The City of Bridges is stuffed with hearty dishes, cozy bakeries and family-friendly cideries
Hot dogs, grilled cheese, potato dumplings, doughnuts and hand-crafted cider: As I compiled my must-eat list for Pittsburgh, I couldn’t wait for the comfort food feast that lay ahead. While I aim to eat healthy at home, I always look forward to indulging in gluten-free goodies while on vacation.
It’s true that the City of Bridges doesn’t have a gluten-free reputation as well-known as that of Chicago, Portland or New York City. But as I ate my way through Pittsburgh, I quickly found that it takes the cake in terms of hearty dishes, cozy bakeries, family-friendly cideries and welcoming locals who want to make sure you have an incredible time in their city. Tag along on my gluten-free tour of Pittsburgh — and don’t forget to pack your appetite.
Take in the views from downtown Pittsburgh
Many cities have distinctive skylines, but few feature quite as many bridges as Pittsburgh’s does. Thanks to its location at the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers, the Pittsburgh region is home to over 400 bridges that connect the area’s vibrant neighborhoods to one another.
Getting a glimpse of some of these bridges is essential during any trip to Pittsburgh, especially if it’s your first time in town. For an aerial view, hop aboard the historic Duquesne Incline, a funicular that’s been transporting passengers up the steep banks of the Ohio River for over 150 years. If you’d rather take in the views from the water’s edge, head to Point State Park. Conveniently located at the rivers’ confluence in downtown Pittsburgh, this triangular destination makes for the perfect spot to marvel at the city views, snap some photos and brush up on local history.
After getting the perfect shot, fuel up for more sightseeing at The Yard in nearby Market Square. A lively gastropub with a locally inspired menu, The Yard has some of the best gluten-free grilled cheese sandwiches you’ll find anywhere. Ordering grilled or toasted sandwiches can be dicey at some venues, but at The Yard, the kitchen staff prepare gluten-free orders on separate trays to avoid cross-contact from grills or sandwich presses.
Whether you stack on the good stuff with the four-cheese Simple Jack or add some bite with my pick, the basil- and balsamic-drizzled Cheesy Capresey, these sandwiches are sure to keep you going all afternoon. Want fries with that? The Yard in Market Square has a shared fryer, making fries off-limits for those with celiac. But The Yard in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood prepares chips and fries in a dedicated fryer, making that location worthy of a special trip, too.
Before you leave the downtown area, however, take a walk or short drive over the picturesque Roberto Clemente Bridge and take your pick from the countless attractions across the Allegheny River. From soaking up the views at Allegheny Landing and spotting brightly colored birds at the National Aviary to scoping out cutting-edge exhibitions at The Andy Warhol Museum and trying out hands-on activities at the Carnegie Science Center, downtown Pittsburgh has so much to offer.
Get hip in Garfield and spin through Squirrel Hill
Pittsburgh is packed with activities for all ages, but you won’t find all of them on the city’s well-worn tourist trail. To see a hipper side of the City of Bridges, take some time to tour the Garfield or Squirrel Hill neighborhoods tucked away near Carnegie Mellon University.
Nestled amid art galleries, yoga studios and tea shops in funky Garfield, Gluten Free Goat Bakery and Café welcomes gluten-free and plant-based diners alike. Owner Jeanette Harris opened this sunny spot in early 2017 after perfecting her gluten-free donut recipe and building a fan base devoted to her sweet and savory baked goods.
Since Jeanette has celiac, a completely gluten-free menu is a top priority here. Yet she estimates that about 95 percent of the items that the bakery and café offers are also vegan, a nod to Gluten Free Goat’s aim to be inclusive, no matter your dietary restrictions or preferences.
Although breakfast, lunch and dinner are all great times to visit the bakery and café, I particularly enjoyed the popular weekend brunch here. From the gorgeously green falafel waffle to the sweet French toast and the mouthwatering vegan benedict, the brunch menu is filled with tasty options. Save room for something sweet like a meringue tart, Swiss roll or the pop tart of the week. In the summer, the bakery’s housemade ice cream sandwiches offer an extra-special treat.
