Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Gluten Free Road Trip: 'Burghers and Flies

"Pittsburgh?" My wife looked at me incredulously. "Pittsburgh over Spring Break?" I smiled. "Ah, it's the Phillies," she said. I had scanned the Phillies' 2012 schedule as soon as it came out last fall and made a mental note that the Phillies would open on the road there. "The season starts that weekend," I countered. Co-workers in Pittsburgh - the same ones that boasted how great the Penguins are, mind you - told me that the Pirates ballpark, PNC Park, is one of the nicest in the country, so I certainly didn't need much arm-twisting. With three sports-crazy males in the house, my wife was hardly in a position to put the kibosh on my suggestion.

I realized how expensive Phillies seats are when I went to buy tickets for the two Pirates games we planned to attend. While I paid $35 apiece for seats in the lower level for the Easter Sunday game, I picked up upper-level tickets for the Saturday night game for the kids for just $10 (the adult tickets were $16).

Beyond going to the games, though, we had no itinerary planned except that we wanted to visit architect Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece Fallingwater. As the weekend drew near, I realized that the Flyers would end the regular season in Pittsburgh against the Penguins. It looked for a bit like that game would decide seeding for the playoffs and would be an exciting game to attend. As it turned out, the seedings were decided earlier in the week so the game wasn't going to have any significance. To boot, the cheapest seat on StubHub was $115 for standing room.

We left early on Saturday morning and traversed much of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. We stopped for breakfast in King of Prussia at Ruby's Diner, where my son savored an Awesome Egg Sandwich served on a Udi's gluten-free burger bun.

Our lunch was further west in Somerset. Eat'n Park, a neighborhood restaurant chain with more than 75 locations in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, has a surprisingly large gluten-free menu. It was there that our son opted for a Black Angus hamburger, which came on a French Meadow sandwich roll.

By late afternoon, we rolled into the Steel City, crossed into the city's North Shore via the Andy Warhol Bridge, and arrived at our hotel, which was across the street from PNC Park. There were thousands of Phillies fans in town already, hanging out at the hotel and tailgating in nearby parking lots.

The ballpark, now in its 12th season, is indeed magnificent. It stands along the Allegheny River and provides a fantastic view of downtown Pittsburgh. The vista was even more impressive that night when the post-game fireworks show began. (Turns out there really isn't a bad seat in the house.) As for the games - well, let's just say the Phightins' continued their struggles at that ballpark. They failed to hit the ball consistently and dropped both weekend games.

PNC Park added a gluten-free concession stand called Just4U this season. On the menu are hot dogs, nachos, salads, grilled cheese and grilled veggie sandwiches (made with Schar bread), potato chips and Redbridge beer. Gluten-free fries from dedicated fryers are also available at the Chickie's & Pete's stand (nice to see a familiar Philly brand in enemy territory) and the Primanti Brothers stand.

Before the Sunday matinee, we drove over to the popular Duquesne Incline, a century-old inclined plane railroad that scales Mount Washington. Once at the observation deck, we took in the gorgeous view of Pittsburgh's skyline.

There were a few gluten-free spots in the city that were closed for the holiday (including Gluuteny bakery), so we ended up having dinner Sunday at the BRAVO! Cucina Italiana in the Galleria Mall. The chain just added a gluten-free menu that features pasta. Our son opted for the grilled salmon served with penne (cooked, intentionally or not, al dente) and I ordered the gluten-free pasta pomodoro with chicken. Although the menu was new, the staff and kitchen were knowledgeable about proper prep. We also appreciated that, for a change, none of the places we ate upcharged us for ordering gluten-free bread or pasta.

Fallingwater, a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1930s for a well-to-do Pittsburgh family, is an architectural marvel located about 90 minutes southeast of the city in Mill Run. The house, a National Historic Landmark, looks like it's built right over a waterfall. We took an hour-long guided tour of the house's interior Monday morning and were able to snap some spectacular pictures of the iconic building.

Guided by our GPS, we tracked down the address for the Flight 93 National Memorial and then drove to the Somerset County field where the heroic passengers and crew members on that plane lost their lives but saved countless others. The first phase of the Memorial was dedicated last year, and construction has begun on other features, including a larger visitor center and memorial groves. Our oldest was a toddler on 9/11 and our youngest wasn't even born. It was important for us - and for them - to fully appreciate what those 40 people did and to pay respects.

As I finished the drive home, my wife told me that she enjoyed the trip much more than she expected. When we travel with the kids, we're often trying to cram in so many activities and visit certain places that it's exhausting. Our long weekend in western Pennsylvania reminded us that it doesn't have to be that way.
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  1. I am from the Pittsburgh area and I follow (and really enjoy) your blog faithfully because my son now lives in Philly. I am glad you enjoyed your trip to Western PA. The stadium and it's view, the view from Mt. Washington, the beautiful mountains in Somerset and the Falling Water area are gorgeous. I would have also highly recommended a stop at Seven Springs Resort. I am planning a trip this summer to visit my son in Philadelphia and your site will be my GF guide. I can only hope that Pittsburgh will someday be as gluten friendly as Philadelphia. We seem to working at it more and more.

    1. Patty - thanks for the kind note. Don't hesitate to contact me if you are looking for recommendations here in Philly.

      - Michael

    2. My husband, I and good friends are visiting Philly from P ittsburgh this weekend, our anniversaries are both this week. Any suggestions for lunch, dinner or bakery? Thank you for your help! Karen

    3. Definite bakery stop is Sweet Freedom on South Street. Also recommend Giorgio on Pine for Italian, and any of the big steakhouses or the Jose Garces restaurants for dinner, if you can snag a last-minute reservation. If you email me at gfphilly [at] gmail [dot] com and let me know what part of town you'll be in, I can make more specific recommendations.

  2. Michael,
    You have no idea how much I love your blog about living a regular life despite having Celiac Disease. Your adventures continuously remind me that I have no barriers!

    I also had a bizarre "incident" with gluten several weeks ago. I have been so diligent in my gluten avoidance that I was scared feeling that all my symptoms would have to be attributed to some new illness. (When I eat gluten I also experience cardiac symptoms.) After much googling and detective work I discovered that the envelopes donated to the non-profit I volunteer with were from 1995- back when envelopes were sealed with a gluten flour paste. With over 1000 pieces to stuff and mail I ended up just licking hundreds of envelopes! Now others as well as myself can laugh that my illness copied a Seinfeld Episode but, when I was in the midst of being so mysteriously ill nothing seemed too funny! And now I'm using a bottle of water with a sponge to dampen all envelopes!
    Thanks so Much!