Yinz listen to this – we finally made it to Pittsburgh last month.
I first started getting a hankering to visit Pittsburgh because of my friend, Bob Coyne, who grew up in Irwin, Pa., which is roughly 20 minutes away from Pittsburgh. During the years we worked together here in Myrtle Beach, Bob taught me a lot about the city, the slang and his shenanigans in and around Pittsburgh when he was growing up.
Several other local friends and Myrtle Beach transplants have been sharing Pittsburgh lore with us for years.
About ten years ago, my girlfriend and I became friends with two of the coolest couples anywhere: The DiGiacomos and the Scangas. We met them originally when I was playing in a Myrtle Beach classic rock cover band called Sick Stooges, and over the years became closer on their semiannual visits to the Grand Strand – my bandmates and their wives and girlfriends included.
Every time Steve and Kathy [DiGiacomo] or John and Barb [Scanga] came to Myrtle Beach, we’d hang out – and we’d learn more and more from them about Pittsburgh – and Brenda and I would comment on how cool it would be to visit sometime.
We finally put our money where our mouths were after we were invited to John and Barb’s daughter’s wedding on August 5.
Because we are usually on a shoestring budget, Brenda and I decided to fly Spirit Airlines – and opted to ship our clothes, saving us a few bucks. We also booked a hotel not far from where the wedding party was to be staying in the Pittsburgh suburb of Harmarville [Harmar Township]. It was only after we arrived that we realized that we could practically throw a rock to the TownePlace Suites by Marriott from our decidedly more economical Days Inn.
When we pulled into the parking lot of TownePlace in our rental car – the rehearsal dinner festivities were well underway on a patio out front – and we were all reunited.
The next day, it was wedding time. Although everyone was busy, Steve surprised me with a loaf of Italian bread from Sanchioli Bros. Bakery – and some home-made Sopressata. I knew brother Steve was looking out for me when he handed me a serrated knife so we wouldn’t be left in the lurch. I will always remember that moment.
After a beautiful wedding downtown – or dahntahn – Steve, Kathy and their daughter Kristin took us through their neighborhood in Bloomfield – home of Little Italy Days (Steve had to retrieve some Limoncello at his house), it was on to Veltre’s Wedding & Event Centre – a sumptuous venue at the top of a hill with a beautiful view of the Plum and New Kensington areas through floor-to-ceiling windows on the overlook.
The bride and groom, Jessica and Jon, are amazing young people, and it was an honor to be there as friends of the bride’s parents. Italian food like you wouldn’t believe – and a breathtaking cookie table with something like 900 dozen of them. Excellent DJ, an open bar with top-shelf libations that almost made me wish I wasn’t an alcoholic – but not quite – and awesome people.
Excellent job indeed, John and Barb. What a day!
The next day – Brenda and I decided to get lost. Hell – we had a rental car, a full tank of gas and GPS.
First on our on-the-fly itinerary was the Duquesne Incline, which came highly recommended by almost everyone we talked to. The Incline scaled the iconic Mount Washington – and once at the top, we poked around a museum containing awesome memorabilia, photos and bric-a-brac from various eras in Pittsburgh history – and took in stunning eagles-nest views of the city from the observation deck.
From there it was on to Station Square, a sprawling retail and entertainment complex on the Monongahela River – or “The Mon” – directly across from downtown Pittsburgh.
After a stroll in Station Square, we decided to leave the car and head across the Smithfield Street Bridge and wander around dahntahn.
It’s always good to freestyle, and we did just that – taking in the architecture and the lay of the land – until we arrived at Point State Park, where a massive festival was underway to commemorate the 2017 Three Rivers Regatta, which Steve, Kathy and Kristin told us about.
We stuck around for some live music, and idiotically, I didn’t take note of the band we enjoyed – but it featured a bearded guy playing an upright piano, which made me think about Coldplay. I also ate a very good gyro from one of the local vendors.
We enjoyed the experience of traipsing around – and I loved seeing a historical plaque commemorating the first commercial radio station – KDKA – which is still in operation as an AM news radio outfit. KDKA went on the air in 1920. Interesting that the call letters feature a “K” – usually the domain of stations west of the Mississippi River – but this was long before a 1923 boundary shift.
Back across the bridge, we retrieved our car and went into downtown Pittsburgh – and after a while found ourselves in the fabled Strip District. It struck me then that this city’s inhabitants arguably wear more sports-team apparel than anywhere else. The Strip District was so full of logoed merchandise featuring the Steelers, Penguins (Pens) and Pirates that it was almost overwhelming. Pittsburgh is nothing if not supportive to its sports teams.
I regretted eating that gyro when we came across the original Primanti Bros restaurant.
Eating a Primanti Bros. sandwich was part of the plan, but unfortunately, now wasn’t the time. I still wanted to set foot inside the location that put them on the map. You should have seen a server’s reaction when I said I was full but wanted to look around. One of my friends here in Myrtle Beach couldn’t believe I didn’t muscle through a sandwich in spite of the gyro that was still halfway through my digestive tract.
Our last bit of freestyling was to make a point of heading out the Fort Pitt Tunnel so that we could turn around, head back in and see the city open up in all its glory – just like Kathy told us.
We weren’t disappointed.
Cutting our drive short in Squirrel Hill – right before that tunnel entrance, we stopped at a Starbucks to recharge before heading back to Harmarville and the Days Inn.
Now it was time for Primanti Bros., and as luck would have it, there was a location in Harmarville. Brother Steve met up with us there.
A Primanti Bros. sandwich features “grilled meat, melted provolone cheese, sweet-and-sour coleslaw, fresh-cut fries, ripe tomatoes and our house recipe Italian bread.” Everybody had suggestions for the type of sandwich I should order. I heard “cap ‘n egg,” “Italian Sausage,” and what not, but I opted for the New Yorker – a strange name for a Pittsburgh sandwich – but it was loaded with corned beef and pastrami. I couldn’t lose.
The sandwich was massive and delicious. It’s kind of like smoking a Cuban cigar. You have to have been there and done that. I was glad to finally partake, wannabe yinzer that I am.
After heading to the local Sheetz for water and various sweets, Brenda and I called it a night.
The capping moment for our trip came the next morning before we headed off to the airport – a wonderful breakfast with Kathy and Steve at a family-owned spot in Lawrenceville called Barb’s Corner Kitchen – close to their house. It was wonderful to report our adventures from the day before with these two – and to watch Steve in action when he saw a longtime friend from the neighborhood. Everybody knows Steve DiGiacomo.
This trip cemented my fascination with Pittsburgh – and my love for these dear friends.