People often call Greenfield a “suburb in the city”—not a flashy moniker, but it fits: the streets are crowded with houses, but the houses are roomy and most have full lawns, trees and a few even have backyard swimming pools. We’re a quiet neighborhood, residential. If you don’t know where Greenfield is, we’re the neighborhood that borders South Oakland, Squirrel Hill and Hazelwood, sloping steeply downhill along Greenfield Avenue until it terminates at the Monongahela (2nd Avenue).
Like most Pittsburgh neighborhoods, Greenfield was a mill neighborhood, with easy access to the mills in the South Side, Homestead and Hazelwood—the “Pittsburgh Toilet” is common in houses around here, a basement toilet and/or shower so the steel workers could clean up before heading upstairs. Many families from the Steel era still live in Greenfield, but like the rest of Pittsburgh, Greenfield has recently undergone a dramatic change, with an influx of graduate students and young professionals who’ve moved here for easy access to Oakland and Downtown.
My wife and I moved to Greenfield in 2008 after renting in Shadyside for several years and fell in love with the neighborhood. There are many things to love about Greenfield, but here are my top 10:
1. The views from the hills.
Driving, walking or biking through Greenfield can be exhilarating—one moment you’re threading narrow streets hoping not to hit the rearview mirrors of parked cars, or you’re negotiating uphill switchbacks, when unexpectedly, you turn a corner and the view opens dizzyingly, affording panoramic vistas of the Downtown skyline. Many Greenfield houses have elaborate back decks to capitalize on the views, and on clear nights you can even see the fireworks from the 4th of July!
2. McCarthy Sandwich at Szmidt’s
On Greenfield Avenue, in the shadow of St. Rosalia’s, is Szmidt’s Old World Deli. It’s in the same space that Elena’s used to be, a space that floundered as a short-lived coffee and convenience store until Szmidt’s moved in. Darrin Smith, the owner, makes everything from scratch, based on his grandma’s recipes: he prepares the meats, bakes the bread for the buns and makes his Pierogies by hand. The Pierogies are a must—either “old world” classics or “new world” flavors like Buffalo or Southwest style chicken.
My go-to here is the McCarthy “Szmidwich”—slow roasted Top Round, sautéed onions, mushrooms, peppers and provolone cheese with Horseradish Mayo. (And, mentioning the “McCarthy” lets me mention that Greenfield is the neighborhood of Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, raised in Pittsburgh and still a hometown presence through his charity work).
3. The Churches: St. Rosalia and St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church.
There are several churches in Greenfield, but these two need special mention:
St. Rosalia Catholic Church on Greenfield Avenue. This church centers the neighborhood with weekly Mass, Bingo nights, Lenten fish-fries, voting polls and social events throughout the year. It’s a dominating presence on the block, with a beautiful stained glass rose window and church bells that still chime throughout the neighborhood.
St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church on Saline Street. This church is not only important as the spiritual center for its worshippers, but also to the heritage of Pittsburgh and is crucial to the understanding of American culture as a whole. St. John Chrysostom is Andy Warhol’s boyhood church and it seems increasingly likely that Warhol, a lifelong Catholic, based his artistic imagery on the Iconography he learned here.
4. Pasta night at Big Jim’s in the Run
The “Run,” (actually Four Mile Run, named for a small watershed about four miles from the Point), is a section of Greenfield that’s almost its own neighborhood because of its isolation from the rest of the City. Heading down Greenfield Avenue, there’s a sharp right turn onto Saline Street that takes you into the shadow of the Parkway overpass—there are a few bars here (including Mike McCarthy’s family’s old bar), plenty of houses, St. John Chrysostom Church, and Big Jim’s in the Run.
Big Jim’s is a good place to take an out-of-towner for a crash course in old-school Pittsburgh—there ain’t nothing fancy here—and the best time to go is Monday for pasta night. For three bucks, you get a plate of spaghetti. The back dining room is always crowded, so come early.
5. The Festivals.
Greenfield has small, but nice, family-friendly festivals throughout the year, including the annual 4th of July footraces at Magee Field, the Hough’s summer block party and the St. Rosalia’s summer festival in June, but my favorite is the “Celebrate the Season” holiday parade.
This past year, my wife and daughter watched the parade through the large picture windows at Hough’s to stay warm while I stood outside with a group of friends. The parade had marching bands, politicians and the Pittsburgh puppets, but nothing tops when the hard-mouthed Santa Clause arrives riding on the back of a flatbed tow truck, throwing (not “tossing,” but throwing) hard candy at the crowd. Well, maybe one thing did top Santa this year: the full set of fireworks set off at Magee Field.
