Primanti’s. Dozen. Pamela’s. The Dor-Stop. OK WE GET IT, FOOD NETWORK! You have a hard-on for popular Pittsburgh establishments. The placesI love in Pittsburgh never make any “best of” lists, and they’re not even all crack dens, I swear. Maybe it’s because I tend to shy away from trendy hipster-meccas and any place that Guy Fieri might have grazed his L.A. Looks gel-coated hands. But you know what, Pittsburgh? I have been squatting in your legendary steel-producing town for 33 years and it’s about time some of my favorite local joints get a little lovin’.
OK, let’s start with something that’s not even in Pittsburgh, because that makes sense.
Best Place to Get Indian Food On Those Days You Feel Like Driving For 90 Minutes
You know how sometimes you say out loud to your cat, “I really want some curry but I want to drive a substantial distance for it rather than have it now, right now”?
Then Govinda’s Restaurant in New Vrindaban, West Virginia is your jam!
And now I’m going to tell you why:
IT IS THE CAFETERIA INSIDE A HARE KRISHNA COMPOUND, YOU GUYS! About a 90-minute drive from Pittsburgh, New Vrindaban is situated smack dab in the dueling banjo hills of West Virginia. Tobe Hooper definitely joy-rides around those serpentine country lanes for horror script inspirations.
Before you eat the food that is served to you by a Hare Krishna man with a head tattoo, make sure you take a monk-guided tour of the nearby Palace of Gold, built by the Hare Krishnas some decades ago for their leader-person and currently in a state of disrepair which adds to the whole “This might be my final destination, did I kiss my cat goodbye?” vibe. Honestly, I thought I was going to be taken the day I was there.
I guess that the Palace of Gold is renown for their rose gardens, too. So maybe take a stroll through that as well.
The cafeteria is down the street (you can walk there, unless you can’t walk) in the actual Krishna compound, which makes it even scarier. They serve Indian food, which is comparable to ordinary Indian food. So I guess if you’re looking for HOLY SHIT I JUST CAME Indian food, maybe you should ask Urban Spoon for some advice. But if you’re looking for an EXPERIENCE, go to Govinda’s where you will be stared at by all of the robe-wearing Hare Krishnas and gigantic dancing acolyte statues.
Also, I don’t know if this will help sway you, but people were MURDERED there. (Not in the cafeteria, I don’t think.)
Don’t forget to buy some weird fabric things and a How To Be a Swami For Dummies book in the trailer-cum-gift shop.
Best Place to Eat If You Like Eating Where Someone Was Murdered But Have Already Been to Govinda’s
While I can’t find any Internet evidence to back this up, I was always under the impression that the location of the Johnny Gammage murder-slash-one of the most controversial cases of American police brutality was in the parking lot of Frank & Shirley’s diner on Rt. 51 in Overbrook.
Even if that’s not the case, you should still go there if you like really good French fries and are either a child smoker (as in a child who smokes, not a person who smokes children) or someone with a propensity for yanking on knobs, because Frank & Shirley’s has really good French fries and a cigarette machine.
You can tell them I sent you because they don’t know who I am.
Best Place to Look at Large Boxes That Play Music
Friends, next time you’re entertaining an illegal alien who doesn’t care about buying Steelers memorabilia or going to a Steelers game or petting your collection of Palomalu locks, take them to the Bayernhof Music Museum in Sharpsburg. It is some dead guy’s mansion glutted with a collection of obnoxious music-makers and curated by a man who wears suspenders (although one time I went and he verbally and physically communicated his irritation with himself for forgetting his suspenders by groaning and tugging on his waistband during every pause of Big Band classics). The décor is 1970s Bavarian kitsch, which may or may not make a huge comeback if I ever buy a house. White carpet, sunken living rooms, HIDDEN PASSAGES. You guys, come on — who doesn’t want to take a tour of some dead rich playboy’s house (where you just KNOW a ton of amateur porn was filmed back in the day) and ogle the sights (and smells) of 1970s opulence? (I mean, other than my friend Andrea from California, who still has waking nightmares of the 2.5 hours she spent there when she visited me last year. I guess she’s a German music box racist. I left a framed picture of her in the canning room during my last visit. Yes, there’s a canning room. Yes, I love tacky things enough to take two tours of the place in one year.)
Hey, speaking of the tour, it’s $10 for 2+ hours of enough Hummel figurines to last you a lifetime, but you’ll have to call ahead for reservations.
