By: Carrie Garrison | The Duquesne Duke
As any city with a long history, Pittsburgh’s unique cuisine comes as no surprise. The Travel Channel series Bizarre Foods America recognized Pittsburgh’s unique dishes and decided to feature them on their seventh season.
Normally a show that features truly bizarre dishes such as teriyaki cockroaches, iguana eggs and squirrel brains, Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern took a turn when he decided to feature Pittsburgh’s more “normal” cuisine on his series.
The episode, aired Nov. 11, sampled foods from Pierogies Plus, Three Rivers Catfish Club and Max’s Allegheny Tavern, among others. Zimmern hurriedly devoured Pittsburgh’s unique culture in just five days.
Covering all of Pittsburgh’s beloved restaurants, Zimmern visited Cure, Wild Purveyors and Emil’s, among others. Of course Zimmern also visited the famed Primanti’s and Wholey’s, as well.
Opened in 1991, Pierogie’s Plus has become an iconic part of Pittsburgh’s culture. Located in McKees Rocks, Pierogie’s Plus is “identified with the culture of the city of Pittsburgh [and] that caused us to be selected to be interviewed . . . Pierogie’s Plus is more an icon than bizarre”, according to Monica Nystrom, assistant at Pierogie’s Plus.
Nystrom was surprised that Zimmern would call their food “bizarre.” When she approached the camera crew they told her that they were featuring Pittsburgh’s relatively “normal” cuisine to “expand their viewership.”
Nystrom said the filming process was enjoyable. Zimmern was, “very pleasant and had a good sense of humor.”
The cat fish feasted on by Zimmern was obtained through The Three Rivers Catfish Club. Contacted by Zimmern, Joseph Gordon, founder of The Three Rivers Catfish Club, was delighted to be featured on the show.
“They made it really easy, it was a small crew and a light atmosphere,” Gordon said.
Founded in 2010, the Three Rivers Catfish Club fishes The Three Rivers on Pittsburgh’s North Shore.
After arriving in Pittsburgh, Zimmern went cat fishing with Gordon in the North Shore by PNC Park.
After introducing Zimmern to cat fishing, Gordon took a few cat fish to cook and enjoy with Zimmern.
But, why are catfish a bizarre food?
“The bizarre fact is that anytime you talk about eating anything out of a river,” Gordon said. “It might be seen as bizarre seafood because people have a notion that the water is way too polluted to safely eat anything out of it, but that’s really not the case.”
According to Gordon, the river is actually rather clean, as acknowledged by the Pennsylvania fishing and boat commission.
The final course was found on Pittsburgh’s North Side at Max’s Allegheny Tavern. Specializing in German cuisine, the restaurant had the perfect dish for Zimmern.
Zimmern sought out this restaurant to sample a bransweiger sandwich, according to Erin Lawther bartender/manager.
“It’s probably the most bizarre thing we have,” Lawther said. “It’s your basic sandwich served on rye bread with bermuda onion.”
The sandwich is a German specialty made from liverwurst.
Max’s Allegheny Tavern, originally Hotel Rahn, was erected in 1903 by George Rahn, serves as a tribute to Pittsburgh’s eclectic cultural history.
Zimmern also witnessed the bransweiger making-operation at Silver Star Meats, located in McKees Rocks, according to PG Plate.
Dominck Bovalina, chief operating officer at Silver Star Meats, said he showed Zimmern the process of creating the bransweiger sandwich.
Bovalina didn’t seem to understand why the bransweiger would seem “bizarre”.
“It’s made out of pig’s liver ,” Bolavina said. “It looks like bologna.”
After devouring his way through Pittsburgh in his five-day film shooting, Zimmern visited another 19 or 20 cities to finish his filming of the seventh season of Bizarre Foods.