Pittsburgh’s dining scene, as we all know, has grown tremendously in recent years. While we locals get to enjoy the ongoing churn and excitement of so many new places to eat and drink, our national profile, too, has seismically expanded, with fawning national and international media coverage. Just a tapas-sized sampling: Eater (“Is Pittsburgh the Country’s Next Destination Food Town?”), The New York Times (“Pittsburgh’s Youth-Driven Food Boom”) and Zagat (“Why Pittsburgh is America’s Next Hot Food City.”)
Clearly, we’re leaving a lot of out-of-towners hungry for what we have to offer here.
But away from the endorphin-releasing headlines, and operating somewhat under the radar, is another equally important story that deserves to be told about a group of more than 100 restaurants that is passionately committed to pleasing both the palate and the planet.
This diverse group of establishments has achieved formal recognition through the Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurant. program. A project of the nonprofit Sustainable Pittsburgh, these restaurants are committed to building vibrant communities and supporting environmentally responsible practices.
Committed is probably not a strong enough term. These establishments earn their designations from the Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurant program after they are evaluated on a jaw-dropping 149 Performance Criteria.
These guidelines are aimed at bettering our environment, our community and our region, including initiatives based on waste reduction, water conservation, energy efficiency, people (such as employees and community residents), responsible sourcing and nutrition.
“All the credit goes to the restaurants,” says Rebecca Bykoski, Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurant Program Manager. “We’re here to help them improve, promote them, encourage them and provide a platform for them to build on their successes.”
Bykoski notes that when compared to our city’s traditional urban competitors (“not that it’s a contest”) that we are frequently benchmarked against — including the usual suspects Cleveland, Cincinnati, Charlotte and Indianapolis — Pittsburgh is the emergent leader in sustainability and the restaurant industry.
“What we’ve done here is take a big step beyond the traditional food-space outlook on sustainability, which historically has tended to focus on local and ethical sourcing,” says Bykoski. “Make no mistake, these local food movements are of vital importance to us, our food system and the restaurant industry. However, our approach defines sustainability in broader and more encompassing terms.”
That broad range of actions means that restaurants have the ability to earn sustainable designations across four levels, ranging from Bronze to Platinum, that indicate their level of achievement with the program. These different levels are based on points achieved relative to the number of beneficial actions they’ve taken. Many establishments “cycle upward,” beginning at one level and continually improving and optimizing their operations in order to make an even bigger difference in the community and earn a higher level of designation.
Diners looking to make a delicious difference can easily find a Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurant in any part of town by checking out the new Restaurant Finder at EatSustainably.org. From popular local chains to pizzerias to bars to white tablecloth fine dining, the extraordinary diversity of designated establishments is right in line with the city’s dynamic restaurant scene.
After all, savvy locals know to look beyond (and behind) the headlines.