Sunday, December 19, 2010
Sure, there was that quick trip down to Klavon's on the last day of school back in June, but that doesn't count as a real trip to the Strip District in Pittsburgh.
There was also my half-marathon which took me through a deserted Strip District one Sunday morning in 2009. It was vacant. Shops closed. No bystanders cheering me on. It was my least favorite leg of the trip.
Today, however, was glorious.
Visiting the Strip was EVERYTHING I hoped it would be.
I ventured down this morning with Harper and my neighbors - cup of coffee in hand and grocery list in my purse. The drive down took no time. I still marvel at the lack of traffic that I hit whenever I wander into the city.
The Strip District was already alive and bustling with activity. 9:15 was pretty late for a visit to the area (especially a week before Christmas). The crowds were thick and street vendors were hours into peddling their wares. The sound of "Fresh bread!" rang through the air. It was kind of like the "Who Will Buy" moment in Oliver - only with a rousing tune about the Steelers amplified above it.
Of course I bought some of that bread.
Actually, I bought the largest, most yummiest pepperoni roll I've ever scarfed down, for the cheapest price I've ever paid. The thing was massive and fed four of us for $5.00.
My purpose in visiting the Strip, a week before Christmas, was to get some authentic Italian meats and cheeses for my annual antipasto, plus some surprise goodies for my parents who just can't get items like frizelles, and tarelles on the MD shore. Last year, I tried to get all my ingredients at an Italian market in Monaca, only to have that plan fall short when I arrived to find them out of mozzarella balls. I'm sorry, but what true Italian market runs out of mozzarella balls? It's a staple. Like flour.
So, I resigned myself to picking everything up at Giant Eagle, and while the antipasto was terrific - this girl really loves her cured meats - it was lacking the experience. Back in Chicago, I loved visiting a certain market every year to get my goods. The smells, the languages being spoken, and the hustle and bustle of everyone getting ready for Christmas by hitting up the deli counter, was an experience - a treasured one.
I've been searching for that.
Now, I know everyone is all, "You gotta go to the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company", and I did, for the jarred ingredients and the tarelles, but for the meats and cheeses? When I arrived the crowd was enormous. My letter/number was G40. The number being called? E17. The numbers went up to 100. So, do the math. And that was for the cheese counter only. I didn't even have a number for the meat counter. I was so sad. I had been warned that this would happen. Not even the announcement that they were serving free wine in the back room helped ease my disappointment. I wasn't getting my stuff here. I resigned myself to purchasing the ingredients at GE. Again.
But, my neighbor, who is far more Strip-saavy than me, suggested we return to the deli where I first purchased that luscious pepperoni roll.
We returned to Sunseri Brothers (Jimmy and Nino's place) where I approached the deli - which was far less crowded then the Macaroni Company.
"Do I need a number?"
"Everybody pick a number!" was the response.
Which is when the handful of customers, including myself, all began yelling out random numbers in chorus. With laughter.
I turned back to the guy and told him I was number one.
He chuckled and got my order of sharp provolone cut, while a male customer asked what cheese I was getting.
"Sharp provolone. If you've never had it, you need to."
"Hey! I'll take the half she doesn't purchase!"
The man helping me asked if the orders were together.
"What? For us? What are you suggesting? We just met!"
The climate was festive, everyone chatting, talking, and laughing over the coincidence of all having picked the number "one". The feel was so different from the shoulder to shoulder ("excuse me", "pardon me", "coming through") mob over at Penn Mac. And not only did I get great products, but Harper was able to hang with our neighbors on the deli's second floor while sipping a drink and munching on that same pepperoni roll. (We got hours of meals out of that thing).
This particular deli was so much more relaxing and "homey" than the bumper to bumper traffic inside "THE place", and I walked away with all the meats and cheeses that I needed and a warm feeling in my heart.
THIS was the Strip experience I was hoping to find.
"Wait! Do you have pepper frizelles?"
"No. Can't get 'em."
"Ugh. My father is gonna write me out of his will. I promised him."
Perhaps I'll need to make them myself?
The Strip is THE place. Next time down? DeLuca's for breakfast with the family.
And not only did I find my Italian deli of choice on my first visit to the Strip, but I also grabbed a sweet hat from a street vendor.
Cured cuts and cute caps. I'd call that a great day.
Yinz have a favorite place dawn in da Strip? Dish.