Sunday, February 10, 2013
Hopefully this is among the last of our wintertime posts for the year. The snow can be charming in Pittsburgh, but we’re looking forward to some greenery and spring vitality. Speaking of nature, did you know that Beechview was named for the beech trees lining the hillsides of the neighborhood? Neither did we. Actually, we didn’t know very much about Beechview at all. We really only knew about one particular restaurant, which drew us to the neighborhood this day to celebrate an early Valentine’s Day, and we’ll get to that incredible establishment later! First, though, we have plenty of exciting discoveries to share with you about this 6th proof of Pittsburgh’s greatness!
Beechview was originally settled by Scots-Irish and English pioneers in the late 18th century followed by Irish and Welsh immigrants, who were attracted to the area for coal mining jobs. Later, in the mid 19th century, German immigrants arrived and began farming. In 1902, a trolley line – today’s T – opened and immediately expanded the population. A couple of decades later, in 1924, the Liberty Tunnel opened and did the same thing all over again. The ease of commute into and out of the neighborhood caused the population to grow and diversify through the years.
Beechview, the city’s 7th largest neighborhood by land mass, is located in the southwestern edge of the City of Pittsburgh and is bordered by seven neighborhoods (and three communities outside city limits). It’s bounded on the west by Banksville Road (Rt. 19), the southeast by West Liberty Avenue, and northeast by Saw Mill Run Boulevard (Rt. 51).
Beechview is also the 9th most populated out of the city’s 90 neighborhoods. Interestingly, it’s 41st in population density, meaning there is plenty of land area for those near 8,000 residents.
As usual, we started our day hungrily. Actually, we did it on purpose. We knew we had an interesting target for lunch. Weeks earlier, we were in Squirrel Hill South tasting a couple of pies that many city residents call the best, but we have definitely heard Beto’s mentioned in that conversation from friends and colleagues in the past. Our unfamiliarity with the South Hills in general, perhaps, kept this place off of our radar. This, friends, is EXACTLY why 90 Proof Pittsburgh is a rewarding endeavor for us; we get to experience things we otherwise wouldn’t encounter!
How’s this for unique? The pies at Beto’s feature cold cheese and toppings; only the crust and sauce are baked in the ovens. It sounds a bit bizarre, but we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. What’s better than that? Our bill came to $5.35 total for the two of us! We each enjoyed two pieces of this delectable pizza. This place gets a 90 Proof Pittsburgh seal of approval!
Seldom Seen Greenway
After lunch, our first objective was to simultaneously burn some calories in anticipation of a splurging dinner and, also, check out a fascinating piece of Pittsburgh’s neighborhood history we’d stumbled upon in our preparation research. The Seldom Seen Greenway is a 90-acre now-undeveloped woodland area owned by the city since 1985. It wasn’t always undeveloped, though. The area is a defunct neighborhood originally known as Shalerville!
Our understanding of the Seldom Seen Greenway is pieced together from a number of different websites, most of which are outdated blog posts and news articles. We have not found any sort of comprehensive and clear history of the original neighborhood, its evolution to an abandoned area, or even its current state as a city-owned greenway. Instead, we’ve found contradictions and shallow accounts of the history. We have been able to piece together, at least, that it was settled by German immigrants in the 1800s as Shalerville, was annexed by the City of Pittsburgh in 1924, was desolate by the 1960s, and may have been impacted in some way by the Wabash Railroad construction of the early 1900s. It’s also clear that the railroad construction led to the need for an archway to be built over Saw Mill Run. That archway still stands and is on the Pittsburgh History and Landmark Foundation’s listings, but with absolutely zero description. We thought maybe a personal visit would help bring some clarity to the situation!
Well, our visit didn’t go as smoothly as we would have liked. During our day in Beechview on February 10th, we tried to access the greenway from two different trailheads we had discovered in our research. Here’s an image to help tell the story:
The southernmost star shows where we made our first attempt to enter the greenway – on the hill behind Brashear High School and South Hills Middle School. We followed the instruction of one blogging hiker and started here, meandered into the woods, but found no obvious path. It may have been due to the snow-covered ground, but there was no evident clearing to make us feel like we were even in the right location. Fortunately, we knew of a second trailhead, so we hopped in the car and headed to Tropical Park.
At Tropical Park, the westernmost star on the image above, there was a trailhead behind the playground. This time, despite the snow-covered ground, we saw an obvious clearing and well-traveled path, complete with footprints in the snow. We traveled this path in no particular direction, sometimes questioning whether it had ended altogether, for upwards of half an hour. We again felt like we were possibly in the wrong place because we didn’t see any signs of three things we hoped to see, which we had learned about in our fragmented research findings – the Seldom Seen Arch over Saw Mill Run, a marker indicating the city’s claiming of the greenway in 1985, and evidence of a once-existant neighborhood replete with the foundations of former residences.
