Today’s profile of Pittsburgh is part of an occasional series looking at where central Ohio sports fans travel.
PITTSBURGH — Come for the hockey, stay for the gnocchi — and the pierogies, pop art, tyrannosaurs and beer.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have two more hockey games scheduled in Pittsburgh this season on March 22 and April 29.
But fans traveling to the games — or anyone who visits anytime — will find plenty of off-ice diversions in this fun- and food-filled town, too.
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As hard as it might be to admit, the fact that the Penguins have had more hockey success than Columbus is impossible to deny, especially when gazing up at the five Stanley Cup banners hanging from the ceiling at PPG Paint Arena (www.nhl.com/penguins/) downtown. The Pens’ first championship was in 1991, 23 seasons after the club began play. (Columbus began play in 2000. Just sayin’.)
Pittsburgh’s hockey arena, opened in 2010, is a thoroughly modern facility with beautiful sightlines and plenty of refreshments, including local beer and food favorites. The arena does not, however, have its own cannon. Score one for Columbus.
Pittsburgh’s sports history goes far beyond hockey, of course, and inquisitive sports fans will find plenty of that history around town.
Museums — sports and otherwise
The Roberto Clemente Museum (3339 Penn Ave., www.clementemuseum.com) honors Clemente, a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball icon, humanitarian and groundbreaking Latino hero. The museum contains many sports and family mementos of Clemente, who died at age 38 in an airplane crash on his way to assist earthquake victims in Nicaragua. He was the first Latin American player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The museum is open for pre-purchased guided tours only, so check the website for available times. Small group tours can also be booked.
The Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum is located inside the downtown Heinz History Center (1212 Smallman St., www.heinzhistorycenter.org). The sports museum includes great exhibits on the Pirates, the NFL Steelers and many other Pittsburgh teams and athletes past and present including — yes, yes — a newish display about the Penguins and all their success, yada yada. (But the Stanley Cup reproduction will really make you want to get your own hands on that baby, so take a close look.)
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Pittsburgh is also home to several unique, world-class museums, including the Andy Warhol Museum (117 Sandusky St., www.warhol.org) , the largest in the country dedicated to a single artist.
Warhol, a Pittsburgh native, was one of the most influential artists of the late 20th century. His work such as Campbell’s Soup Cans, became iconic avant-garde symbols while he himself became an icon of the avant-garde pop scene of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.
The museum’s seven floors display a huge amount of Warhol’s work and personal mementos while delving into his early life, the development of his art, and his huge influence on art and culture.
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Another must-see destination is one of my favorite museums in the entire world. The Carnegie Museum of Natural History (4400 Forbes Ave., www.carnegiemnh.org) has one of the largest collections of dinosaurs, including the first Tyrannosaurus rex discovered. But don’t get hung up just on the big guys. The museum also has a world-class mineral and gem collection, dozens of magnificent nature dioramas and a Hall of Egypt, among many, many other fascinating displays.
And be sure to visit the Hall of Architecture and the Hall of Sculpture, which link the museum to the adjacent Carnegie Museum of Art. The most amazing architecture on hand, however, may be the museums complex itself. The stunning and magnificent Grand Staircase and the Carnegie Music Hall Foyer just might make your eyes pop right out, especially if you’re already stuffed with gnocchi.
Speaking of which, visitors will probably work up quite an appetite while exploring, and Pittsburgh is a great place to fill up.
Dining options abound
The city’s Strip District, located on a strip of land between the Allegheny River and the Hill District, once contained a number of food and produce wholesalers as well as many restaurants and food stands to feed the hungry workers.
Most of the wholesalers are gone, but the food tradition lives on in many restaurants and vendors such as Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. (2010 Penn Ave., www.pennmac.com), established in 1902 and still a favorite local purveyor of Italian and Italian-style food such as olives and olive oils, cured meat, a wide variety of cheeses and fresh pasta including the Italian dumplings called gnocchi. The delicacies make great take-home gifts, and even better keep-for-yourself treats.
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If you’d rather have someone else do the meal prep, a great Strip District stop is the original Primanti Bros. (46 18th St., www.primantibros.com). The restaurant started out as a sandwich cart in 1933 and quickly became a storefront restaurant in its current location. Primanti claims to be “almost famous” for its huge sandwiches made with fresh meats, cheeses, veggies and — buckle your seatbelt, but not too tightly — french fries between slices of fresh Italian bread.
And while in Pittsburgh, don’t skip out on breakfast. Among the best spots are Kelly O’s (100 24st St., www.kellyos.com), a traditional and very “Pittsburgh” diner in the Strip; and Square Cafe (134 S. Highland Ave., www.square-cafe.com) in the East Liberty neighborhood, a bright and breezy place where I made the life-changing discovery of Pierogi Benedict, potato cheddar pierogies with caramelized onions topped with over-easy eggs and a delightful hollandaise sauce.
Craft breweries aplenty
And suds lovers will find nearly 50 craft breweries in and near Pittsburgh ranging from tiny War Streets Brewery, crafting great beer in the basement of Bier’s Pub (900 Western Ave., www.bierspub.com) on the Northside; to Dancing Gnome beer (1025 Main St., www.dancinggnomebeer.com), with a large new brewing facility and spiffy tap room in nearby Sharpsburg.
Beer drinkers planning to spend more time in Pittsburgh or hoping to return should also pick up the Pittsburgh Brewery Guide (www.pittsburghbreweries.com), a “passport” and directory that can be stamped at most of Pittsburgh’s breweries for rewards, as if great beer isn’t reward enough.
Steve Stephens is a freelance travel writer and photographer. Email him at [email protected].