From urbane restaurants to friendly family-owned farms, Western Pennsylvania passes the taste test. Pittsburgh’s burgeoning locavore scene and exciting ethnic fare invite exploration. Outside the city limits, farms serve up fresh food at the source. Everywhere, wineries and breweries beckon visitors to stop for a tasting. Whether groups prefer to dine in style or alfresco right on the land that produced the meal, they won’t go hungry or thirsty here.
The food scene in Pittsburgh runs the gamut from haute cuisine to hot dogs. Groups can taste and tipple their way through neighborhood restaurants, wineries and breweries to discover the authentic flavors of the city.
The bountiful countryside around Pittsburgh has inspired a fervent farm-to-table movement among the city’s restaurants. Among the most group-friendly spots focusing on fresh, local ingredients are Habitat for “internationally inspired” cuisine and Casbah Mediterranean Kitchen and Wine Bar.
With Black Angus cattle grazing mere miles away, it’s no surprise that Pittsburgh serves up great steaks. Private dining facilities are available at both Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse on the city’s north side and Capital Grille of Pittsburgh, located downtown.
To experience another side of Pittsburgh fare, groups can lose the linen serviettes and hit the Strip.
“Everyone loves the Strip District because it’s all grit and pure Pittsburgh,” says Craig Davis, president and CEO of VisitPittsburgh. “With its ethnic grocers, sidewalk vendors and a string of small shops, foodies love the Strip, as we call it, and visitors do, too.”
One of the best ways to explore this tasty neighborhood is on a group walking tour with Burgh Bits & Bites Food Tours.
If the timing is right, groups can visit one of the city’s many ethnic food festivals. There are nearly a dozen Greek festivals alone, as well as Scottish, Irish, Italian, Bulgarian and Russian fests. Planning an autumn event? In Pittsburgh, Oktoberfest begins in September.
Two of the city’s breweries are famous for their Oktoberfest celebrations. Penn Brewery Restaurant is one of the oldest and largest breweries in Pittsburgh. It offers several private dining spaces, the largest of which seats 120. Hofbrauhaus offers banquet space from Sunday through Friday afternoon.
The city has a thriving wine scene. The Strip is home to several wineries, including Pittsburgh Winery, which hosts events in its cellar. Engine House 25 Wine, located in nearby Lawrenceville, welcomes events as large as 150 in its historic, renovated firehouse.
Family-owned and -operated Wigle Whiskey produces award-winning spirits from organic, local grains at its location in the Strip. Wigle offers private tours for eight to 30 people, group cocktail classes and event space for 100.
If eating together fosters social ties, cooking together must be even better. Chop, WOK & Talk! presents hands-on cooking classes in Southeast Asian and Mediterranean cuisine for small groups of 6 to 10 people. Crate Cooking School and Kitchen Store specializes in private team-building events.
With a city full of delectable possibilities, how can anyone decide what to eat first?
“The Primanti sandwich is a true taste of Pittsburgh,” Davis says. “It’s two slices of thick Italian bread with cheese and meat like roast beef or salami, and then piled with coleslaw and French fries. It’s a meal unto itself!”
This legendary sandwich can be sampled at any of Primanti Brothers’ 16 area locations.
Butler County dishes up homegrown hospitality that benefits the community as well as hungry groups.
“Many of Butler County’s restaurants take the food-to-table movement very seriously, either growing their own foods in on-site gardens or using only local suppliers for their ingredients,” says Amy Pack, director of Tourism Development for the Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau. “This commitment to local businesses supporting their neighbors means diners receive the freshest, highest-quality ingredients, and our local economy flourishes.”
Group dining options include the elegant Restaurant Echo, which focuses on locally grown, artisanal food, and the casual, one-of-a-kind Dr. Sous Chop Shop for inventive American dishes with names like “You Bet Your Hash.” The group-friendly North Country Brewing Company offers whole-grain, handcrafted beer in a whimsical atmosphere.
