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Tough but friendly town serves up fine fare
Richard Ouzounian

PITTSBURGH, PA.–You might not normally think of Pittsburgh as a weekend holiday destination, but give it a try. It's only a 5 1/2-hour drive from Toronto and the weather is kinder than ours.

It may be a rough-and-ready town, but Pittsburgh still knows how to hold out the hand of friendship and there's certainly a lot to do here: museums, theatres, sporting events, historical sites and, of course, a variety of dining destinations, from the haute to the hoagie.

Friday night

SOBA, 5847 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside, 412-362-5656: Get your weekend off in relaxing style at this elegant, yet comfortable, Pan-Asian restaurant, which includes an impressive two-storey waterfall.

Some people like to make a whole meal off the small plates, which include succulent barbecue pulled pork served in mu shu pancakes, a zesty tuna tartare and an exquisite lobster maki. But if you venture into the large plates, don't pass up the braised beef short ribs, or the filet mignon with chili-garlic mashed potatoes.

If you can squeeze in dessert, they change their crème brulées frequently: mine was caramel and kaffir lime and it was superb.

Saturday morning

DE LUCA'S RESTAURANT, 2015 Penn Ave., 412-566-2195: The Strip is one of the most colourful parts of Pittsburgh, a bit tough around the edges, but full of fine food shopping. Think of Kensington Market after assertiveness training.

At the heart of The Strip lies De Luca's, which is most people's breakfast destination of choice in the city.

It's a true, old-fashioned greasy spoon, but the food really is superb.

Homemade sausage finds its way into fluffy omelettes, pumpkin pancakes are a thing of beauty and even eggs Benedict gets proper treatment.

It's crowded, it's loud, but it's worth it; quintessentially Steeltown.

Saturday afternoon

POINT BRUGGE CAFÉ, 401 Hastings St., 412-441-3334: They call themselves "a neighbourhood gathering spot" and that's what it is: A warm, friendly place that also happens to have excellent food.

There's an appealing selection of salads and soups for those in search of lighter fare, but let's be honest: the Belgian frites are the big attraction here, twice fried, and served crisp and greaseless with basil mayonnaise. You can have them with a steaming bowl of mussels, or alongside a truly first-rate burger, made of freshly-ground chuck, cooked to order (yes, even rare) and topped off with a gourmet choice of toppings, including that king of North American cheeses, Maytag Bleu.

No reservations accepted, so you might have to wait, but think of the frites and find the time.

Saturday night

CAFÉ ALLEGRO, 51 South 12th St., 412-481-7788: Pittsburgh's South Side is a comfortably funky area that will remind you more than a bit of Queen St. W. Clubs, bars, theatres and restaurants abound and the vibe can get a bit frantic on a Saturday night.

But fear not: just down this side street is the refuge you've been seeking. It's cozy, but classy, with Italian food that has made it one of Pittsburgh's favourite restaurants for nearly 20 years.

The grilled calamari, seafood rigatoni, bouillabaisse (their signature dish) and rack of lamb are all ideal marriages of quality food with simple yet exquisite preparation.

Sunday morning

PAMELA'S, 5813 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412-422-9457: There are three branches of this popular breakfast spot scattered throughout the city, but this one is the posher area of Squirrel Hill.

Look at some stunning homes and maybe even squeeze in a bit of high-end shopping afterwards. But first, food. Pamela's slogan is "it's all about the pancakes" and aficionados far and wide sing the praises of the big, fluffy griddle-cakes this place produces, sometimes even adorned with strawberries and whipped cream.

Sunday afternoon

PRIMANTI BROTHERS RESTAURANT, 46 18th St., 412-263-2142: Some people call this the ultimate Pittsburgh dining experience. There are many locations of this popular chain around town, but this is the original and it's open 24/7.

The Primanti Brothers based their success on a massively overstuffed sandwich (sometimes dubbed "a hoagie") that not only includes a variety of fillings, but also has a generous portion of coleslaw and French fries inside the sandwich. Locals can munch their way through one of these with aplomb, but it may take the visitor some getting used to it.

Many fans swear by the Deluxe Double Egg and Cheese, but others favour the Pittsburgher Cheese Steak. No matter what you choose, there's one guarantee: you won't have to stop for a snack on the ride back home for a very, very long time.





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