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Holidays food tops to-do lists for annual trips to the 'burgh

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09354/1021798-323.stm

LIVING / HOLIDAYS

Holidays food tops to-do lists for annual trips to the 'burgh Sunday, December 20, 2009 By Sally Kalson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette

A trip to bustling Primanti Bros. is essential for many ex-Pittsburghers during a visit home for the holidays.

As the holidays approach, refugees from Pittsburgh's far-flung diaspora are busy planning their annual in-gathering. Everyone, it seems, comes with a mental list of pilgrimages without which no visit is complete. Friends and family, childhood stomping grounds, one-of-a-kind local shops and that heart-stopping first view of Downtown when emerging from the Fort Pitt Tunnels are on most lists. But beyond that, expats seem to be led by the same compass -their stomachs. Food was by far the most frequent must-have for ex-Pittsburghers who wrote in with their favorite hometown holiday destinations. Eat'n Park smiley cookies and chipped ham sandwiches received multiple mentions. So did local icons such as Primanti's and Wholey's Fish Market in the Strip District, Danny's in Bethel Park for pizza and hoagies, Moio's Italian Pastry Shop in Monroeville, and Mineo's Pizza in Squirrel Hill. Margaret Cassidy, relocated to Washington, D.C., considers Mineo's a microcosm of the city. "The ambience at Mineo's is totally Pittsburgh and totally comforting," she wrote. "The restaurant is small, functional, a little beat up ... tons of old family photos and Steelers and Penguin memorabilia hang on the wall ... you have to serve yourself and bus your own table, and the sign outside is simple lettering and discolored. "The staff is kind of grouchy, which they can be because their product is so incredible. No one comes for the customer service, so they don't care what you think. It's authentic, unpretentious, sincere and no desire to be more than it is. "It makes me realize what I love and miss about Pittsburgh but, unfortunately, also why we left. Without a desire to 'redd up' and challenge itself, Pittsburgh does not afford the opportunities for career growth of other cities." And yet, she notes, "We have not been able to find a comparable pizza place in our neighborhood. I plan to start a tab there so they can mail me pizzas overnight." Mary Beth Fry, now living in Savannah, Ga., said her trips back always include a foray to the South Side for chicken wings at Fat Head's -- spicy parmesan, barbecue, honey mustard. "The main thing is the atmosphere. It's so casual and fun." She also likes to poke around in the boutiques of Shadyside and Squirrel Hill. "I always go into Littles Shoes, where I got my school shoes as a little girl, and I always run into somebody I know and haven't seen in ages." Bradley Schurman, currently of Washington, D.C., likes to make the rounds in Sewickley, where his parents live. The itinerary calls for steak salad and turtle soup at the Sewickley Hotel and a stop at Village Candy on Beaver Street for red string licorice and Red Ribbon soda pop -- Original Cherry Supreme flavor -- made in Natrona.

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Holidays food tops to-do lists for annual trips to the 'burgh

