Featuring the city: What’s cool in the ‘Burgh

By: Zach Brendza | Features Editor

Features -  Photos bottom
(Top Left) Fred Blauth / The Duquesne Duke: A fennel shitake and asparagus stew from Eden in Shadyside. (Top Middle) Zach Brendza / The Duquesne Duke: Munaf Rayani of Explosions In The Sky at Stage AE on April 8, 2011. (Top Left) Aaron Warnick / Photo Editor: Ben Calik, instructor for Surf Pittsburgh, surfs on the Monongahela River in late August. (Middle Right) Aaron Warnick / Photo Editor: A Taco from Yo Rita, located in the South Side. (Bottom Right) Aaron Warnick / Photo Editor: A Zombie at Pittsburgh Zombiefest on October 12, 2013. (Bottom Middle) Aaron Warnick / Photo Editor: A model at the Vintage Convention at the Heinz History center in 2013. (Bottom Left) Yvonne Lambert of The Octopus Project was the opener for Explosions In The Sky at Stage AE on April 8, 2011. (Middle Left) Zach Brendza/ The Duquesne Duke: Artist and instructor Melissa Fitzgerald is seen flameworking at Pittsburgh Glass Center.

Over the past three years, I’ve had the pleasure of being your Features editor. Throughout my tenure, I’ve experienced a lot of cool things and covered interesting stories for pleasure of The Duke’s readers and for my own enjoyment. While it may be self-proclaimed, I feel like this makes me an authority on things to do in Pittsburgh. So before closing time, here are some things worth trying this summer.

On the water

Near the end of last summer, I saw an article in the Post Gazette that read “Point Break: Surfers take to Pittsburgh’s three rivers (really).” I was immediately obsessed with the idea of surfing on Pittsburgh’s rivers. I had to do it, and more importantly, I had to write about it.

A few weeks later, I was out on Surf Pittsburgh’s 23’ Centurion Enzo surf boat with Captain Steve Ford, owner of the South Side clothing store Decade, and his crew. On a Saturday afternoon in late August, I was out on the Monongahela, past the South Side Works, learning to surf from the pros. For $125 an hour, groups of two can head out on the water. With an additional $25 per person, you can bring up to eight more of your friends. Over an hour session, participants learn to stand up on the board and potentially surf without holding onto the rope. (The boat creates a wake, in which the person surfs, while holding onto a rope attached to the boat.)

For a less extreme way to enjoy time on the water, kayaking or canoeing is a great alternative. My spot of choice is Raccoon Creek State Park in Hookstown, Pennsylvania, which is about 25 minutes from Robinson Township. Paddling along the lush green and open water of Raccoon Lake is one of the most relaxing and coolest feelings in the summer, when the weather is right. Canoes, kayaks and other boating vehicles can be rented for $8 to $15 an hour, depending on vehicle.

In the ear

It might just be because I’m a “music person,” but one of the coolest things about Pittsburgh is going to concerts. Pittsburgh has a great range of venues, from First Niagara Pavilion and Stage AE to Altar Bar and Mr. Smalls.

Seeing a concert at smaller venues like Mr. Roboto Project, Garfield Artworks and even house venues have been some of the best experiences in concert going for myself. They had to start small. Bands like Arcade Fire and The Black Keys didn’t always play sold-out arenas. My point is that seeing a band that is coming up in the music scene before they make it big is a really cool experience. I saw (and played) with an indie band called Modern Baseball at Kopec’s, a former venue and bar in Garfield in March 2013. Now they just finished touring with The Wonder Years and hit #84 on the Billboard 200 charts.

Being part of a local music scene and watching a band on the rise at smaller spaces, like house basements or DIY venues has been one of my favorite past times that I’ve found throughout the years.

In the stomach

Over my career at The Duke, I have reviewed a lot of restaurants, eateries, and places that sell food basically. This has led me to discover new foods, different cultures and great people all through the common denominator of a meal.

From diving in hand first at Tana Ethiopian Cuisine on Baum Boulevard, where your entrée and sides are on top of injera, a sponge like bread, and utensils are nowhere to be found, per Ethiopian custom.

Eating sin utensils to eating raw vegan at Eden in Shadyside, where everything is vegan, some of which is uncooked (raw) making for dishes like cashew “cheese” plate, fennel, shitake and asparagus stew, and of course sea pizza (carrot and flax crust with green pea and sunflower cream, wakame seaweed and cucumber).

Vegan eating to eating Carolina barbeque at YinzBurgh BBQ in Bloomfield, sampling the different sauces local to St. Louis, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia, while partaking in smoked barbeque (in my case, smoked paneer cheese and smoked tofu).

This is just a small peek into all that Pittsburgh has to offer. Compiling all the cool things to do in the city would take up more space than we have. I got you started on your exploration of Pittsburgh. But like all things in life, the training wheels have to come off at some point. Go enjoy the city as much as I have.