For comfort food with an Eastern European edge, set your sights Gluten Free Goat’s neighbor, Apteka. When opening this buzzworthy spot, co-chefs and co-owners Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski were eager to put a new spin on the classic meat and potato dishes that have long been popular in Pittsburgh and across the Rust Belt. Here, every dish is plant-based, and Apteka turns out flavorful, veggie-packed versions of Central and Eastern European dishes like potato dumpling and stuffed cabbage.
Apteka’s menu changes seasonally, taking full advantage of fresh produce from local farms. But no matter when you visit this cozy bistro, do what I did and go with the kluski śląskie. These unbelievably tender potato dumplings come with a creamy lima bean puree, earthy braised greens and crunchy buckwheat, making them a favorite in any season.
Although Apteka isn’t a completely gluten-free restaurant, even those with celiac can feel comfortable dining here. Allergies are no joke, Skowronski told me, and the kitchen staff knows to change gloves and follow a special process preparing gluten-free orders.
Craving dessert after your tour of Garfield? Take a walk through the expansive Schenley Park, home to miles of walking trails and the beautiful Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Then spin through neighboring Squirrel Hill, where you’ll find gluten-, dairy- and soy-free Gluuteny. From brownies and cupcakes to tarts and bars, Gluuteny can definitely satisfy your sweet tooth. Get your hands on one of the signature gobs — the bakery’s take on a whoopie pie — or grab a soft cranberry walnut cookie to go.
Stroll the Strip District and nosh on the North Side
Of course, no visit to Pittsburgh is complete without a stroll through the Strip District. From the Heinz History Center and its distinctive neon ketchup bottle to upscale Washington’s Landing, this lively area features countless repurposed warehouses along the southeastern bank of the Allegheny River.
Start on the southern edge of the Strip District, peek into the many boutiques and cultural spots along the way, and work up an appetite as you walk north. Just as the Strip District turns into Lawrenceville, you’ll find Franktuary, a curiously named hot dog joint that originally set up shop in a converted Episcopal church. Although it’s relocated since its early days, Franktuary still pays homage to the humble hot dog, thanks to owner Tim Tobitsch’s drive to indoctrinate Pittsburghers to the all-American meal beloved by New Yorkers and Chicagoans alike.
Placing a gluten-free order might seem daunting at a hot dog joint, but Tim has first-hand experience with eating gluten-free and sees to it that Franktuary has both an allergy-friendly prep process for kitchen staff and a complete allergen guide that guests can reference. Most of the hot dogs here can be made gluten-free and vegetarian, but you can’t go wrong with the signature New Yorker, which boasts pungent sauerkraut, spicy brown mustard and sweet onion sauce.
Finally, pick up a pint and toast to a delicious trip at Threadbare Cider House on Pittsburgh’s North Side. This welcoming spot celebrates its historic roots in many ways, from its Johnny Appleseed-inspired name to the traditional cidermaking methods that drive its innovative beverages.
Take a Saturday afternoon tour to learn the fascinating story behind the cidermaking process or grab a seat at the bar and enjoy a pint or two. Threadbare’s flights offer the perfect opportunity to taste several of the ciders at once so you can find a favorite. As a fan of Threadbare’s drier style and subtle sweetness, I can say that they’re all worth a sip, from the herbaceous Dry Hopped Cider to the vanilla-spiced Farmhouse Cider.
Want a snack to pair with your cider? Sample the wonderfully tart Brine platter with housemade pickled veggies or order a pizza on polenta crust to share with the table. And be sure to bring friends, the kids and even dogs along for the fun. Threadbare prides itself on making its indoor space family friendly, with games, snacks and fun for visitors of all ages.
Whether you’re in town for a Pirates game, a tour of the Carnegie Museums or a trip to the city’s many family-friendly attractions, you certainly won’t go hungry in Pittsburgh. From brunch and dinner to drinks and dessert, the City of Bridges is sure to satisfy all your gluten-free comfort food cravings.
And if you get lost or if you can’t decide what to do next, don’t hesitate to ask locals for help. Uber drivers, café owners and just about every Pittsburgher I met made a point of going above and beyond, eagerly offering recommendations for what to do, see and eat in Steel City.