The Strip District is often considered to be the most vibrant neighborhood in Pittsburgh, and it doesn't take long after a first visit to understand why. The concentration of restaurants, international markets, vendors, and boutique shops is larger there than anywhere else in the city.
Restaurants and businesses open in this neighborhood all the time, as you would expect, and add into the neighborhood's allure bit by bit- each with their own personal touch.
The Pennsylvania Market officially opened in the Strip District in late 2018 and opted to blast beyond being just another restaurant or shop. Instead, this one offers well over a dozen unique shopping, dining, and drinking options all in one beautiful location.
The Pennsylvania Market Has Something for Everyone – Literally
Concisely describing The Pennsylvania Market is a bit tricky, so bear with us here. The reason for this is because this massive, 12,000 square foot building is home to three distinct areas over two floors- significantly larger than just about any single place in the Strip other than a few of the historical grocery stores.
The main floor has actually be open for quite some time and has larger floor plans for each of the shops- including East End Brewery's second local tap room, The Olive Tap, Courtyard Winery, and more. If you've explored the Strip District between 2016 to 2018, you've probably seen these shops with the market's very distinct design.
What is new for 2018 is the second floor and courtyard, and in this one we want to dive into those a bit deeper!
The courtyard at The Pennsylvania Market is accessible both from the entrance on 19th Street (where East End Brewery and the stores are) as well as directly from 18th Street (where Primanti Brothers is).
This spot features roughly ten or so stalls with various businesses including local favorites like Edgar's Taco and Molly's Trolleys to new ventures created just for the spot including a Neapolitan style pizza joint with brick oven, a microgreens vendor, Cherish Creamery (specializing in goat cheese and milk), a bar, and more.
The coolest part about the courtyard is that it has an ambiance that feels like a nice hangout spot right in the heart of the Strip District.
While other restaurants offer some outdoor dining, they are almost all within the hustle of Penn Avenue and can feel a bit chaotic (or if you like that, energetic). As the courtyard at The Pennsylvania Market is located on 18th Street, which receives a fair bit less foot traffic (and is not to mention partially closed off), we expect the ambiance to be a bit more relaxed- something we can certainly appreciate for the neighborhood.
The second floor of the market is perhaps the section we are most excited about as it is a combination food hall, bar (several bars, actually), and wine library with a massive open floor plan.
Before getting into the food, we have to first talk about the space which is an elegant, open area with more seats than just about any other restaurant in the Strip District. However, the bars are centrally located and help split the floor into distinct zones that give it a much more intimate ambiance at the same time.
The hall features five unique stalls with their own concepts including a high-end bistro (Bistro 108), a charcuterie shop, a coffee bar and bakery, a Roman pizza joint (Romulus Pizza), and a tapas bar (Nibbles). Going beyond this, the hall also has two bars as well as a “wine library” which is an impressive nook to learn about the internationally curated wine list and buy bottles for consumption or to go.
Several of the stalls are operated by a unique chef and the entire program is overseen by executive chef Gaetano Ascione (who also operates Bistro 108 and a few others)- an internationally acclaimed chef who has worked in the Michelin starred Gioco in Chicago (now closed) and cooked for former presidents such as Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.
As of now all of the stalls are individually operated entities (much like neighboring Smallman Galley), so those wanting to order from one restaurant will purchase there, head over to the bar for a separate purchase (sadly home to few, if any, local products), and so on; however, food and beverages can be taken throughout the three areas of the market for enjoyment.
As with other markets of this nature, we're attempting to eat our way through all of the vendors and share our thoughts with the ones we've visited to date below!
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Bistro 108 is one of the more fascination vendors at The Pennsylvania Market as it is run by executive chef Gaetano. This one serves high end fare that could be found in a fine dining restaurant just as much as a bistro as it is named.
The dish that jumped out at us here was the crab cake. This individually portioned crab cake is served almost entirely with crab and only a light batter to give it a very light pan fry on both sides. The flavors of the crab were allowed to shine through beautifully, and is the kind of dish that makes you want to run back and order a second of right away.
Nibbles is a tapas and small-plates style restaurant that serves up an array of items from pork belly to fried calamari, sandwiches to pork ribs.
One dish of note here is the pork belly- a large cut of meat that is served in a large slice like a considerably thick cut of bacon. The pork belly is as tender as it comes and is served with a sweet and savory glaze that offers a really nice balance of flavors that isn't too strong on the sweet side (something that is far too easy to do, sadly).
A second dish that was quite delicious at this one was the flash fried calamari which had a light batter and came with a spicy tomato dipping sauce. But what helped really give this one a punch was the handful of spicy peppers that the final calamari were tossed in, adding a nice, subtle spice to the entire dish.
Romulus Pizza is the second floor's resident pizza shop and serves up a Roman style pizza by the slice or by the pie. In true market style the pizzas are pre-baked and laid out in front of you for selection and then heated upon order (which admittedly took a fair bit of time from what we would've expected).
Despite being baked and then reheated, the pizza offers a nice bit of crunch and a wonderful flavor profile (go for the Bianca- it was quite lovely); however, we felt the sausage on the salsiccia could've stood to have a bit stronger flavor considering the market is home to a charcuterie spot a few stalls down. The only true complaint we have with Romulus Pizza is that the price of the slices are fairly high ($5+ per slice) for the size, but balance that out with a fairly good quality that holds up in the Strip District.
The aptly named Charcuterie serves up cured meats and aged cheeses in a variety of styles be it on platters or in sandwiches to name a few.
During our first visit we opted to skip the charcuterie board and went for a sandwich made with pear and aged cheese. While the flavors of this one were quite strong for the two star ingredients, the rather robust roll almost overpowered the sandwich as it was quite doughy. Perhaps next time we will stick to the boards indeed!
Don't Miss The Pennsylvania Market
When it comes down to it, The Pennsylvania Market had an ambitious goal to welcome dozens of new shops to the Strip District in an elegant space that will keep you coming back for more. It took a few years to get everything ready for guests, but now that the entire market is open for business we have one thought overall- they knocked it out of the park.
This one does take some getting used to; however, as the the number of vendors and higher end ambiance makes figuring out where and what to order a bit more difficult than at other places. But with a large number of options at this one we're certain you'll find something to satisfy your craving!
We can't wait to go back, and highly recommend checking them out on your next visit to the Strip!
The Pennsylvania Market is located at 108 19th Street in the Strip District and can be accessed from 18th street as well. Do not miss their upstairs area when visiting!