Western Pennsylvania Wows Groups With Deep-Rooted Food Culture
Pennsylvania’s fertile western region sets the table for memorable F&B experiences, pioneering a farm-to-table and comfort food culture centuries before the current vogue.
Bringing homeland tastes and recipes with them, the waves of early immigrants that settled Pittsburgh and its environs invested the area with a lasting legacy of finding comfort in traditional ways. Since the 1700s, much of the food comes directly from the land. Pittsburgh has more farmers markets and community gardens per capita than most U.S. metropolitan areas.
Deeply ingrained, too, is cooking and sharing meals with family and friends.
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From nationally recognized restaurants to centuries-old farms, this cultural cornucopia truly defines the sense of taste and place for groups.
Pittsburgh’s Award-Winning F&B Scene
What’s the dish on Pittsburgh’s hot culinary renaissance?
“Try chef-driven fare, new restaurant concepts and a cutting-edge beverage scene,” said Kristin Wenger, marketing communications director for VisitPITTSBURGH.
In naming Pittsburgh the top food town of America in 2015, Zagat declared that “this town is poised for even more exciting things in 2016.” With seven Pittsburgh region semifinalists in five categories in the 2019 James Beard awards, the heat is still very much on.
Nominees (for Outstanding Restaurateur) include pioneering Pittsburgh serial chef-owner Richard DeShantz. Opened in 2011, his Meat & Potatoes headlines a seven-concept restaurant group that includes Butcher and the Rye.
Butcher and the Rye, Pittsburgh, Credit: Laura Petrilla
With two consecutive James Beard nominations for “Outstanding Bar Program,” this event-capable Cultural District draw serves hundreds of whiskey varietals.
The options don’t stop there. More than 200 restaurants are within walking distance of the LEED Platinum- and Gold-certified David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
But conventioneers don’t even have to leave the convention center for local fare—the venue’s North Terrace grows organic heirloom vegetables and herbs that are used by the center’s food provider, Levy Convention Centers.
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Pittsburgh’s historic Strip District is a hotbed of restaurants, coffee shops, markets and ethnic food stores. Strip District standouts include Bar Marco, which is a 2019 James Beard semifinalist for “Outstanding Wine Program.” The restaurant, which serves Italian cuisine, can host 65 for seated events and 100-plus receptions in its Union Hall event space.
For groups of 12 or more that want to sample a little bit of all of Pittsburgh’s offerings, private and customized tours can be arranged through 'Burgh Bits & Bites, which has provided insider culinary tours of the Strip District and foodie neighborhoods around town since 2008.
Pittsburgh Food Festivals
Pittsburghers love to celebrate their culinary tradition. Annual food festivals are easy group tie-ins, and Pittsburgh has plenty.
A local favorite includes Picklesburgh, which was named the top specialty food festival in 2019 by readers of USA Today. This “dill-icious” weekend event celebrates the city’s pickle roots, dating all the way back to the 1800s, when tours of the H.J. Heinz factory ended with a pickle pin—an area favorite collectible.
Picklesburgh Food Festival, Credit: Dave DiCello
Today, the festival honors this 200-year-old pickle history with a giant flying Heinz pickle balloon, cooking demonstrations, pickled food and drinks, and even a competitive pickle juice drinking contest.
Local food festivals like Picklesburgh offer visiting groups a truly unique, unmatched way to experience a place. Not long after the annual Picklesburgh, the city hosts another festival celebrating a city staple, the pierogi, which is celebrated each September at the Pittsburgh Pierogi Festival. Pierogi fans flock each year to the fest to feast on the popular European dumplings from food trucks, local restaurateurs and even churches in town.
“Pittsburgh is a beer-drinking city and that includes craft brew enthusiasts,” Wenger said. “Brewpubs abound in nearly every neighborhood in and around the city, as new and inventive breweries continue to open.”
There are many options for groups looking to sample the local brews. Church Brew Works, housed in a restored Roman Catholic Church, checks off the box of unique venue, capable of hosting banquets for a minimum of 25 guests. Beer names play on their surroundings, with notable ales including the Pious Monk Dunkel, Pipe Organ Pale Ale and Celestial Gold.
Church Brew Works, Pittsburgh, Credit: Kurt Miller
Planners can use the Pittsburgh Brewers Guild’s interactive online guide to locate 30-plus local brewers to hand-pick for their networking events for post-meeting fun.
Another tour option for groups is City Brew Tours Pittsburgh, which offers behind-the-scenes tours, beer tastings and round-trip transportation.
Five-Star Dining to Farm-Fresh Fare in Western Pennsylvania
Yet more fermented flavors beckon in the rolling hills of Butler County, just north of Pittsburgh, where the North Country Brewing Company in downtown Slippery Rock is devoted to sustainable farm-to-fork practices. Groups can sample 100-plus different beers at the onsite brewpub, tour the production and canning facility, and hold events at the 1856 Harmony Inn (though easily spooked attendees take note: Multiple accounts claim the inn is haunted).
North Country Brewing Co. in Slippery Rock, Courtesy: Visit Butler County
The Butler County Beer Circuit—a self-guided tour of the area’s best frothy finds—features more brewery options for beer aficionados, while abundant dining options include private events at the 1832 Hotel Saxonburg; its main dining room can accommodate up to 50 guests for seated dining.
Groups can also experience Butler’s rich agrarian heritage at heirlooms like Armstrong Farms. Established in 1816, this seventh-generation family operation hosts special events and weddings in two fully restored 1860s barns.
Nominated for 2019 Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic, Executive Chef Kristin Butterworth hails from rural Western Pennsylvania. Amid Moulin Rouge-inspired decor, she creates masterful European-American cuisine with ingredients from the resort’s holistic garden and local farmers at this Forbes Five-Star, AAA Five Diamond gem.
Lautrec at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort
Private event hosting can be arranged on a select basis.
Other Laurel Highlands charmers include Green Gables Restaurant in Jennerstown. Dating to 1927, this area landmark, named for the literary classic Anne of Green Gables, offers five flexible private event venues for up to 400 guests.
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The Laurel Highlands group dining offerings put an emphasis on local sustainable ingredients, and the same is true at multi-year Wine Spectator award-winner Helen’s, which is housed in the original 1930s homestead at sustainability-focused Seven Springs Mountain Resort.
Lake Erie Wine Country is home of the world’s largest and oldest Concord grape-growing region. This gem of Western Pennsylvania features two dozen wineries along 50 miles of Lake Erie shoreline, which offers an abundance of group tours and event options.
Groups of eight or more can simply call ahead to any of the 20-plus wineries for a tour.
Cloud 9 Wine Bar, Courtesy: Visit Erie
One such winery, the Mazza family-run South Shore Wine Company, also hosts events in its Civil War-era stone wine cavern and newly renovated Vintage Hall.
The entire property offers events a dose of history. It has been a winery, barn, basket factory, hotel, banquet hall, restaurant and bar throughout the years.
Wine fans can also pair a trip to Erie for meetings with a trip to its annual Wine Country Harvest Festival, or WineFest, in September, where attendees can choose samplings from over 100 different wines while perusing local art and listening to live music.
Western Pennsylvania CVB Contact Information
Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau
Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau