In addition to offering some of the best Middle Eastern, Mexican, and Greek food in the city, Brookline recently added a new culinary attraction when Sylvia McCoy, founder of 'Burgh Bits and Bites, brought her local food tour to the neighborhood.
Encouraged by a recommendation from Bob Batz, food editor of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, she paid a visit to the area and spent some time walking among its many groceries and restaurants.
For $35, guests on the tour are treated to two hours of neighborhood information, history and culinary enticements. The price includes tastings and a bottle of water, not to mention the local history education worked into every step along the way.
Despite having grown up in Bethel Park, McCoy had little knowledge of the neighborhood.
"I just had no idea how much was here. I was amazed at what Brookline had to offer," she said.
The tour has been running for about a month and a half, and although business has been slow to start, McCoy is confident that more and more people will pick up on the word of mouth.
"It's all about the unexpected. People are always asking, 'Where's Brookline?' I didn't even know where it was at first. So you really get the sense of exposing local citizens to an area they have very little awareness of,'" she said.
Starting with the Strip District, Bits and Bites has steadily grown, now offering tours of Bloomfield, Mount Washington, Lawerenceville, and, now, Brookline. Sylvia and her guides walk their guests through neighborhood locations, stopping to share information and, of course, food. Both the educational and dining aspects of tour are served in hearty doses.
Some participating vendors offer not only in-house sampling, but also provide a takeaway snack.
"You're not allowed to leave the tour hungry or else we haven't done our job," said McCoy. "For example, on the Brookline tour, at the pretzel shop, everyone leaves with a pretzel. At Kribel's everyone leaves with a pastry. You get enough food that it replaces a meal."
As the Brookline tour continues to grow, McCoy has turned her attention to Dormont.
Inspired by praise of the area from Bob Batz and Dormont Councilman John Maggio, she and an intern, Cory VanHorn, have started assessing the area, working their way from one end of the Potomac business district to the other. Although they are, McCoy said, "strictly in a research stage," they have found a lot to be excited about.
"At first, I wondered what was interesting about Dormont," said VanHorn. "But you start to unravel these different treasures, you start to see these true histories and love and passion for food behind the purveyors who own them."
The pair have toured several Potomac Avenue businesses, including Potomac Bakery, the Dor-Stop, and Sugar Cafe. No vendors have been confirmed on the tour, but the focus is set to be on Potomac Avenue.
"We're focusing within the hub of the business district, the West Liberty-Potomac area," said McCoy. "A walkable distance that will be entertaining and interesting for the guests on the tour."
"This is another great opportunity to showcase Dormont and all it has to offer," said Maggio. "I am proud to say that Dormont will be the first neighborhood outside the city of Pittsburgh to be featured."
The Dormont food tour is set to debut by August. Enthralled in the early planning stages, VanHorn is excited at the direction the tour is taking, as well as the overall programs offered by Burgh Bits and Bites.
"This is truly an opportunity to be a tourist in your own city. These tours are experiences that capture excitement," she said.
For McCoy, the relative obscurity of Brookline and Dormont is an asset in the tours themselves. She is excited about introducing people to the hidden gems of these neighborhoods.
"My goal is present a "Wow" experience," said McCoy. "I want when people leave the tour to say, "Wow, I didn't know this about my city."