PNC Park on a Wing and a Prayer

“So let me get this straight. You just woke up and decided to drive to Pittsburgh, from Cincinnati, for a Pirates game?” asked the man sitting next to me at PNC Park Saturday.

“Pretty much,” I said.

To which he just shook his head incredulously.

Looking back, I guess it might seem a little absurd to just get up and go with no planning, at least to any normal person. But it could have been even crazier.

The Recap

When I woke up Saturday morning around 9:30 a.m., my wife, Jenn, looked over and said, “Let’s go to Chicago.” Not wanting to discuss such a ridiculous notion, I called her bluff.

“Why stop there? Let’s just go right up to Milwaukee and catch the Reds game. We can hit Chicago for lunch on the way home Sunday.” Then I got up and took a shower thinking that was the end of it.

I was wrong. Jenn was seriously considering my suggestion. After further consideration, we decided that Milwaukee was just a bit too far for a weekend jaunt. But now my interest was piqued, so I offered up the possibility of going to Pittsburgh or Detroit for a game.

As it turned out, Pittsburgh was at home and the game started at 4:10 p.m. We did some quick calculating and determined that if we left by 10:30 a.m. we might just make it in time. She showered and we left. I was 10:40 a.m.

Using the speed limit as mere suggestion, we blitzed our way through Ohio and into Pennsylvania. Jenn used hotwire.com to book a hotel as we drove and fate rewarded us for our impromptu rendezvous. We got a room at the Westin, one block from two of our favorite places in Pittsburgh, Seviche and The Sharp Edge. By the time we parked, unpacked and left the room it was 3:40 p.m.

We hailed a cab and hit the stadium ten minutes later and immediately sought out the ticket booth. As we were standing in line, a man approached us and asked if we needed tickets.

“How much?” I asked.

“There’s no cost,” he replied.

“What’s the catch?”

“You have to sit next to me,” and he handed us the tickets and walked off toward the stadium gates.

Two tickets for seats in the middle deck, third base side. Free. We need to buy that guy a beer.

But first it was off to the stadium souvenir shop to get my obligatory ball cap, followed by a quest for food and Yuengling. We finally made it to our seats at 4:20 p.m., only three batters into the top of the first. Mission accomplished.

The Twist

As it turns out, the man offering us free tickets was a call-in talk show host for Pittsburgh’s KDKA radio station, Robert Mangino. Since I used to work for the radio broadcaster Paul Harvey, we ended up having a lot to talk about. So if you’re reading this Mr. Mangino, thanks not just for the tickets but the great conversation, too. You helped make our Pittsburgh getaway great.

Just Sayin’

Last year I wrote an article about why major league teams should give me tickets to their stadium, the reason being that every stadium I visited was home to a team that made the playoffs. Maybe you can see where this is going.

Pittsburgh hasn’t made the playoffs in over two decades. Barry Bonds still weighed a buck fifty the last time the Buccos saw October. Don’t look now, but the Pirates are nearly a lock to make the 2013 playoffs. You’re welcome Pittsburgh.

And of course, I’ve been to Great American Ball Park (GABP) to see my hometown Reds and it’s looking good for them in October, too.

PNC Park

PNC Park has the kind of view GABP could have if the stadium was built across the river in Kentucky. Downtown Pittsburgh provides a beautiful, towering backdrop, while the river gives Pedro Alvarez a place to deposit moon shots.

PNC Park in Pittsburgh
PNC Park in Pittsburgh
PNC Park view of downtown Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh city view from PNC Park

Pretty standard food and beverage selections, especially on the 300 level, though the in-stadium Quaker Steak was a bonus – I do enjoy me some Arizona ranch wings. All the specialty vendors were on the 100 level, so it didn’t really make sense to go all the way back down.

Still, my only real complaint is the lack of cup holders in the seats. Clearly a lot of money was spent on PNC Park; why the penny-pinching on seats without cup holders? Did you get lobbied by the beer vendor union? More spills equal more re-fills and more bills in their pockets?

Extra Innings

Despite the colossal butt-whipping Arizona gave the Bucs, the trip was a success, even with our complete disregard for planning ahead. We stumbled into free tickets to a stadium we’ve not visited previously and we met a local celebrity who turned out to be a really nice guy.

We’re coming back, Pittsburgh. No, seriously. We are. See you in November for the Bills/Steelers game.

—Ryan Varney

PS – stay tuned for more on the non-sports side of Pittsburgh: food and other stuff.

Incline Public House in Cincinnati

Incline Public House in CincinnatiThe Incline Public House in Price Hill on Cincinnati’s west side has a wonderful view of downtown Cincinnati and the riverfront. Sit outside on the patio on a sunny day and enjoy unique appetizers (small bites as they call them), a great meal or maybe just a local craft beer from one of Cincinnati’s resurgent breweries.

If you do choose to go on a nice day, be prepared to wait for outdoor seating – but trust me, it’s worth it. Besides, you can pass the time relaxing at the park next door where the old incline to Price Hill once existed. Take some time to look across 8th Street and imagine what it would have been like to ride the incline down the hill and take a streetcar into downtown. Today the path is overgrown with trees, but you can still see where the incline station previously stood.

The View

Incline Public House view of downtown Cincinnati and the riverfront

The Food

I started with the Cheddar Ale Soup and it was creamy, smooth and rich with just enough French-fried onions to add a little zip. Next I had the burger, and it was in the mold of several Cincinnati burger joints (think Terry’s Turf Club, Gordo’s or Mad Mike’s in Newport) – thick, juicy and piled high with toppings. I also added a side of onion rings. The wide slices of onion were dipped in a light breading and deep-fried for a crispy, flaky coating that allowed the onion flavor to dominate the palate.
For dessert? Chickow!

The Drink

That’s right. I had a beer for dessert. But don’t mistake Triple Digit’s Chickow! beer as just another wannabe craft brewskie. Triple Digit Brewing is the brewery side of homebrew suppliers Listermann Brewing Company. Chickow! is a rich, malty brew that actually satisfies a sweet tooth. With all the potency and complexity of a Belgium-style beer and all the rich fullness of an oatmeal stout, the Chickow! might as well be a dessert.

Besides Triple Digit, the Incline Public House also offers other local breweries including Fifty West, Mt. Carmel, Rivertown and of course, Moerlein. Plus they rotate taps regularly, showcasing a wide variety of styles and flavors.

If you don’t like beer, I would recommend the Bloody Martini (available during brunch). Served in a martini glass, this take on the Bloody Mary features bacon vodka, a hot pickle spear, olives, celery, one thick-cut bacon strip and a jumbo cocktail shrimp. Perhaps it should be classified under “small bites.”

The Upshot

I’ve already told most people I know about the Incline Public House, from the view to the food to the craft beers. I have since received reports back supporting the accuracy of my assessment. In other words, like me, they loved it.

—Ryan Varney