pittsburgh: the pearl of pennsylvania

Like an oyster with a grain of sand, Pittsburgh is fast emerging as The Pearl of Pennsylvania. Long considered the tough and gritty anchor of the state’s western edge, a youthful artistic movement is rapidly re-gentrifying this unique metropolis. Last week I had the opportunity to check out Pittsburgh for myself, and I have to say, the rumors are true.  I found a rapidly growing artisan community that was as optimistic as it was unpretentious. Locals were friendly and genuine, the art was vibrant, and the food delicious. Our aimless wanderings quickly turned into an international gastro-tour of Lawrenceville and The Strip, two little gems that really deserve some fanfare.

Lawrenceville is an area northeast of downtown that is blossoming into a trendy and fresh neighborhood grown from industrial roots.  Along its main drag sprout coffeeshops, art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, and more. Near by, accessible by foot, bike, or car, The Strip District is a historic area now home to nightclubs, bars, and oodles of specialty shops and import grocers.

While we couldn’t hit every store on our tour (our wallets and waistlines just wouldn’t allow it) I am sure you will find just as many gems on your adventure as we did on ours.  But if you’re looking for some recommendations, follow along as I recount our recent gastro-tour.

We started out in Lawrenceville at Gryphon’s Tea, 4127 Butler St., with orders of Cold Earl Grey with agave nectar, and Matcha- a powdered green tea drink.  Both were brewed fresh while we waited, and the barista was friendly and filled with recommendations of sights and eats in Lawrenceville.

After a leisurely stroll up Butler St., into a few art galleries, and down to the waters edge, past design studios and consulting firms, we wandered past La Gourmandine Bakery and Pastry Shop, 4605 Butler St., and were betrayed by our noses.  It would take someone with a stronger will than I to walk past that shop and not be lured in with the scents of fresh french bread, buttery croissants, and delicate pastries.  The smell was exactly as a French Bakery should be.  It brought back memories of living in Lyon, rushing past bakeries just taking out their fresh baked goods as I caught the bus to class in the morning, and then picking up fresh baguettes in the afternoons on my way home.  The treats were as delicious as they smelled, with flaky layers that melted in your mouth and left you completely satisfied.

Wandering back down the other side of Butler Street, we took the barista up on her recommendation to eat at Smoke BBQ Taqueria, 4115 Butler St.  Smoke is an unassuming restaurant next to a refurbished movie theater that specializes in bar-be-qua and tacos.  It was while deciding what to order here that we committed to our day of foodie exploration.  So rather than order full meals we each ordered a taco snack. I had a taco with black beans, roasted corn, poblano relish, fried potatoes, and topped with ribs pork. It was an astounding blend of flavors and textures and every bite was a delight.

From there we hopped back in our car and drove the few blocks down to The Strip. I’d like to take a moment here to applaud the geniuses at the Pittsburgh Parking Authority. Their new parking meters are brilliant in their simplicity. Rather than print out tags that one must leave on their vehicle’s front dash, at these meters you simply key in your license plate and you’re done.  Why is this so brilliant? Because it is possible to refill your meter from ANYWHERE in the city. Simply visit one of these parking pay stations, key in your license plate number and viola your meter has been refreshed.

Anyway, back to food.  Our first stop in The Strip was a visit into one of the many Asian Markets along Penn Ave. There we found all our standard favorite spices, deserts, and drinks.  I left with bags of mochi, Tom Kha soup mix, wasabi snacks, and dried seaweed.

Back outside, not two doors down, we found a Polish Deli, S&D Polish Deli, 2204 Penn Ave. Here we ordered a selection of Polish Cheeses, some spinach and cheese pierogis, and a stuffed cabbage.  The cheese was sharp, the pierogis fresh, and the stuffed cabbage just the way babula makes it.


Pierogis and stuffed cabbage from S&D Polish Deli

Surely they must be getting full, you might think. Maybe a bit. From here we transitioned to some grocery shopping and exploring more of the specialty shops along Penn Ave.

There are Italian Markets, Middle Eastern spice shops, Mediterranean grocers, fresh butchers, outdoor produce markets, and more. The cultural cacophony is deafening, and inspiring.  “If we lived here we could make this and that and more!” we found ourselves saying over and over again.  “I can’t believe they have this!” I exclaimed more than once over rare cuts of meat, exotic vegetables, and hard to find spices.


An outdoor produce market on Penn Ave in The Strip 

After stocking up on some Italian cheeses from the Pennsylvania Macaroni Co., and some fresh biscotti from The Enrico Biscotti Co. we were ready for a break.  Rather than head home, we wandered into The Beerhive for a seat and a drink.  After a couple of refreshing pints of Octoberfest we were ready for round two of our gastro-tour.


So many specialty shops all in a row!

