Anthony Bourdain’s ‘Parts Unknown: Pittsburgh’ dwells on past and problems to come
Anthony Bourdain came, he saw, he talked about Pittsburgh’s past and challenges of the future, and he left.
Oh, and yeah, he ate.
“Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown: Pittsburgh” debuted Sunday night on CNN. Some of the places the celebrated chef visited were indeed unknown — like Pittsburgh’s independent wrestling circuit, the International Wrestling Cartel — while others have been making news for years — like chef Kevin Sousa’s long-awaited Superior Motors restaurant, which finally opened this year in Braddock.
Bourdain spent much time talking about how Pittsburgh as a city in transition risks alienating those who “stuck it out” after the collapse of the steel industry 30 years ago. He also touched on the area’s lack of diversity and whether the growing tech economy will increase the cost of living and force out long-time residents.
— Lizzie Manning (@DrLizzieManning) October 23, 2017
The opening scenes showed an accordion player and women making pierogies with Bourdain’s voiceover: “Pittsburgh could have been another company town gone to beautiful ruin. But something happened: The city started to pop up on lists of America’s most livable cities. It became attractive to a new wave of people from elsewhere, looking to reinvent themselves, make a new world. And so we find ourselves asking the same questions we ask in other cities in transition: Are the new arrivals — new money, new ideas — saving the city or cannibalizing it?”
After visiting with an author, a mayor, a documentarian and a demolition derby driver, he ended the show saying:
“All over Western Pennsylvania, … people face the same struggles as beleaguered, deindustrialized areas across the country. How do you move into the future and hold onto what you love about the past?”
WHERE DID HE GO?
Bourdain and his crew had a busy schedule when they visited the area in June. Here’s a rundown of all this stops (with the food choices courtesy of the “Eat Like Bourdain” section of explorepartsunknown.com )
Grandma B’s Cafe, Hill District, for a sandwich and fries with former city councilman Sala Udin. They discussed how the revival of the city has affected the black community. Udin said the newest renaissance, “doesn’t change the life for the workers who were left behind.” Bourdain and Udin also discussed the leveling of the lower Hill District for the Civic Arena in the 1950s and the pain it caused. Asked what’s missing in Pittsburgh’s future, Udin said, “What’s missing is an economic plan that includes everybody, not just the techies and computer geeks, but regular people.”
A full plate served to Bourdain at Jozsa Corner in Hazelwood.
Photo by Josh Ferrell / CNN
Jozsa Corner, Hazelwood, for chicken paprikas, lángos (Hungarian fried bread), kolbasz (Hungarian sausage), and cucumber salad, with Jamilka Borges, the chef at Spoon in Shadyside. Borges expressed some concerns about if the city can keep its growth going.
Kelly’s Bar & Lounge, East Liberty, for beer, kielbasa, sauerkraut, pierogis, molten mac n’ cheese, with Brittany Baker, dental student by day, professional wrestler by night, and her boyfriend Adam Cole, who is also a wrestler.
Lake Erie walleye pike at Kevin Sousa’s Superior Motors in Braddock.
Photo by Josh Ferrell / CNN
Superior Motors, Braddock, for Lake Erie walleye pike, potatoes, fish cracklin, herbs; beef short ribs on milkweed buds and overwintered sunchoke chips; and wine, with Braddock mayor John Fetterman, his wife Gisele Fetterman, who runs 412 Food Rescue, Steelers great Franco Harris, and chef Kevin Sousa. John Fetterman and Harris were trying to get a license for a large growing facility for medical marijuana in Braddock. Bourdain visited Superior Motors before it opened and Sousa admitted to overextending himself and struggling to open his new restaurant, which will offer discounted meals to locals. They joked about whether Braddock was heading for the “G” word, to which Fetterman said “Braddock is gentrification proof. … the work will never be done.”
Squirrel Hill Cafe, Squirrel Hill, for cheeseburgers with chips and beer, with Pittsburgh author Stewart O’Nan where they talked about the city’s steel history, population decline and the transition to tech. “Bow down to your new masters, your new future: the techie overlords of a shiny, new Pittsburgh,” Bourdain said as scenes from the Carnegie Mellon University computer science program played. O’Nan said some of the old-timers are not happy about changes.
Tony Buba and Anthony Bourdain at Hidy’s Cafe in Braddock.
Photo by Josh Ferrell / CNN
Hidy’s Cafe, Braddock, for drinks, with documentarian Tony Buba. They talked about how locals aren’t seeing the benefits of the tech boom and can’t even afford the beers at the nearby Brew Gentleman Brewery, and whether Braddock will survive.
Salem Ukes Club, New Alexandria, for beer and shots, with demolition derby driver Brooke Davis, and Chris Quenzler Jr., welder and one of best demo mechanics in the New Alexandria area. “If you head east 30 miles from Pittsburgh, you’ll find yourself here, in New Alexandria. It’s a whole other world. No tech incubators or fears of gentrification. Just good heartland fun on a Friday night: family, fried dough, demolition.”
Home cooked meals:
• Bourdain shared a meal at White Oak Farm with chef Justin Severino of Lawrenceville’s Cure; Maggie Merskey, designer of bar programs; and Sonja Finn, farm-to-table chef behind Dinette in East Liberty. The meal included racks of pork rib, grilled hearts of escarole and turnips, a sauce made from the pork drippings, and four types of sausage. They talked about the city’s food scene and how they’ve gotten some push back from the neighbors about gentrification. While Finn said she was thinking about the neighborhood when she opened Dinette, but Severino said, “I didn’t open Cure in Lawrenceville because I wanted to change a neighborhood. … I opened Cure for me.”
• Bourdain also played bocce in Bloomfield, getting beaten by 103-year-old Eugene “Uncle Gene” Martiahi and getting served a homemade lunch of sausage and peppers, before a storm upset the food onto the ground. When he asked those at the lunch why people stayed, the response was, “Family.”
Perfect Day Pittsburgh
The “Parts Unknown” website has an abundance of information about the places Bourdain visits, and Pittsburgh is no exception.
Here’s the site’s idea of a perfect day in the ‘Burgh
8 a.m.: Ride the Duquesne Incline
9 a.m.: Head to the Strip District, visiting Enrico Biscotti, Mancini’s breads and more.
11 a.m.: Go to Kayak Pittsburgh North Shore to rent a kayak and paddle to the Point.
1 p.m.: Have lunch at Max’s Allegheny Tavern on the North Shore, and if you have kids visit the Carnegie Science Center, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh or the National Aviary. Or for adults, go to the Andy Warhol Museum.
4 p.m.: Take a stroll through the Mexican War Streets, making sure to stop at Randyland.
5 p.m.: Have a snack at Casellula @ Alphabet City on the North Side.
6 p.m.: Have some fun in Lawrenceville at the Kickback Pinball Cafe and the Roundabout Brewery.
8 p.m.: Pick from one of Justin Severino’s restaurants at either end of Butler Street in Lawrenceville — Cure or Morcilla — or try a Pittsburgh classic fish sandwich at Nied’s Hotel.
10 p.m.: Get a nightcap at Allegheny Wine Mixer, also on Butler Street.
There’s plenty more on the “Parts Unknown” website, including an interview with documentarian Tony Buba and former steelworker Ray Henderson, who created the 1996 film, “Struggles in Steel: A Story of African-American Steelworkers”; a story about John Fetterman ; a recipe for Potato Cheese Pierogies and an outline of a restaurant crawl that goes around the world without leaving Pittsburgh.