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09354/1021798-323.stm

"They have a whole wall of soda pop micro-brews," he said. "It's fantastic." Next, Mr. Schurman goes for the salami at Parma Sausage in the Strip. On Christmas Eve, he likes to swing through Wholey's to witness the city's Italian cooks shopping for the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Also required are visits to small, independently owned boutiques in the East End -- Moda, Eons, Avalon Exchange and Charles Spiegel. "There's nothing like them in D.C.," he says. "I do half of my clothes shopping in Pittsburgh." Kate Demase, transplanted from Fox Chapel to Boston, says she has so many Pittsburgh traditions, "each trip home becomes a race to fit them all in." The list begins on Thanksgiving with a visit to Overbeck's Nursery in Blawnox to find the perfect Christmas tree. "The staff there must shudder to see us coming. We must look at every possible tree before deciding." There must be a trip to the Frick Art & Historical Center in Point Breeze for lunch in the cafe -- "warm mushroom soup at the Frick on a cold day is the stuff of dreams." Then there's the annual pilgrimage to Pennsylvania Macaroni in the Strip for Christmas Eve staples, a jaunt to Moio's for cannoli, and piling into the car for the Hartwood Acres Festival of Lights while singing "The Twelve Days of Christmas" all the way through. "There is something magical about coming home for the holidays," Ms. Demase wrote, "and the city of Pittsburgh never fails to make our traditions special." Jerelyn Thomas, a teacher in Austin, Texas, who graduated from Pittsburgh CAPA and Point Park University, said The Carnegie Museum is the constant star in her hometown constellation. "I try to visit the museum whenever I return home, and I like to see the Degas painting in the permanent collection," she wrote. One thing she sadly crossed off her list: a cupcake from Jenny Lee Bakery, which closed last year. The Kletter sisters -- Jenn of Charlotte, N.C., Jo and Julie of New York City -- sent a full itinerary. In Bethel Park: Danny's, Eat'n Park, Panda Garden and The Warehouse Cafe, "where every holiday season is like a high school reunion." Also on the list: ice skating at South Park, shopping at South Hills Village and at Gabriel Brothers in West Mifflin, stocking up on Sarris Candy. They also like the pedicabs on the South Side, which are operated by their cousin, Paul Kletter. Fox Chapel High School graduate Ron Tranquill of Fredericksburg, Va. (who worked as a bouncer at the Stanley Theater during his college days at Slippery Rock), heads for Primanti's to fill his own stomach, as well as orders for friends at work, to buy Steelers merchandise on Penn Avenue and have breakfast at a Pamela's. There's also a required visit to the Triangle Bar in Swissvale for its famous 3-foot-long Battleship sub and to Vincent's Pizza on Ardmore Boulevard. Westmoreland County native Michele Emerman said her visits from Maryland must entail visiting Overly's Country Christmas light display in Greensburg and laying in a supply of Gibbles Potato Chips, made in Chambersburg, Pa. Stacy Gilomen relocated five years ago from Scott to an Illinois suburb of St. Louis, and found herself missing the Eat 'n Park Christmas tree commercial, where the evergreen bends down to help the star reach the top branch. "My mom actually taped the evening news and mailed it to me so I could see the commercial," she wrote. Her favorite hometown destination is the Giant Eagle because, she wrote, "I have a soft spot for hearing Pittsburghese over the announcements." Matthew Dunegan, who moved four years ago from what he calls "the most livable, lovable and leavable city," said his visits from Temple, Texas, always include the sushi stand inside the front door at Wholey's; meeting friends at the Gypsy Cafe and Dee's Cafe, both on the South Side; and drinking local brews like Iron City, Penn Pilsner and East End Brewing's Big Hop IPA (his new favorite). McKeesport native Diana Arvay, her West-Mifflin-born husband and their children make the drive each year from Columbia,

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Holidays food tops to-do lists for annual trips to the 'burgh

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09354/1021798-323.stm

S.C., after loading the car with Steelers and Penguins paraphernalia. "We always make at least one trip to Luciano's in White Oak for their superb Italian hoagies and pizza," she wrote. Then there's a stop at Jim's Drive-In in West Mifflin for hot dogs and milk shakes. Their ritual also calls for a ride up the incline to Mount Washington, a stroll Downtown to see the ice skaters, the Santa display at PPG Place and the windows at what is now Macy's, all the while "teaching our kids about what we did as kids in Pittsburgh and what it all meant to us." It must be working. She reports that daughter Jacqueline, 15, is already planning to attend the University of Pittsburgh. Milton Callan of Castaic, Calif., says he has to have a Big Boy combo in Bridgeville and a dinner of veal marsala at Tambellini's on Route 50. For Sharon Stout, a 10-year resident of Wilmington, N.C., the most important coming-home ritual is the actual arrival. "We come out of the Fort Pitt tunnel to that amazing view with Bon Jovi's 'Who Says You Can't Go Home' blasting as loud as we can get it," she wrote. "That's the moment we really know we are home." After the gifts have been opened and the feasts concluded, many expats like to take a bit of the 'burgh back to their new, if not true, homes. John Paul Blaho, now of Atlanta, never leaves without a box of cookies-and-cream truffles from Betsy Ann Chocolates. Mr. Callan carries a dozen Danny's hoagies on the airplane, with a jar of sauce on the side. Ms. Arvay takes several bottles of Jim's sauce. Then there's New Kensington native Phyllis Weisband Fibus, now of Los Angeles, who likes to stop at Mineo's for two large pizzas, half-baked, to go. She shoves the boxes under her airplane seat and flies 3,000 miles thinking about bubbling sauce and melted cheese. Once home, she puts one in the freezer and the other in the oven, then sits down with her husband and daughter for some tangy hometown flavor. "At one point I thought, 'This is crazy. What am I doing carrying pizza all the way across the country?' " she said. "And the truth is, it wasn't exactly as I remember it. But my husband and daughter love it, and it's always great to have a taste of home." Sally Kalson can be reached at skalson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1610.

Looking for more from the Post-Gazette? Join PG+, our members-only web site. You'll get exclusive sports content, opinion, financial information, discounts from retailers and restaurants, and more. Our introduction to PG+ gives you all the details. First published on December 20, 2009 at 12:00 am

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12/22/09 2:03 PM

Holiday Foods Top To Do Lists  

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