses offer little treats to visitors. We spent time at the Candle Lab, then wandered in and out of other shops. The neighborhood also offers a free trolley over the weekend.

Afterwards, we had time to stop by WQED, Pittsburgh’s PBS station, to see a long-time friend to Breakfast With Nick, Rick Sebak. Rick is a beloved Pittsburgher and producer with WQED, known for his documentaries about bits of Americana: diners, amusement parks, cemeteries, highways, sandwiches. In 2010 yours truly got to appear in one of his documentaries, Breakfast Special.

WQED was hosting a holiday bazaar that day in the Fred Rogers Studio. This is the studio where Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood (and the scenes for the Tom Hanks movie) were filmed!

After hanging with Rick, we drove over to Squirrel Hill to visit a favorite spot, Everyday Noodles.

With a larger group, we were fortunate to get in. Everyday Noodles opened at 4 p.m. that day and was quickly filled. It’s no surprise, given their incredible handmade dumplings and noodles.

Then we drove back downtown, parked across from Heinz Hall, and strolled over to Market Square.

The square was home to the Christmas market, a delightful holiday-themed village full of lights, vendors, live music, Santa, and much more.

One block away, in the Plaza at PPG Place is a giant Christmas tree with a skating rink around it. Both public places were crowded, and with the lights and all the people and the smells and the music and the chilly December air – it really put me in the Christmas mood. I love knowing these traditions are alive and well, and I wish Columbus had more events like this in November/December.

We capped off the day with a visit to Heinz Hall, to see the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra perform Handel’s Messiah.

We had seen it once before, before we had kids. And while the length pushes the limits for younger kids, it’s still a delightful night, between the Symphony’s expertise, the beauty of Handel’s work, and the stunning architecture of Heinz Hall.

Want more ideas for Pittsburgh fun? Check out our summer trip in 2017 that included kayaking on the rivers!

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FOOD + TRAVEL WRITER

I go by Dr. Breakfast, but in addition to restaurants and recipes, I write about family travel, breweries and distilleries, the arts, outdoor fun, and so much more.

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