Big shock, right? The 6-foot-4 guy who’s up around 285 pounds, that large mammal – he likes food.
He is me. And I’ve been a writer for a decade now. Just not usually about food. That changed when I moved to Pittsburgh to freelance full-time. Just a few weeks ago, actually.
I needed to find excuses to explore the city along with a reasonably good way of getting to know it, learning it, understanding it. History, culture, neighborhoods – a lot of that is a story passed around through food.
Pittsburgh being the city of entrenched, guarded traditions that it is, I thought there was room for another voice – mine, conceitedly enough – in the ongoing conversation about what folks eat around here, why, and what it means. Being a writer, my voice is Eatsburgh, a little site where I can say what I think and tell the stories that I find. My only promise is that I’m honest about what I find.
What I’m really looking for is a sense of place.
Pittsburgh is the city that fought the federal government for 20 years to get its H back. Cool as hell. Stubborn. Maybe a little insecure. But a city doesn’t do that if it doesn’t feel connected – to itself, to a shared identity. I can read or learn all I want and still be on the outside – unless I find ways to crawl inside, under the veil.
It’s a city that has pride in itself. Sometimes in public, sometimes not. It’s not a city that seems to feel it has anything to be embarrassed about except maybe the off-field proclivities of a certain quarterback.
Before moving here, I’d visited a few times. Been to Primanti Bros., that whole thing. But curling my fingers around a Yuengling lager and seeing no problem with anyone piling coleslaw and fries on a sandwich don’t mean I understand the city.
The stories and experiences I’m hunting for are so much more than just writing a review of a restaurant or a bar. I want to know what people eat and how it gets made, why they eat it, how traditional it is that they do, how they decide to eat it.
Finding a guy in Oakland who makes wonderful falafel with a spice mix he created by accident – that’s Pittsburgh. Walking down into a discount market in the Strip District where “slightly melted” candy sells four for a buck and only the Steelers gear is unreturnable – that’s Pittsburgh. Talking to the dude in New Kensington who runs a beer store good enough people drive in from out-of-state to pick something up and who defiantly stays out Route 28 away from the city itself – maybe that’s not Pittsburgh, technically, but it kind of is.
But the world of Pittsburgh food and drink does not exist only in restaurants, markets and bottle shops.
Sometimes what strikes me is how much better it is to make your own chicken stock at home with ingredients from a local farmers’ market. Or finding the right old Italian butcher who knows how to trim beef short ribs perfectly so you can go home and braise them in a good local beer.
Each of these things is an avenue into something larger, something deeper, about how and what we put in our mouths and what food and the experience of eating and drinking should be.
There’s no way I can pretend I have any kind of professional food experience. Never worked in a professional kitchen. Don’t know too many people who ever did. I didn’t even work at McDonald’s or anything in high school.
Even as a writer, most of my experience has been writing about other things. I can tell you plenty about Tasers and cops and career burglars and homicide investigations and court files. Have an interest in public records? I can help.
I grew up in a house where my parents were very conscientious about what we ate and why. But I also grew up around really good food and people who liked to cook.
Food has always been important to me, more than simply a source of nourishment. This adventure just means doing in public what I’d only ever done among friends. Scavenging ingredients and recipes, talking techniques, cooking and telling stories.
And now I do it in Pittsburgh.
Eatsburgh wasn’t around when we put together a short list of cool Pittsburgh Food Blogs, but it will definitely be part of round two. Check out Eatsburgh.com and follow @thejqs on Twitter – he’s Burgh Verified.