“Let’s go to Pittsburgh,” I said, when the possibility of a long weekend trip came up a few weeks ago. Why not? Having traveled some miles over the years, Pittsburgh was one relatively close destination we’d talked about but never visited.
I’d come to think of Pittsburgh as the “little sister” of Philadelphia — sort of like a second city. Pittsburgh was not at all what I’d expected. Move over Philly! Instead of “the Pitts,” it was definitely, and deliciously, a “bowl of cherries.” Was I surprised to find a clean, pretty, safe, energized, eclectic, friendly town, chock full of good food and good beer.
Evidently, churches have also closed in Pittsburgh. So, upon entering a Pittsburgh brewery/restaurant housed in a former church, my thoughts tended to the sacrilegious. But Holy Smokes! How could you go wrong with a Pious Monk Dunkel, a Pipe Organ Pale Ale or Celestial Gold in your glass? Talk about holy water! Of course, the Trappist Monks have brewed great beer for centuries. Coincidentally, earlier this year, the monks at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, became the first outside Europe to make certified Trappist Ale, to support themselves and their charities. Hmm…Could some of Philadelphia’s beautiful, closed churches gain new life as breweries?
Pittsburgh still has its Iron City beer, brewed for over 150 years. Iron City is sold at PNC Park. We did take in a game that weekend since the Phillies were in town. Although it’s not necessary to share the final score, the view at the park overlooking the rivers made the afternoon worthwhile. No fear wearing our Red, as the Pirates’ crowd was very congenial.
Pittsburgh is home to pierogies, huge sandwiches and french fries on everything, including atop salads and in between sandwiches. (Just wondering if Pittsburgh-headquartered Heinz had anything to do with this?) And then there was the Onion Soup. Always a personal favorite, French Onion Soup seemed a standard item on menus in Pittsburgh.
With inconsistent summer temperatures sometimes bordering on autumn weather, I’m craving soup. By using ready-made stock and by topping the soup with quickly made cheesy baguette slices, the soup can be put together easily. Who needs Paris or Pittsburgh to make great French Onion soup? Just follow the directions below.
FRENCH ONION SOUP
4 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
(Cut onions in half lengthwise; then cut crosswise into thin slices.)
2 Tbsp. canola oil
3 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 clove garlic, minced
8 cups of beef stock (or chicken stock)
1 cup dry white wine
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs of fresh thyme, or ½ tsp. dried
Salt and pepper to taste
8 half-inch thick slices cut from a crusty baguette
1 cup grated Gruyere, Swiss, Mozzarella, Fontina, Parmesan or Provolone (I used some leftover Swiss and Fontina mixed)
- In a large saucepan, heat together oil and butter.
- Add onions. Stir to coat well in oil and butter. Sauté on medium heat for a few minutes until the onions soften and just start to brown, but are not burned.
- Reduce heat to medium low. Add sugar, salt and stir.
- Allow onions to cook for about 20-25 minutes to brown and caramelize. Stir occasionally.
- Add garlic and sauté for a minute or two.
- Stir in stock, wine, bay leaf and thyme.
- Simmer, partially covered, 20 to 30 minutes until the flavors are blended. Discard bay leaf.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Turn on Broiler. Place shelf about 6 inches from heat.
- Arrange bread slices on a foil-lined baking sheet.
- Divide cheese evenly among the slices.
- Broil slices until the cheese is melted and just turning brown – 1 to 2 minutes.
- Ladle soup into bowls and top with cheese topper(s).
Standing and observing things in the middle of Pittsburgh coaxed pleasant memories of reading Richard Scarry’s Busytown to my sons many years ago. With the funiculars climbing, the trains chugging, the light rail running and the yellow bridges in a row spanning the three rivers as the boats, barges and kayakers glided along - it was sensory overload, but in a happy, good way.
Pittsburgh is a city of neighborhoods and good onion soup, and is strong on the nice factor. This “little sister” turned out to be quite the lady – very grown up, and a pleasant surprise.
Eat well, live long, enjoy!
(Questions or tips can be sent to Donna Zitter Bordelon at WhatscookinNEPhilly@gmail.com or in care of the Northeast Times, 3412 Progress Drive, Suite C, Bensalem, PA 19020)