David Scott Holloway/Courtesy of CNN

Bourdain finds that the city is booming—but for who?

Charlie Heller
October 18, 2017

Pittsburgh is a city in transition, and on this week's episode of Parts Unknown season 10, Anthony Bourdain will explore what that really means. There, he finds a thriving food scene and an influx of young tech workers, but, as longtime residents show, many old communities in the once-booming steel town are not sharing in the new prosperity.

The episode beings with a brief history of Pittsburgh, PA: A century ago, the dominance of the city's steel manufacturing industry helped make it the 6th largest city in America. But as deindustrialization befell the country, Pittsburgh became, as area novelist Stewart O'Nan tells the host, a "ghost town," with half the population (and even more of the tax base) leaving. But recently, O'Nan says, the affordability of the city has led to young, wealthy tech workers moving in, putting "Googlers at the very top of the food chain."

On the bright side, this has helped support new restaurants like those of Justin Severino, Sonja Finn, and Maggie Meskey. The three debate the city over a barbeque that puts Bourdain in his "happy zone" with pork ribs, hearts of escarole and turnips, a pork dripping-based sauce and four types of sausage. The three have different perspectives on the changing Steel City. Severino, opened Cure in a neighborhood he calls "basically desolate," yet says he was surprised by the negative reaction locals had towards the new, richer crowd it brought. Finn says she thought about her restaurant's place in the neighborhood as more than just her own personal project, which seems to be the opposite of Severino, who seems to just want to cook. It's a good example of the "typical Pittsburgh iconic qualities" they describe to Bourdain at the beginning, which include that you "work here and brag about it," and "don’t like anything new at all."

As delicious as it is though, activist Sala Udin tells Bourdain, "the new Pittsburgh attracts new people, but it doesn't change the life for those workers who were left behind." Bourdain sees both the traditionally African American Hill District, and, later, neighboring town Braddock, which have both been decimated by the demise of the mills. Braddock Mayor John Fetterman talks to Bourdain about the long process of revitalizing the town without gentrifying it, and they preview an upcoming piece of the plan. Chef Kevin Sousa's upcoming restaurant, Superior Motors, will serve food like the grassfed beef shortribs Bourdain calls "awesome," but also provides tuition free training for locals and gives them heavily discounted meals. It's a small start, but it's certainly a tasty idea.

Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown: Pittsburgh Premieres Sunday, Oct 22 at 9 PM on CNN.