Although my wife and I spent a weekend in Lambertville, NJ, for her birthday during Spring, it didn’t feel like we were going away, as Lambertville can be considered part of the Philadelphia region. We had a trip to New England planned over the summer, but a temporary health concern caused it to be cancelled. Before this just-completed weekend, the last time I had traveled outside of the Philly region was the Buffalo trip to see the Eagles play the Bills in October of 2019.
That drought finally came to an end this weekend when we visited our friends in Pittsburgh. Okay; we didn’t leave the state. But It’s a five-hour drive to Pittsburgh with different scenery to look at and the potential for food stops along the way. And Pittsburgh has some beautiful neighborhoods. For years, we’ve gone there annually to visit these same close friends. Sometimes, as with this weekend, we only went to Pittsburgh. On other occasions, we would stop for a night or two on our way home from one of our Midwest vacations. The last time we were there, it was a stop on the way back from visiting other friends in Indiana. I’ll be posting on that trip in detail at some point.
Traveling across state on the Pennsylvania Turnpike won’t ever be mistaken for one of the most scenic drives in America. But I appreciate seeing so much farmland as an alternative to the suburban and urban surroundings I’m used to. And while we aren’t exactly Iowa, Pennsylvania also has a good number of cornfields, some of which are visible from the Turnpike.
I watch a lot less regular TV than I used to and have come to appreciate watching regular people on YouTube a lot more during the pandemic. One of the topics I’ve gotten into on there during the past year is camping videos. Some involve camping in extreme weather or people who specialize in cooking fairly spectacular meals over an open flame while camping. But a quirky sub-genre is stealth-camping, which features people camping in places that aren’t designed for it, or sometimes, where it’s simply not permitted. A Canadian named Steve Wallis is a sort of Patron Saint of stealth camping. He has over 650,000 YouTube subscribers, while some of his videos have been viewed by over a million people.
I bring this up because one of the things Steve Wallis has done more than once, as have others who followed his lead, is stealth camping in woods along the side of a highway or even in the median between lanes going opposite directions if there is sufficient space and tree cover. I have to confess that this has a certain appeal to me. I’ve actually looked at woods along the side of various highways over the years with at least vaguely similar thoughts. I couldn’t resist doing so again both going to and returning from Pittsburgh this weekend.
As anyone who has followed this blog during its brief existence knows, we always stop at the Summit Diner in Somerset, PA, for a bite to eat at least once when visiting Pittsburgh or the Midwest. The two years since my last stop there is the longest I’ve gone without a meal from the Summit in a very long time.
We got a later start hitting the road than expected at the outset of this road-trip and ran into some traffic heading west, which resulted in getting to Somerset not that long before the diner’s 3 p.m. closing time. I have a personal rule against entering a restaurant to dine-in shortly before closing. It feels rude. But we called in a takeout order from the road and enjoyed it in the diner’s rear parking lot. In later visits, I’ve added the Summit’s breakfast sandwich on an English muffin with egg, cheese and one of their house-made sausage patties to the standard breakfast egg plate and their double cheeseburger as my go-to meals when we go there. My only complaint with this one is that the muffin needed to be more toasted.
For the first time since one of my early visits to the Summit Diner, I passed up ordering a slice of pie. I was only in the mood for peach pie and they didn’t have it. But I did crave a vanilla milkshake and that’s what I had alongside my breakfast sandwich. As you can see in the photo, it was not lacking in the thickness department.
After arriving in Pittsburgh and checking into our hotel, we met up with our friends for dinner in the lovely Squirrel Hill neighborhood. Our destination was Taiwanese Bistro Cafe 33, which has a nice, covered section out in front of the restaurant where we sat.
I admit to being more finicky about which vegetables I eat than I should be. Let’s just say I’m a lot less picky about meat. While I didn’t eat either the Eggplant with Garlic or the Stinky Tofu (that’s not a misprint) that my dining companions ordered, I will tell you they loved the eggplant and were mixed on the tofu.
