It might seem odd that a guy who lives in Philadelphia would write a book about the best attractions in Pittsburgh.
But author Dan Eldridge considers Pittsburgh home after living in different cities while growing up in a military family. Pittsburgh is where he lived the longest.
For a guy who has lived in six states and three countries, that's high praise.
Eldridge is the author of the Moon Handbooks travel guide, Pittsburgh. The Avalon Travel guidebook ($17.99) covers many well-known sites, restaurants and attractions of Pittsburgh, along with a few undiscovered treasures.
Eldridge studied at the University of Pittsburgh and was working at the Pittsburgh City Paper after graduation when he was awarded his first contract to write the original Pittsburgh guide for Moon, published in 2007.
“I really wanted to do a book and had actually put in a proposal for a book with Lonely Planet to do a guidebook to Turkey at the same time,” he said.
He was awarded the contracts for both books and spent six weeks in Turkey to research that guidebook.
“I pretty much put my research on Pittsburgh on hold, but while I was away, oddly enough, Pittsburgh became more interesting and exotic to me,” he said.
Eldridge said the first Pittsburgh guidebook was “a million times harder (to write) than I thought it would be." The new, updated version wasn’t nearly as difficult because he wasn’t starting from scratch, he said.
Eldridge said he often comes back to Pittsburgh. He also spent a good deal of time in town while researching the book.
"There have been a lot of changes, but most of them are good,” he said.
Eldridge has a long list of his Pittsburgh favorites. One of them is St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church on Maryland Avenue in Millvale.
“There are murals there by Maxo Vanka that are insanely gorgeous,” he said.
The church is a national landmark as well as a Pittsburgh historical landmark. It houses 20 of the famous Croatian artist's murals.
“Many critics consider these murals to be Vanka’s greatest works,” Eldridge said.
Painted in 1937 and 1941, the murals depict secular scenes of cultural and political significance.
“The funny thing is, the church is also reported to be haunted," Eldridge said. "There are folks who claim Vanka saw a weird apparition while he was doing the murals."
There's no cost to tour the church, but vistors are requested to call 412-821-3438 in advance for personal and group tours.
While visiting Millvale, stop in at Pamela’s P&G Diner, one of Eldridge's favorites. The North Avenue restaurant shares space with Lincoln Drug Store, which is definitely worth a look.
While there are several Pamela’s locations in Pittsburgh, the one in the Strip District became famous when the Obamas visited it while campaigning for the president in 2008. Restaurant owners Pam Cohen and Gail Klingensmith were later invited to the White House to make their famous crepe-like pancakes for the Obamas and 80 military veterans.
First Lady Michelle Obama also visited the Millvale location — the restaurant notes the chair where she sat and ate.
My family loves breakfast at P&G’s Diner. I always choose the pancakes, and my boys and husband pick The Big Lincoln Breakfast, although my husband is the only one who can finish it. It includes two eggs; your choice of ham, sausage or bacon; lyonnaise potatoes and those famous crepe hotcakes.
Before you go, hit the ATM machine at P&G’s because the restaurant accepts cash only.
After breakfast, visit Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery down the street. Chatellier is from France but married a local girl and set up shop in Millvale. Despite being flooded out twice, he is deeply devoted to the small town, and he keeps his amazing bakery right on North Avenue.
Try one of his famous Breton cakes, a shortbread cake that melts in your mouth. My daughter, Eliza, gets two every time we are there—one to eat right away and one for the freezer.
Chatellier’s offers several varieties of macaroons each day, and an éclair and dessert always make their way into our bag. I like ordering special-occasion cakes from Jean-Marc because they are my absolute favorite.
A trip to Millvale isn't a far drive from Pittsburgh, but you get Croatian artwork, an American breakfast and French pastries all in one trip.