One of the things that sold us on Pittsburgh when we moved here from the West Coast 10 years ago was the city’s proximity to other major East Coast and Midwest metropolises: D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Toronto, Detroit, Cleveland. It’s as if Pittsburgh is the hub of our personal wheel of fortune, with prizes — surprises — at every turn.
We often take advantage of this geographical gift and marvel at how well the Pittsburgh brand travels. A recent mini-baseball tour to Baltimore and Philadelphia with my husband, Fen, our 16-year-old son, Stevo, and his good friend, Graham, went something like this.
We drive out of Pittsburgh and arrive an easy four hours later at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Baltimore, sister property to our own Monaco off Grant Street. The Baltimore version is housed in the former B&O Railroad Headquarters Building, a 1906 gem replete with Tiffany stained glass windows. True to form, the lobby is awash in fanciful couches napped in eye-popping colors and patterns.
Next stop is L.P. Steamers, an unassuming spot for blue crabs known for its rooftop deck. The boys are new to eating whole crabs but catch on quickly. Graham has shown up in a Steelers t-shirt and our server zeros in on it. Fen deflects.
“The boys are big Penguins fans,” he offers.
“Ha,” says our server. “I’m a big Capitals fan and they’re the best, and the Cup proves it.”
“I’ll have another Loose Cannon,” says Fen, smartly pivoting to the locals’ beer.
Arriving at the Orioles’ ballpark at Camden Yards, we’re greeted by a sea of orange that rivals our black ‘n gold. The boys make a beeline for Boog’s BBQ, a riff on the PNC Park rib shack that’s a second home to Bucs alum Manny Sanguillén.
“You’re from Pittsburgh?” says a middle-aged man seated next to Fen. “My family is from Scott.”
We decamp in the eighth inning of a tie game and head for gelato in Fells Point, a spit of land that juts out into the Patapsco River that feeds into the Chesapeake Bay. While it’s not the three rivers, it’s a sweet spot to end the day.
A quick 90 minutes up I-95 has us in Philadelphia, where we’re staying at the Hotel Monaco in Old City. Behind us, a car pulls up with a family of four and South Carolina plates surrounded by a plate holder pimping out the Steelers. The mom approaches Graham, who’s clad as usual in a Steelers tee, and assures him they still root root root for the home team. I switch into a white Penguins Stanley Cup tee but think better of it and opt for a yellow Pirates tee because Flyers.
The Phillies home at Citizens Bank Park is as massive as PNC Park is cozy, and while we’ve lucked into field level seats, we take an air-conditioned elevator to the fourth deck for a reprieve from triple-digit temps and the added bonus of panoramic views. Again, we depart with the game tied after eight.
Dinner is at Parc, a Stephen Starr restaurant that pays homage to the traditional French bistro and we hear was one of the inspirations for Poulet Bleu, the latest in Pittsburgh chef-owner Rick DeShantz’s restaurant group. We begin with French onion soup and while it’s terrific, DeShantz’s version of the classic brimming with chunks of oxtail and laced with cognac is the hands-down winner.
Our evening ends at The Franklin Fountain — kissin’ cousin to Klavon’s in the Strip District — where a massive banana split is served in the kind of takeout box you get at a Chinese restaurant. It works.