Many of the farms that supply local restaurants happily welcome groups for tours and even offer special event venues. Groups of almost any size can arrange tours at Marburger Farms, a family-owned dairy famous for its chocolate milk, and Harvest Valley Farms, which has supplied all kinds of produce to the region for four generations. Harvest Valley has also hosted tented events in its fields.
Barn events lend down-home hospitality to any gathering. Armstrong Farms offers three different barns all built in the 1800s. The barn at For All Family Farms can host groups of 140. The farm is a major destination for holiday festivities around Halloween and Christmas.
Just 12 miles east of Pittsburgh, Monroeville has raised the sports bar/restaurant to an art form.
The Penn Monroe has been cheering on the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins for more than 50 years. The menu features Italian-American food and sandwiches, and there’s private event space for 120.
Boasting 700 beers and a hearty menu of steak, ribs and sandwiches, the Gateway Grill fuels sports fans up to cheer the local teams on 20 large plasma screens. The party room seats 50.
Rivertowne Pourhouse is one of four locations of a popular local chain serving up quality pub fare in a friendly atmosphere. There is a 1,200-square-foot private banquet room.
The abundant farms and hospitable restaurants of Washington County invite groups to sample the fruits of their labor.
Back Porch Restaurant, located in a historic building along the Monongehela River in Lower Speers, offers decadent duck, veal, lamb and seafood. It can welcome groups as large as 45 for special events.
Angelo’s, a Washington favorite for 70 years, tops off its traditional Italian menu with 18 flavors of homemade gelato. It can host groups as large as 65 and offers a 10-person conference table for meetings.
The county’s farms combine tasty treats with beautiful countryside venues. SpringHouse Country Store, Creamery and Eatery is a working dairy farm and bakery. The family-owned operation can host picnics for 75 or more.
Trax Farms in Finleyville offers a 150-person event room as well as seasonal tea parties and hayrides.
Laurel Highlands and Johnstown
The fertile land of Southwestern Pennsylvania is running with wine, rich with haute cuisine, and heaped with … Big Macs?
The berries are also something to write home about.
“I have seen festival-goers stand in line for an hour to purchase one of the famous raspberry and other berry desserts at Sand Hill Berries Farm,” says Julie Donovan, vice president of public relations for the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau. “I recommend going directly to the farm itself.”
Located at the edge of Mount Pleasant, the family-owned and -operated farm welcomes groups in its cafe and also offers outdoor event space.
The Southwest Passage Wine Trail connects seven wineries in the region. Among these, Christian W. Klay Winery offers a restored 1880s barn that can welcome as many as 300 for receptions.
The area is home to a number of group-friendly, world-class restaurants. Lautrec Restaurant at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort is one of just 20 restaurants in the world that can boast holding both Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond awards at the same time. The restaurant welcomes large parties.
The Wine Spectator award-winning Green Gables Restaurant in Jennerstown can welcome 400. Group-friendly restaurants in Johnstown include Hoss’s Steak & Sea House, with private dining rooms for 50 and 75, respectively.
The area is also home to the world’s most popular sandwich. Groups of 30 can stop for burgers at the Big Mac Museum Restaurant in North Huntingdon, then have their photos taken with the world’s largest Big Mac.
Come thirsty. Erie is becoming a tourist favorite for its growing wine-tasting scene. Lake Erie Wine Country boasts more than 20 wineries along the shoreline, and is especially renowned for its white wines. Nine of these wineries are in North East, Pa.
South Shore Wine Company can welcome groups as large as 300 in its historic Vintage Room. The property also offers group tours and private tasting events in its wine cellar.
Beer fans need not leave Erie parched. The Brewerie at Union Station offers group tours, and the Aperitif Drawing Room can host 30 for private events.
Be sure to save room for dessert.
Kelly Crumrin is a frequent contributor to Meetings Focus.