Just don’t get too butt hurt when Tony the curator ridicules you for mistaking some honking-loud music maker in the basement (yes Pee Wee, there is a basement!) for a calliope when everyone knows it’s really a band organ. GOD! Also, please don’t tell him I sent you. I may or may not be banned from that place.
Best Place to Buy Weird Fruit?
No, this is a question. I’m asking you. I’ve been on this exotic fruit kick (NOT MANGOES OR PAPAYAS) but apparently this shit is hard to acquire here in Pittsburgh. I usually go to various Asian markets around town and sometimes they reward me with persimmons and dragonfruit, but I WANT MORE. My boyfriend keeps snapping about how THIS ISN’T GOOD FRUIT SEASON, OK but I usually stop listening as soon as I realize someone is saying something that I don’t like.
I was on a real roll there for a hot minute, even had a personal fruit purveyor in California (the German music box racist), but like all good things and “Call Me Maybe,” it petered out and now I am back to eating regular American people fruit, like stupid apples and Cuties.
So please, if you know a guy who knows a guy who was in ‘Nam with a guy who grows potentially fatal and weapon-like fruit in a spare room of a tenement in Garfield, please hook me up. I’ll turn a blind eye to the pot plants he’s got in there, I promise.
Best Cake To Put In Your Mouth*
*(But not in your asshole. There’s a cake for that but it’s on another list.)
I spent the first three decades of my life in the same culinary circle jerk as most of the South Hills because let’s be real, no one bakes a motherfuckin’ birthday cake with better panache than Bethel Bakery, the premier go-to cakery of my family. Every last one of those assholes got their birthday cakes from Bethel Bakery.
Except for me. Because Bethel Bakery went on vacation every year during the week of my birthday. EVERY YEAR!! So I always got some shitty grocery store cake. Or worse — Kribel’s. But I didn’t hold it against them. I continued the tradition of patronizing this long-standing family establishment into my adulthood, getting birthday cakes for all of my friends and cats. (To be fair, most of my friends are cats.)
Having an anniversary with your mistress? Here’s a Bethel Bakery cake for you to eat together in a seedy motel room!
Celebrating five years meat-free? Bethel Bakery’s got a three-dimensional hamburger cake to tempt your least-favorite vegan!
STD screening come back dirty? Woo! Sheet cake with frosting in the hue of Snooki’s infected kooka!
Bethel Bakery was even kind enough to make me a cemetery cake for my baby shower. (My lame boyfriend Henry refused to tell them we wanted a baby doll in the coffin when he placed the order, so I had to plunk a plastic baby on the cake myself.)
“OK great, Erin. We get it. Bethel Bakery is your favorite and you want to stick your imaginary dick in it,” says the one person who might have had the stamina, patience and poor-taste to read this far.
WRONG. That was then. Zia Custom Desserts is now.
I will never forget the moment when it all changed for me. Spring of 2010. I had just started working at The Law Firm and everyone was yapping about these macarons that our co-worker Kaitlin had made.
For no reason other than she wanted to!
I could say that Kaitlin had me at “macaron,” but then I tasted one of her cakes and suddenly Bethel Bakery was no better than a box of Duncan Hines baked in a hobo boot. Kaitlin has a way of dumping a bunch of fine ass ingredients into a bowl and knowing how to mix it with the necessary panache to prevent it from baking up into a crusty blob of shit-dough like what always happens when I put shit into the oven.
(Maybe I should stop putting shit into the oven.)
My theory is that Kaitlin uses a combination of French swears and vintage Nintendo cheat-codes when she’s plunging the paddle into the bowl. Casse-toi! Up down up down left right left right b a!
Kaitlin’s sugarplum repertoire is vast – she can do anything from the aforementioned macarons to cake pops, themed cookies to tiny desserts in cups. She even sets up entire dessert tables for functions, so if you’re having a shower or celebrating your mother’s prison release, she’s got you covered. Sometimes I consider telling her I’m throwing a random party for my friends just so I can eat everything myself.
Because my cats don’t like cakes.
Kaitlin even made me an almond-raspberry Robert Smith birthday cake two years ago, so suck on that one, Bethel Bakery.
You can find Kaitlin’s sugar-spun mastery on Facebook: Zia Custom Desserts. Like her page and tell her “Some annoying broad who loves Jonny Craig and swear words sent me here.” And then ask her if she can make lavender macarons. She’ll know.