6. Sometimes the best thing about Greenfield is getting out of Greenfield.
Greenfield has two separate business districts, plenty of restaurants and even its own Giant Eagle, so you never have to leave, but one of the best reasons to live here is how easy it is to enjoy what the other neighborhoods have to offer. Like many newer people to Greenfield, my wife and I first learned about the neighborhood because we wanted to stay near familiar Shadyside or Squirrel Hill, but couldn’t afford to buy a house in either of those neighborhoods.
Greenfield, on the other hand, is very affordable, and once here we realized how easy it is to still walk to Forbes and Murray to catch a movie at the Manor, or walk to Oakland to see Phipps or the Carnegie Museum of Art, or along the Eliza Furnace Trail to the South Side Works and Carson Street. The Waterfront is a short drive away and the entrance to the Parkway is here as well. Commuters downtown can take the 58 bus along 2nd Avenue and commuters to the universities can take the same bus in the opposite direction through Oakland (that is, until the transit cuts come through, when Greenfield might lost its bus service entirely).
7. The green fields:
Greenfield really is green. As I mentioned earlier, most houses here have full lawns and trees, but we’re also a short walk away from Schenley Park where you can hike up to the overlook or through the woodland trails.
The Eliza Furnace trail is in Greenfield taking you to the South Side, as is the Junction Hollow Trail that will lead you eventually to Panther Hollow Lake. Baseball is legendary in Greenfield, with Bud Hammer playground and fields and also Magee Field, which is really almost a stadium, and a great place to take in a game. Greenfield also has one of the city’s major cemeteries, Cavalry, a quiet space for somber reflection.
8. The Giant at Rialto Pizza
The Giant is…absurd. They say you should measure your front door before you order this thing because it might not fit. And that’s true. The first time we ordered the Giant, we had to walk it because it didn’t fit in my buddy’s car—and it didn’t fit through the front door once we got it home; we had to, sort of, angle the box to get it inside!
Now, we’re better prepared and often eat the Giant at Rialto, which is a great pizza joint with flat screen TVs, plenty of tables, and delicious pizza and hoagies. I’ve tried many Pittsburgh pizza places, and have my favorites, but Rialto’s is right up there at the top.
9. Hough’s and the Copper Kettle Brewing Company
Boston may have Cheers, but Pittsburgh has Hough’s. If St. Rosalia’s is the spiritual and civic center of Greenfield, then Hough’s is the social center. This place is perfect—a clean, family-owned and operated, friendly bar and restaurant that offers a full menu, a full bar, over three hundred bottled beers and a huge selection of drafts.
Hough’s has the polished wood luster you’d hope for in a classic bar, but also has the number of flat screens you’d hope for in a contemporary bar. It’s comfortable, a great place to sit at the bar with your friends, to take a table with your family, or to watch the Steelers or Penguins around the massive projection screen.
You always see a friendly face here, whether because you run into people from the neighborhood, or because you see the owners’ parents, John and Barb, who will chat with you, hug you, give you a handshake. And, just recently, Hough’s got even better when they purchased the neighboring storefront, fixed it up and turned it into the Copper Kettle Brewing Company, a brew-your-own beer establishment.
10. The neighbors and friends:
I’m a transplant to Pittsburgh, having grown up in Ohio until I came to CMU for college. I stayed because I met Sonja here and we couldn’t bring ourselves to move away from the places that were so special to us. Most of the people I’d known from college were transplants too, and even though the group of us that stayed were getting to know and love the city as Pittsburghers, there was always a part of being a “Pittsburgher” that’s elusive to a transplant—the “if you’re a Pittsburgher, you’re family” feeling. One of our college friends bought a house in Greenfield, and once we were ready to buy we followed him to the neighborhood.
Moving from Shadyside, my wife and I had a solid group of friends, mostly people we knew from college and some new friends we’d made through our jobs, but once we came to Greenfield our number of close friends easily tripled—quintupled, maybe. Not only do you meet your immediate neighbors on snowy afternoons when we all come outside to shovel sidewalks and watch cars struggle up the hills, but there are so many great people who have moved to Greenfield over the past few years that living in the neighborhood can feel like an ongoing family party—movie nights, pizza nights, nights at Hough’s, the Greenfield Supper Club, Super Bowl parties, taking walks with friends, carpooling to Pirates games, watching fireworks from the hillside, meeting friends of friends and becoming friends with new people because of it. A lot of us are having kids, now, too, and thinking that our kids will grow up together is a good thought, a comforting thought.
Living in Greenfield, I get what it is to live in Pittsburgh—that you treat strangers like your friends, and your friends like your family.
Thomas Carl Sweterlitsch lives in Greenfield with his wife, Sonja, and daughter, Genevieve. He writes science fiction and works as a “Reader’s Advisor” at the Carnegie Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. You can follow him on Twitter, @LetterSwitch
- Editor/founder of Yinzpiration.com, CreativeMornings/Pittsburgh host, co-pilot at Propelle, and digital strategist at Plumb media.