I started with a beef-stuffed scallion pancake that I enjoyed to the point of not remembering to photograph it. I hate when that happens. But I did take photos of the two entrees in which I shared: Chicken with Basil, which my friend’s wife, who is from Taiwan, said is the same thing as Three-Cup Chicken, a dish I had once in Philadelphia; and Pan-Fried Egg with Shrimp, a dish I’ve become fond of in recent years.
The following day included plans to see a college football game between Pitt and New Hampshire at Heinz Field, the home of Pitt and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Another friend, Paul, who I grew up next door to in suburban Philadelphia, but who lives in Pittsburgh now, met up with me for breakfast at Pamela’s in the Oakland neighborhood, where we were staying. They have several locations around Pittsburgh. Online lists of the best pancakes in the country usually include Pamela’s. Their hotcakes are called ‘crepe-style’ on the menu. I’d put them at about half-way between a crepe and a more traditional pancake. Their crispy, lacy edges are a trademark. This was not my first time around the block at Pamala’s. I knew what I wanted without needing a menu. It had been a decent number of years since I had their banana-walnut pancakes with whipped cream. I rectified that situation, while my friend had the pancakes with strawberries and sour cream. He passed up the whipped cream.
Our next stop was Heinz Field for a football game between the Universities of Pittsburgh and New Hampshire. Although the stadium is better known for its other tenant, it is decked out in Pitt’s colors when they play there. But reminders of the Steelers’ past era of greatness were never far from the eye.
As for the game, it was the most lopsided one I’ve ever attended, pro or college. Final score: 77-7 in favor of Pitt. To be fair, nobody expected New Hampshire to make it a close game. Still.
It would have been worse if Pitt hadn’t put in reserves during the second half and stopped passing the ball for much of the fourth quarter.
That night’s dinner was at the home of our friends, Andy and Stacy, and it was fantastic. Stacy made some of the best roast duck I’ve ever eaten AND a chicken stew with chickpeas. Again, I forgot to take photos! I’m afraid my excuse is that I was focused on photographing the dessert. Andy’s father picked up goodies from Pranti’s Bakery, which, like Pamela’s, has several locations around Pittsburgh. Pranti’s claim to fame is their Burnt Almond Torte, which was first created in 1970 and is nationally known. It was also featured on the roadfood site I used to frequent. I had never tasted it, but had wanted to for a number of years. The wait was worth it. Do yourself a favor and try one if you find yourself in Pittsburgh.
In addition to the torte, there was wonderfully moist carrot cake with some of the best cream cheese icing I’ve ever tasted, as well as red velvet cake, which I didn’t get around to trying.
It was time to head home the next morning. I decided to try somewhere new rather than returning to the Summit Diner. Irwin, Pennsylvania, which is just a little ways southwest of Pittsburgh, has a classic looking small-town Main Street. Getting there from the Turnpike involves driving on the vaunted Lincoln Highway to boot.
One of the establishments on Irwin’s Main Street is Candy’s Corner Cafe, which is the picture of a small-town cafe both inside and out.
And to my great joy, I noticed, not that far from where we sat, there was a pie and pastry case. I spotted a couple meringue-topped pies and thought about which one I’d order while enjoying my breakfast, another egg and cheese sandwich, this time with bacon. The English muffin was well toasted, but I was a little concerned by the cheese not appearing to have melted at all when the plate arrived. However, it worked its way into a more melted state as I ate the sandwich. My wife enjoyed the Polish Pancakes, aka latkes, with apple sauce. I tried one and they were delightfully crispy.
I settled on a slice of lemon-meringue pie. Both the lemon filling and the back of the crust were sensational. The meringue tasted like it had been sitting out a bit too long. It was gummy. I still enjoyed the pie very much for that stellar lemon filling, some of the best I’ve tasted over the years.
One other thing I noticed at Candy’s: they sold a brand of cartoned iced tea i used to see a lot when I was a kid, but hadn’t come across for many years. It was like stepping back in time when I saw those cartons of Turner’s iced tea after years of being used to plastic bottles.
We have a couple other weekend trips coming up soon. I’m planning our meal itineraries already.