If someone were to ask you if you would like to go an a preview of a new food tour in Pittsburgh, how would you respond? Is it a trick question?
Recently, invited guests from the local travel and tourism industry, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and some fortunate others (including me) got the opportunity to experience “The Flavor of Pittsburgh” Tour. The new tour officially kicks off on Friday, July 11, and is scheduled for Aug. 1 and 22, Sept. 12 and Oct. 3 and 24. Private tours also are available. Ticket prices start at $75 for three hours of food, fun, history and did I mention food?
This is one in a series of tours offered by Pittsburgh Tours & More, an off-shoot of Pittsburgh Transportation Group that aims to promote both Pittsburgh and some local nonprofits. Mary Miller's culinary tour company “The Fork and the Road” directs the food tour, and a portion of the proceeds from it will benefit the food bank.
Tour guide Kim Adley reminded tour-goers that as they filled their bellies they were helping to fill others, also.
The group met and got acquainted in Market Square. It turned out that food wasn‘t necessarily the main ingredient on the tour. The history of Pittsburgh and how the food industry has evolved here was the initial focus and the recurring theme.
By the time the event had concluded, it was obvious why Bon Appetit magazine named Pittsburgh the “next Big Food City” for 2014. Everyone left with an appreciation and insight on how history played a part in shaping the local food industry. Ms. Adley covered everything from the legacy of Heinz ketchup to the celebrities who more recently have traveled to our region to sample local delicacies.
A Pittsburgh native and Upper St. Clair resident, Ms. Adley has been a professional storyteller for 19 years. She compares guiding this tour to welcoming people into her home. “I’ve lived here my whole life and I want to welcome people to my home with hospitality. This tour is a delicious way to learn about the city.”
The sampling began at Prantl‘s Bakery and Mancini’s Bread Co. just off Market Square. The delicious treats and the heavenly aroma were the topic of conversation as the group boarded the bus. There was no time to settle into the comfy seats, as the tour became not only informative but also interactive.
The driver chauffeured the group along Penn Avenue and Smallman Street, noting points of interest, and eventually stopped in the Strip District. What would a Pittsburgh food tour be without experiencing Primanti Brothers?
As guests entered the original location, the decor on the walls told some of its colorful history. Self-proclaimed host Norman Teklinski told the story of how it all started in the 1930‘s when Joe Primanti opened a cart selling sandwiches to hungry truckers. “The 18-wheelers had nowhere to park, so they would just roll through and drop guys off to get a sandwich,” he said. The sandwiches were wrapped in wax paper way back then, just as they are today. The sample provided that day was the Pitts-burger, the No. 2 seller. Ms. Adley described it as Pittsburgh’s version of the cheesesteak sandwich, explaining how it differs from the Philadelphia staple.
It didn‘t take long for tour-goers to down quarters of the huge sandwich, as strings of cheese were separated and french fries that escaped a bite were stuffed back in for the next. That same sandwich was described as “the size of a Winnebago” by Adam Richman in an episode of “Man Vs Food” shot here that aired on The Travel Channel on Dec. 10, 2008. As the popular television food connoisseur prepared his sample, he bumped into Primanti’s sandwich legend, Toni Haggerty. He remarked that the ingredients weren‘t the only thing that were fresh. Ms. Haggerty has made sandwiches there for 40 years. The tour group laughed as she said that “the secret to the coleslaw is a secret.”
Other stops in the Strip District were equally noteworthy and as captivating. I don’t want to give away all the details, but tour-goers‘ taste buds were kept busy with samples including a cabbage-and-noodle specialty that Guy Fieri, of “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” TV fame, not only sampled but tried to replicate; a pizza topped with a local favorite food served in a spectacular setting; and a little something cool and delightful.
There was no snoring as the group was transported back to Market Square. The trivia questions, complete with visual aids, kept everyone amused and entertained.
Thank goodness for a last stop at Nicholas Coffee for some background and beverages from fourth-generation coffee-brewer Jordan Nicholas. It‘s not easy to compose a story when you’re stuffed and ready to take a nap.
To go on a tour or schedule a private tour, call 412-323-4709 or visit pghtoursandmore.net.
Lorri Drumm: firstname.lastname@example.org and 412-263-3771.