On Sunday, our host and hostess decided to give us their own personalized tour of Pittsburgh. But first, we had to eat.
Nothing halts a hang-over like three loaves of French toast! There was also bacon aplenty, since Ben considers it to be a food group in and of itself. Maggie and I had come with four bottles of champagne in tow, for the express purpose of distributing mimosas to one and all. Turns out we’re the only two who like them, so we more or less drank a bottle each.
After brunch, we piled into Ben’s car (literally; Kaytlin was in the trunk) and began our drive-thru tour. We crossed the Mononghela River and arrived at our first destination: the Duquesne Incline. The Incline is the kind of attraction that only people as demented as my friends and I could enjoy. The Incline is a funicular, which is basically a trolley that goes up an otherwise unconquerable slope. It doesn’t go fast. It goes in a straight line. When you get to the top, you get out and take in the view of the city and the many rivers that surround it. When you’re done drinking in the scenery, you get back in the midget caboose and glide back down the hill at a medium pace. That’s it. For the grand sum of $4. Needless to say, we had the time of our lives. Too bad everyone else sharing the tram car with us wasn’t as enthusiastic.
Truthfully, the view at the top of the hill is impressive. I’m sure it’s fantastic in the spring and summer; which, coincidentally, is how I feel about Pittsburgh as a whole. A placard at the top of the funicular terminal highlighted the fact that Pittsburgh was named the Most Livable City in 2007. No citation was given. I’m thinking the honor was bestowed by either Depressed Steel Towns Monthly or Cholesterol Aficionado. More on that later…
The next stop on our tour was Carnegie-Mellon University, where Kaytlin and Ben have worked their chemical engineering magic. Kaytlin took us down to her secret laboratory, where I inadvertently scared Kari by donning safety goggles. “Oh my God, do we need those?” she asked, frantically looking for a pair. There were no hazards. It was merely a sartorial choice. Kaytlin showed us the famous smog chamber where her experiments run, among other things. Much of it made no sense to me, but I was impressed.
We wandered through the catacombs of CMU (seriously, there are underground passageways) and eventually emerged back on the bitter cold surface. There were one or two more things that Ben and Kaytlin wanted to show us before the afternoon was over. But first, we had to eat.
They took us to the (in)famous Primanti Brothers restaurant, where we were told we simply had to have a sandwich. Mind you, this was at about 5:00 and we were supposed to be meeting other people for dinner at 8:00. Still up to my eyeballs in French toast, I abstained, while everyone around me split orders from the very straightforward menu. When the sandwiches–if we can even call them that–arrived, I was glad I had chosen to sit this round out.
Each and every sandwich at Primanti Brothers, no matter the primary ingredient, is made on two-inch thick pieces of Italian bread and served with coleslaw and French fries–on the sandwich. I am not making this up. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I mean, sure, it saves on dishes, but really? As I looked on in awe, my companions put forth a valiant effort in cleaning their plates.
With everyone save for me quickly succumbing to food comas, we headed back to Ben and Kaytlin’s apartment to warm up (me), digest (the others), and make ourselves pretty for dinner (everyone). By 7:30, we were neat and clean and back in the Mystery Machine, bound for our next culinary experience at Pittsburgh’s famous Fathead’s.
The name says it all, kids. This place made Primanti Brothers look like amateur hour. Every person who came in was larger than the next. The portions that we saw go by on carefully balanced trays were monstrous. They even had something on the menu called ‘The Artery Clogger’.
Truthfully, the place was just an Applebee’s for self-made diabetics. Just like any other time you want to eat good in the neighborhood, we arrived in a small herd. It was going to take 45 minutes for them to seat the nine of us. Unlike my companions, I didn’t have two pounds of deli meat coursing through my veins from Primanti Brothers, so by now I was quite hungry. And quite irritable. If I looked in to the restaurant, all I saw were pig people slathering themselves with bacon grease and hot sauce. If I looked in to the bar, all I saw were the talking heads on ESPN dissecting Alex Rodriguez. A rock and a hard place, indeed.
We finally got a table. I perused the many folds of the menu for something that I thought would take the least years off my life. When our waiter made the journey to my seat, he informed me halfway through my order that he was “just writing over things” on his little pad. Gee, thanks, Chuckles. Is that your subversive way of prematurely apologizing for when you bring me the wrong food?
The sandwiches at Fathead’s (apparently everything in Pittsburgh must be consumed between two pieces of bread) were not quite as sadistic as those at Primanti Brothers (and yes, he did get my order right). For one thing, side dishes stayed on the side. Nevertheless, they were monstrous, and I was the only one of our group who gave up and ate his with silverware. It’s not snobby; it’s practical.
So, what did I learn about Pittsburgh on my whirlwind Sunday sightseeing tour?
1) It is very cold in winter
2) Because of the harsh conditions (I assume), vegetables appear to be a rarity
3) When eating, it’s perfectly normal to get more on you than in you
4) In the event of severe climate change or a nuclear holocaust, the citizens of Pittsburgh will be able to hibernate and live off their stores of fat until nature corrects itself
5) Funiculars remain a celebrated creation in Pittsburgh, probably because people would like to have more of them around to shuttle their fat asses from sandwich shop to sandwich shop
The fourth and final installment of “Weekend of Love” is coming soon…