Venturing Off the Beaten Track

I've always been one to seek out the unusual. The path not taken? I'm on. The door with a sign that says don't enter? I'm in.

So you'll get where I'm coming from when I share some of these favorite places of mine here in the ‘Burgh. In my slightly skewed world view, these places are the tops. They're the Mona Lisa of the wonky world of what helps make this city so special.

Bayernhof MuseumOh, the Bayernhof Museum. The whaaaat, you say? It's the former residence of a man--Charles B. Brown III--who owned the Gas-Lite Manufacturing Co. in Lawrenceville until he died in 1999. His will stipulated that the house be turned into a museum so that the public could enjoy his collection of so-called "music machines."

The Bayernhof is part awesome-cool-house tour, part over-the-top collection of music boxes in all shapes and sizes. High atop the hilltop in O'Hara Township, you can actually see the Bayernhof from across the Allegheny River. It's the house with the domed, planetarium-sized observatory attached. Inside, you'll see panoramic views and discover hidden passageways, a way-cool cave, a wine cellar with a moonshine still, and a 10-foot waterfall and swimming pool.

The collection of music boxes? Oh, wonderfully amazing. Three player pianos. A Wurlitzer Military Band Organ that was used mainly in amusement parks for carousels. (Cover your ears when this baby fires up.) There are dozens of others, too, each one more remarkable than the next. One of my faves is the musical chair – and we're not talking kids' games here. Sit down on it and it plays music. Yes, Bayernhof is not-your-typical-museum museum.

Center for PostNatural HistoryI first stumbled into the Center for PostNatural History during one of Garfield's Unblurred events. The BioSteel Goat greets you at the door of the Penn Avenue storefront museum. This little billy, named "Freckles", was genetically modified to produce the protein from spider silk in its milk. Yeah, you read that right. There are several dozen specimens on display, (e.g.: ribless mouse, alcoholic rat) and you'll see firsthand, life forms that have been intentionally altered through processes such as selective breeding or genetic engineering.

The tagline for the unconventional museum is: "That was then. This is now." It's a title of one of my favorite coming-of-age books. And it's THE perfect name for this kinda-scary-in-the-scientific-sense-of-messing-with-Mother-Nature-themed museum.

Hungry now, aren't ya? Then let's make a pilgrimage to Conflict Kitchen, the Oakland take-out restaurant in Schenley Plaza that serves up tasty cuisine from countries with which the United States is in conflict. Previous iterations featured Afghanistan, North Korea, Palestine, Iran and Venezuela.

Conflict KitchenCurrently, it's featuring our neighbor to the south, Cuba, with tasty sounding dishes like Lechon Asado (slow-roasted pork marinated in mojo sauce) and Ropa Vieja (Cuban-style shredded beef in tomato sauce.) The food is packaged in wrappers that include messages with Cubans on far-reaching subjects—from politics to pop culture.

For all the good eats, it's high art, too, as Conflict Kitchen was one of seven finalists for the International Award for Public Art. The idea is to engage the community in a way that spurs social exchanges. I love that idea, just as I love its culinary creations. Chalk one up for message in a tasty bottle. Aguas frescas, anyone?

A few other quick hits here, so as not to bog you down after that delicious Cuban meal...

  • Roslyn Place in Shadyside is Pittsburgh's last wooden street. And knock wood, it's here to stay.
  • Forbes Field wall in Oakland, a place where a field of dreams live on.
  • The Dirty Dozen bike ride, every Saturday after Thanksgiving, when hundreds of seriously crazy cyclists gather in Pittsburgh to ride up a baker's dozen of the steepest streets in and around the city.
  • Randyland, and artist Randy Gilson's own brand of house beautiful on the North Side.

OK, that's it, Fort Pitt! These are just a few of Pittsburgh's perhaps lesser-known luminaries, but all stars in their own right.