Shortly after the above picture was taken, we decided to retire our helpless Seldom Seen exploration and move on with our day…and we did. Now, more than a month after our visit, at the time of this writing, we were both feeling like we totally missed something. Instead of finishing our blog post, we got in the car and drove to an area we had since learned was likely home of those three things we were originally seeking – the arch, the historic marker, and the remnants of a long lost civilization (well, like 50+ years long).
Some things just make you feel really good – the climax of your favorite song, believing that the Bucs are definitely headed to the playoffs, knowing that you live in one of the greatest cities in the world, etc. Well, this experience made us feel really good. It took Kim pressing Derek a bit to give the Seldom Seen Greenway another shot, but it was so worth it. Sure, the area has natural beauty and that’s worth a visit, but the really exciting part is letting the imagination run; this 90-acre parcel of green space sits just off of Woodruff St. at Route 51 South (see third, northernmost star on the image above) unbeknownst to thousands of motorists every single day. This place could be, and we hope will be in our lifetimes, cleaned up and turned into another outdoor recreational area within city limits that adds to the vitality of the surrounding neighborhoods and Pittsburgh’s quality of life. Think about that, especially if you choose to read more about the Seldom Seen Greenway and the often-discussed Emerald Link, which could connect it to currently-developing green space in Mt. Washington.
Navigating the Grid
Usually, when mankind encounters steep slopes, we implement switchbacks; we mow our sloping lawns sideways instead of straight up and down, we ski by moving from side to side to pace ourselves, and we climb mountains by zigging and zagging up facades toward our ultimate destinations. We do these things naturally because it’s an efficient means of accomplishing our goals. Apparently, the folks who laid out the residential plan to Beechview did not evolve quite like the rest of us!
Many of our resources for this proof call the neighborhood “typographically extreme;” it’s a term that seems to have been carried from one account of the area to another. The hills of Beechview are ridiculous – in a startlingly unique and memorable way. We were baffled as we began navigating the streets seeking out some of our target destinations. It was thrilling just to cruise around a bit and take in the hills, old cobblestone streets, and century-old homes.
Parks, Sports, and Community Gardens…oh my!
As if the nearby green space wasn’t enough, Beechview boasts two parks and four parklets that include a spray park and Venucci Field, which is home to the Beechview Athletic Association. As we’ve noted in a couple of other neighborhoods, there’s just something very special about having access to business and urban life as much as recreational opportunity and natural green space within the confines of just one neighborhood. It turns out that Beechview has even more than that, though.
There’s a perfectly flat plot of land behind Beechwood Elementary School that was once a swimming pool. The area has been put to excellent use since 2009, though, as the Beechview Community Garden. The garden started as a project of Pretty Up Beechview and the City of Pittsburgh’s Green Up program and is now supported completely by community volunteers.
Each garden box is available to any resident of the City of Pittsburgh for just $30 per season. We understand that some participants utilize the community garden because they have no place to grow on their property and others because they enjoy the social experience of the community initiative. In any case, it’s clear these Beechview residents have a great thing going!
We’ve now mentioned Brashear High School, the connected South Hills Middle School, and Beechwood Elementary within the neighborhood. We wonder how many other neighborhoods can boast the ability to educate neighborhood kids from the very beginning all the way through high school graduation and at a level achieved by these high-performing schools.
There’s another all-ages learning institution nearby, too – the Beechview branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh! This active branch has been around since 1967.
Just like in New York City, Beechview’s Broadway Avenue cuts across the neighborhood grid at an angle. It is lined with the majority of the neighborhood’s businesses and, most significantly, is the route for the T (light rail car / train) that still runs quite actively through town. Our general impression of Broadway is that it, at once, has businesses that provide life necessities (grocery markets) and pleasure (restaurants), but also has room to grow with a number of storefront vacancies.
We’re not the first to take notice of this situation, though. Remarkably, BREW on Broadway is not just a coffee shop that appears to be doing particularly well. It is a non-profit company, a community-owned enterprise, with a mission of sparking further development on this important thoroughfare that has potential through the roof.
We stopped at BREW on Broadway for “some pep” as Kim refers to caffeine. Derek grabbed a cappuccino to-go and Kim ordered an iced tea. We stayed and chatted with the kind barista for a few minutes, who expressed that she was rather new to the neighborhood, but was a fan of a number of places on Broadway, which we moved on to check out. We dodged the intense games of chess in the coffee shop and took our fresh legs out for further exploration of Broadway as we continued to build up hunger for what we knew would be a high point of our day in Beechview.
One of the barista’s recommendations was to check out the Crested Duck Charcuterie nearby. Before and since, we’d heard and continue to hear good things about this spot but, unfortunately, they are not open on Sundays. We hope to stop back some time and hope you’ll let us know if you’ve had a great experience here. Keep in mind, too, that they have a satellite location in the Strip District’s Pittsburgh Public Market on the weekends.
Another interesting find on Broadway Avenue was not one, but two, Mexican grocers and a new Mexican restaurant.
