Searching for Italy in Pittsburgh

Long ago, my grandparents sailed from Naples to New York City to live the “American Dream.” My father’s side is from a small town in Calabria called, “Pallagorio” and my mother’s family is from “Nereto” in Abruzzo. They left their small villages in Italy to provide for my family. Meanwhile, all I want to do is live in a little village in Italy.

Upon arrival in New York, my grandfather moved to work at the steel mills in the “Steel City” of Pittsburgh. Like many other families, Italian culture began to rapidly grow. Today, “Bloomfield” is commonly referred to as Pittsburgh’s “Little Italy.” However, the rich Italian culture is not limited to this neighborhood. While studying and pursuing my passion for dance, I was able to discover many hidden Italian pockets within the city – some old, and some new. I’m here to take you on a tour of Searching for Italy in Pittsburgh, PA.

A Glimpse of Italy – The Strip District

Located right outside downtown, the Strip District is full of culture consisting of local grocers, gourmet food shops, upbeat bars, and classic Italian eateries. My favorite Italian market, Pennsylvania Macaroni (commonly referred to as, “Penn Mac”) is my first one-stop shop. My Aunts and Nana used to always come here for the most fresh and authentic ingredients for their Cucina Italiana. Keeping the tradition, I would go here to shop for my personal favorite items, such as finely grated, perfectly aged Parmigiano Reggiano, a big canister of extra virgin liquid gold, and much more. These imported ingredients are ones that can’t be replicated in mass quantities at large company grocery stores.

When dining, I make sure to stop at Dianoia’s Eatery, except on Monday’s when they are closed like many other small businesses. This restaurant is the perfect place for a lunch break, aperitivo, or fine dining. Their ingredients are fresh, the menu is seasonal, and every dish is authentically traditional. Additionally, they have a beautiful venue, “La Sala di Giulietta” which is a glimpse of Giulietta’s balcony from her room reserved exclusively for special events. More recently, they have opened a to-go market called, “Pane è Pronto (Bread is Ready),” This mercado reminds me of Nonna’s abundant leftovers following a hearty Sunday family dinner consisting of meals made from scratch. It’s definitely my kind of “take-out” food. Attached to DiAnoia’s is Pizza Davide, serving irresistible Neapolitan pizza. I usually get their traditional Pizza Margherita made with a swirling spread of in-house sauce, and mild, refreshing buffalo mozzarella, topped with the most attractive aphrodisiac, basil.

For a more Italian-street food experience, I recommend Colangelo’s. Here, you can grab a buttery crisp, and flaky sfogliatelle perfectly paired with a foamy cappuccino in the morning or send your taste buds from Napoli to Southern Italy for a Sicilian-style pizza and a shot of luxuriously creamy espresso, with a kiss of foamy crema in the afternoon. If one caffè isn’t enough, La Prima Espresso Company sits right next door. Just follow the aroma.

When passing through the Strip, usually with a bouquet of crimson roses in hand, I always like to stop by Enrico’s Biscotti to satisfy my sweet tooth. Enrico’s has an assortment of cantucci with every flavor imaginable. They even have the cutest little doggie biscotti! To the left of the pasticceria is a hidden alley leading to a romantic restaurant a part of Enrico’s that connects Pittsburgh to Narni, where they even host occasional cooking classes. Talk about a hole in the wall! If I happen to pass by Enrico’s without stopping, I’ll be sure to go to My Sweet Lily’s instead. Here, they have my favorite Abruzzese pizzelle, the simple smell of anise as you walk in reminds me of my Nana.

A Taste of Italy – A Local’s Suggestions

The list of restaurants to suggest is endless… In Lawrenceville, there’s Piccolo Forno, meaning, “Little Oven.” Just as it sounds, Piccolo Forno is a rustic-style restaurant with a timeless feeling. You can bring your own bottle of aged wine, sip your favorite grapes, and taste the flavor of Italy from all regions. A personal favorite is Il Pizzaiolo, “the pizza chef” with locations all around Pittsburgh from Wexford to Mt. Lebanon and Downtown. Each location’s menu slightly differs from one another, but I highly recommend the fresh vegetable platter in Mt. Lebanon for an aperitivo served with a classic golden brown, brick-oven pizza. Other restaurants include: Mercurio’s for a pizza and gelato and Girasole meaning, “Sunflower,” (be sure to introduce yourself to Jimmy “Pie,” the patriarch of the family-owned restaurant who’s probably sipping a glass of red and seating customers) in Shadyside; Alla Famiglia, “to the Family,” in Allentown for a Lady and The Tramp inspired pasta alla ruota, “cheese wheel pasta” dish; Garabino’s in East Liberty for your favorite mouth watering pasta dish; continuing with Vallozzi’s and Talia after an evening spent in the city center. Upon visiting these neighborhoods, you’ll not only feel like a local, but a neighbor.

A Touch of Italy – A Local’s Experience

You may be familiar with the phrase, “stop and smell the flowers.” For Italians, this phrase is what they refer to as, “dolce far niente.” If you feel out of touch or are craving more culture in your day-to-day life, you may really be in the mood for the, “sweetness of nothing.” Start your day with a crisp morning walk to “La Gourmandine” located Downtown. Although, keep in mind that you won’t find a 2.50€ cappuccino in the States. Here, you can make conversation with the regular barista, read the local newspaper, and dip a buttery crisp cornetto in a cloud of foam. If it’s a Thursday any week from October through May, there’s an outdoor local market full of fresh, seasonal ingredients, colorful assortments of flowers, and creative handmade items in the heart of Market Square. Afterward, you can return back to the Square for an outdoor aperitivo at Il Pizzaiolo. Continue your evening with a stroll along Point State Park, where the three rivers: Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio meet. When the sun sets and the night is young, head to the South Side for a long night of dancing and disco.

If you want to explore Pittsburgh outside of the city center, consider heading to the Strip District for a glimpse of Italy or outside the neighborhood for a taste of Italy. Best of all, find an Italian friend that will invite you over to their Sunday family dinner at Nonna’s.

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