We ended the day with Vietnamese sandwiches from Pho Van Vietnamese Noodles & Grill.  A Vietnamese Bahn Mi Sandwich, as I soon learned, is a mouthwatering combination of tender pork, chili sauce, onion, cilantro, and cucumber on top of a french baguette.  Pho Van does Bahn Mi right.

With that, we concluded our delightful gastro-tour of Lawrenceville and The Strip District. Everything was delicious, reasonably priced, and worth every calorie.  By the end of the day we were ready to collapse into a satiated food coma back at our hotel, and we did just that.

Pittsburgh, you hidden pearl, never again will I think of you as a city of steel mills and silly football players.  You are now forever in my heart as one of the most delicious, artistic, friendly and inviting cities in the Northeast.

Until next time, Buon Appetito and Salute!!



world entrepreneurship forum

Thwarted by embassies! Boo! I went to Paris on Thursday to attempt to get Russian visas for Adam and I. I was unsuccessful. But, I’m a few hours away from getting all the forms this time (as far as I know atleast….) And everybody keeps taking my money! Every step has another fee, I feel like I’m greasing palms. When I run my country (HAHA) I’m going to let everyone come, no visas necessary. Or if I HAVE to have visas, I’m going to make it really clear what’s required. And not charge stupid fees. For everything.


Exciting news- this weekend was the World Entrepreneurship Forum on EMLyon’s Campus. I volunteered to work the form, taking notes at the meetings. Towards the end, at one of the full group meetings, a list of recommendations that the WEF was going to make to the world was read off and the entrepreneurs were supposed to vote for them. HOWEVER, they didn’t like them and refused to vote! They practically staged a coupe and a group of women who had had a similar conversation over dinner last night voiced their own recommendations that they had come up with. The other entrepreneurs liked them a lot better so they decided to formalize theirs instead. Immediately after that meeting the six women were going to meet to do so. I “just happened” to be nearby when they were getting together to go find a room to work in and I volunteered to take notes for them at the meeting. I transcribed the recommendations they formalized, and turned it into a presentation, so they could show it to the full entrepreneur group after lunch. It was awesome seeing those women work, and I was happy with that thinking my interaction was done. BUT they made me go on stage with them when they presented and introduce myself. I said “Hi my name is Erica Hession. I am a student of the Global Entrepreneurship Program- a partnership between Babson College, EMLyon University, and Ziejiang University. I was just the note taker in this process, these women (gesturing toward them) were the masterminds.”

After that the entrepreneur that was really smitten with me, Laura the VC from Austin Texas, introduced herself, and said “She was not ‘just the note taker’. She is the future entrepreneur! Watch out for this girl!” hahaha! How great is that? I talked to her again later in the day to see what the follow up on the recommendations was and when I was leaving she said to keep in touch because she wants to hear about our adventures with the program so I got her card. I’d love to work for her!

I met this other great entrepreneur too. He has run a nonprofit environmental firm in Canada for 20 years. He started it when he was young after traveling in india for a year. He came back, tried to work for a real estate agency and quit after a year to start this company- Evergreen. He Adam and I went out for drinks that evening and he had really great stories to tell and great advice to give. I’d love to work for him too. They are working on this huge project right now converting an old brick factory into a sustainable campus with nurseries, a farmers market, classes, etc. They want it to be the “Greenest” building in the world!

All in all it was a successful weekend I’d say :D

i love all the free stuff you get for being a student

Archived post pulled from the travel blog I wrote while a student traveling with the Global Entrepreneurship Program (G.E.P.). It seems to start one month into my year with the program. The first month of posts seem lost to the internet ether. It is delightful to re-read posts from the beginning of my life as a traveler and blogger. Its incredible to see how much I’ve changed, and in what ways I’m still the same old wide eyed youngster…

I was really busy this weekend. I went to the Musuem of Contemporary art, an open house at the city hall (hotel de ville), Lyon’s car show, an open air market, and church at a HUGE basillica overlooking the city. Oh and I found a climbing gym RIGHT around the street and promptly signed up for a membership for my last two months here. can you believe I only have two more months in France already?

Here’s a picture of me with the new BMW Z4:

They had a Tesla at the show too (its a totally electric sports car. 0 – 60 in 3.9 sec)

Mom and I have decided to train for a marathon together. We’re going to run one in the fall when I’m back. that gives us a year to prepare. I ran 8 miles on friday, so I’m off to a good start I guess. She’s doing really well too :D

I’m going to book my trip to Italy today. I’m flying to Rome (tickets for 40 euro!!), and I’m going to stay there for a few days. Then down to Sicily to visit the family for a few days before heading back to Lyon. Soo excited for Italian food again. I can say with experience now that I like Italian cheese much better than French cheeses.