Our pantry was already stocked with all of the Mexican goods we typically use, but we still wanted to stroll inside and check out what the store had to offer. It turns out that they had a really nice selection.
The new Mexican restaurant, Casa Rasta, is a neighbor to our dinner destination. We didn’t have a chance to try it out on this particular day, but our waiter would later tell us that we should plan a return trip to check it out. You don’t have to tell us twice!
A final observation – other than our dinner – on Broadway or, rather, just off Broadway, were some very unique streets. These streets aren’t meant for cars. They’re not even meant for bicycles. They are sets of stairs! Anyone who has seen Rick Sebak’s 2005 masterpiece, It’s the Neighborhoods, might remember that Pittsburgh maintains 712 sets of stairs and more than 400 of those are official city streets! We can’t wait to see more of these unique city streets, but we got a preview in Beechview!
After meandering up and down Broadway, and having only a little bit of that pep left in our tanks, we knew we had to leave Broadway and head to yet another fascinating destination we’d uncovered in our research.
Friends of our new Facebook page will recognize this hill from our sneak peek pic earlier in the week. Canton Avenue is the steepest actual street on the planet. Don’t forget to impress your friends with this new trivia knowledge!
Apparently, the Guinness Book of World Records lists another street, somewhere in New Zealand, as the world’s steepest street. This street is actually 2% less steep than Canton Avenue, so it’s thought that the justification lies in the length of the street. Canton is about half the length of the New Zealand street. It’s still an official public street, though, so we think that it’s not receiving the glory it deserves.
Speaking of Facebook, a friend of ours shared with us a hilarious video (maybe we shouldn’t call it that) of bicyclists attempting to ascend this beast of a hill during a race in 2011. Check this out here!
We’re not foodie aficionados of any sort. Our recipe box is relatively thin. We don’t even watch all of the latest Food Network programming. Despite it, we’ve worked our way around most of Pittsburgh’s culinary attractions (still several allude us and, in line with the city’s growth, more appear every season) and we know what’s worth our time and money. Davio, undoubtedly, prevails at the top of our list.
Three years ago, Kim’s dad treated the family to dinner here based on a recommendation from a colleague. Derek recalls vividly being intrigued by the menu item titled Capellini di Cinquangeli…“The Hair of Five Angels.” Nowhere else, he thinks, could one order a meal like that and the pasta literally taste like the hair of five angels (in a lobster cream sauce with lobster tail and claw meat).
Every time we go to Davio, usually for a special occasion, we love it just as much as that first time. There are always surprises. While you order one particular course, it always seems to turn into a 4+ course meal. The bread, which comes out hot first, is homemade and served with three different spreads, plus Parmesan Reggiano. The spreads include “holy oil,” an olive oil infused with hot peppers; a Gorgonzola spread with fresh olives, and an escarole and white bean spread that is truly delicious. This course is always enough to remind us of how much we love the place!
Next up comes a fresh Italian salad…but not like the bag lettuce kind you get at other “Italian” places. This salad is full of the freshest ingredients, including figs and just enough mint to blast your mouth full of freshness. It’s dressed with a balsamic vinegar and fresh cracked black pepper.
It’s easy to fill up on just bread, salads, and wine (did we mention it’s BYOB?!), so we try to remember how incredible the main courses can be. On this visit, Kim ordered the Broiled Colossal Lump Crab Cakes and Derek ordered one of the many specials of the evening – an uncommon white fish in an asparagus cream sauce, covered with crab meat and asparagus. Both meals, once again, were out of this world. The main course comes with a side vegetable for the table; on this night, we had some fresh green beans.
We don’t think we’ve ever actually finished a meal here (especially not the signature mouth-watering veal chop), so an experience at Davio always carries over to the next day’s lunch. Even though we never can finish the meal, we somehow always seem to have room for a little dessert – sometimes in the form of homemade treats complements of the chef.
Davio is a special place for us and it’s a special place for Pittsburgh to call its own. We’ve returned every year on our anniversary to celebrate us, but maybe it’s also to celebrate one of the many hidden treasures that makes Pittsburgh such a wonderful place to live. We hope you’ll think of Davio the next time you’re searching for a restaurant to celebrate a special occasion. Maybe you can even make a day of it in Beechview!
Our day in Beechview and our recent return to the Seldom Seen Greenway combine to create one of our most memorable neighborhood visits yet. When we think about the folks involved with Beechview’s successful schools, the minds behind the community garden, the community-run BREW on Broadway concept, and the residents pushing for the clean up of Seldom Seen and connecting it to other green spaces in Mt. Washington, we’re left feeling inspired and proud. We can’t be proud like these residents can be proud; it’s not us involved with this progress. We can feel proud, though, because these are residents in our city. They, like so many of us, believe in their neighborhood and strive to enhance the quality of life for themselves and for all members of the city we call home. There’s no doubt that Beechview serves as our 6th proof of Pittsburgh’s greatness.