I tackled two Pittsburgh things on Friday night that I’ve been wanting to do for a while now.

The first was eating at Conflict Kitchen, a little food stand with a great reputation that serves cuisine from countries/cultures with which the US is in conflict, with a focus on one at a time. I was really interested in the concept from when I first heard about it and wanted to go the last time I was in that part of town, but they were closed. This time, we’d have just enough time to squeeze in a meal before they closed for the evening, and even though winter weather has definitely arrived, I was willing to brave the cold and skip eating somewhere with warm, inside dining to take advantage of the opportunity to try it.

The current menu is Iroquois. I’m a vegetarian and the entrees were meat-heavy, but I got by with a starter of roasted root vegetables and cornbread, which was the best cornbread I’ve ever had. It was soft with a lot of flavor, to the point that the maple butter you can get with it is unnecessary–but still delicious. Paul had venison with potatoes cooked with¬†juniper and cranberries. To be honest, had he tried something other than venison, I might’ve broken the veg to try it because I think in situations where one gets to experience a different culture, it’s important. But venison, which I’ve had long ago, wasn’t enough for me, nor would pheasant, one of the other menu items. But I did try one of his potatoes, which I did love. The juniper gave it a subtle herb/flower-like taste, which I haven’t liked in the past with stronger flavors like jasmine, but it was just the right amount of flavor here. My ultimate favorite, though, was our dessert, dumplings with mixed berries. It’s in more of a thick juice of the berries, really, and I love berries, so I kind of accidentally ate the whole thing. Paul took a bite while I was still working on my veggies and new I’d love it, and next thing I know, he’s not paying attention to how much of it I’m eating and the whole thing is gone. As a drink, we got root tea, which tasted like warm root beer, essentially. The bad news is I don’t like that sort of flavor at all, but the good news is I dislike it less when it’s warm.

The other great thing about Conflict Kitchen is that they make an effort to educate patrons about these cultures, rather than just serving the food and being done with it. You get a little pamphlet with your food that has excerpts of interviews from people in that community explaining some of the issues they face. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to read it, and I keep forgetting to make time for that.

And a major downside to eating outside in December? Food gets cold really, really fast.

Thing I Wanted to Try #2 was the museums’ After Dark series. I suspect this is also a thing elsewhere, but it’s when one of the area museums choose a theme and opens up after hours for just those 21 and older, with food, alcohol, and events centered around that theme. A few have come and gone since they started doing it that I wanted to go to, and either the timing didn’t work out or they sold out, but I finally made it to the most recent Lord of the Rings event. I thought Paul would love it, and although he did enjoy himself, I think I’m the one who had the better time.

The theme’s admittedly applied sort of loosely, but I didn’t really care. They had a tour of the museum’s most precious items, which was my favorite part, honestly. We got to hear about why some of these items are so special to the museum and some of the history behind them in more detail than you get from just looking around on your own. My favorite part, though, was hearing about how Andrew Carnegie was basically so damn rich that he just kind of bought shit from Egypt, which is kind of how the museums got started. I mean, imagine having so much money that you’re like, “Damn, I guess I’ll buy a mummy.”

That took up the chunk of the event’s time, but we also stopped by other smaller exhibits, like jumping spiders and live reptiles, plus grabbed a little more food. As it got close to being over, we listened to some of the musicians they had performing but decided to sneak out before the whole thing officially shut down so as to beat the traffic.

I think what I liked most about it is how different it made the museum feel. When we walked in, they had a DJ playing, and everyone’s being loud and walking around with beers, which is so different from the atmosphere the place usually has. On top of that, I’ve been to the museum recently enough that it’s sort of lost its appeal unless there’s a special exhibit in, and this event kind of brought some of the excitement and curiosity back with the tour and other events. It was a totally new way to experience the museum, I’m glad we did it, and I’d like to go again.

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