Nickel City Gritty: We Must Dash

How amazing would it to be to be able to travel across the world with some incredible people and have everything taken care of for you from tours to accommodations to transportation?  The definition of worry-free travel.

Well thanks to Brandon & Stephanie Zarbo, this dream is now a reality.  The husband and wife team own their own active travel business called We Must Dash, and they are doing some incredible things.  Brandon & Stephanie take care of absolutely everything that you could think of, and make sure that you will have the time of your life.  All that you need to do is show up and have a blast.

I recently sat down with the duo, and we chatted about travel, music, and everything in between.

This is Nickel City Gritty, and this is Brandon & Stephanie of We Must Dash.

Travel photos c/o We Must Dash

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Tell me a little bit about how you started your business.

B:  We were taking our honeymoon and we wanted to spend a good amount of time in Southeast Asia, and I had been doing research about companies such as Contiki and Intrepid Travel, and I was completely dumbfounded at how many people were traveling to Thailand, and we had really fallen in love with the area. Ever since the first time I had been there, I was trying to get people to come with me, and then me and her (Stephanie) went, and we had done about five months in Southeast Asia, and that morphed into us saying, “We’re having our honeymoon, why don’t we just bring a bunch of people to Thailand with us?” I think at the peak we had about 24 people. It went really well, and everyone was raving about it. so we said, let’s just organize it and put the website up, and that’s that!

Describe your style of personality to me.

B:  I am a challenger.  I think that everyone wants to do things, they just need the motivation to do it, so I’m constantly the one to challenge you to do it. Do it, you are gonna enjoy it.  Sometimes people need that little bit of a push. I would say, like, my style is more of a friendly challenge. It’s just the little bit of motivation that you need. I’m super outgoing, really an extrovert. I want everyone to get along with each other and have fun, and this was another reason why this was kind of like, just fell into our laps, I think.  She is very analytical, and that’s not in a negative way, and I’m just jumping off the cliff like let’s do it and we’ll learn as we go.  So mine is leap first then ask questions later.

S:  I think we both are really strong in the mentality of creating fun.  Always trying to find a reason to have fun in any situation you’re in. I feel like it’s taken me a long time to get to the point where I can jump a little more than I used to because I’ve had a lot of loss in my family and learning that, and realizing that at no point is anything going to get worse.  There’s been things in my life that have been the worst situations, and I’ve been able to always come back out of them with growth and a new perspective.  I’m a little bit less scared than I used to be.  The fact that we’re freelancers, never in my life could I imagine this. I would have wanted some kind of safety net to fall back on.  At the end of the day, learning through all of this and the craziness to come out on the other end and say, “We’ll figure it out.”  We’re resourceful and passionate about this and I’d much rather throw my passion into something than wait ten years and go, “What the hell did we do?”

B:  I think that’s why we work well together.  Not just in this business but our relationship has been really strong because I’ve always been the one to be like, well *laughs* I guess peer pressure is a bad word, but in a positive way.  That’s why I say I’m more of a motivator and she’s the one to always take people aside and talk to them, and that’s why I said analytical.  She always more of the friend that you can confide in.  This has kind of been a push with our brand, because we’ve seen other travel companies that are like “Washboard abs! Boobs and butts and look at the beautiful travel!” and we really just want to radiate those friends that you can always confide in no matter what.  We want you to feel ultimately comfortable.  If you ever want to travel, just ask us questions. We just want people to get out there and experience the world.  A smile is the best currency that you can have.

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What is on your playlist?  What do you both love to listen to?

S:  We just started a We Must Dash Spotify actually! We are tailoring it specifically to certain moments in travel.  I’m a big closet EDM fan…that’s pretty much all I listen to.

B:  Yeah, we listen to a lot of Trop House and stuff like that.

S:  That’s the island thing, because immediately for us it’s like we’re back in a villa.  Also, right now, Lord Huron, we could listen to them all day, they’re just great, and easy to listen to.  Not too distracting and great background music.

B:  I just listen to such a wide variety of music.  I’m such a fan of corny 80’s music, though. It’s what I listen to all the time, and she hates it!  I also like to make playlists for every situation I’m in.  So, like, when I’m having some drinks around the fire, I’ll have a mood for that.  When I’m trying to get amped up to go out, I have a mood for that. And then I have one that’s silly when I’m trying to make her laugh.

S:  So yeah, I could listen to EDM at any moment on any day at any circumstance.   And that’s totally a post-cheerleading thing. I would make the mixes for cheerleading and yeah it’s bad sometimes.  Sometimes I’m like, “This makes no sense why I’m listening to this and how it fits this moment.” but it just works.

What is your most memorable or favorite concert you’ve ever been to?

S:  Mine was Edgefest 2006, and we were both in high school, Taking Back Sunday was playing and Anberlin, and it was like my mecca of high school bands, I was so excited.  And he goes, “We’re gonna go backstage!” and I’m like, “Get the hell out of here, who is this dude?” And we ended up watching the show backstage! He literally just walked backstage and was like, “Oh I’m here with the crew.” And they were like, “Okay!”

B:  I had played in bands for a while and all throughout high school, so you just know. It’s just confidence.

S:  So I was thinking, like, what is the worst that could happen? They are going to send me out into the crowd? That’s not even that big of a deal! What did you like, jingle your keys and pretend there was a pass on it?

B:  Yeah, I just grabbed my keys and was like, “Oh here” *waves keys quickly* And I did it so fast so they couldn’t actually see anything.

S:  Yes, we’ve been to some great shows but this was definitely the most memorable.

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What were you guys like in high school?

B:  I was a complete spaz.  Just Dr. Detention all the time.

S:  I was a pretty good student! So I was a weird one, because I was an art student, and president of band, and I was also the cheerleading captain.  I could never specialize in something, because I always had my hands in a million different things. And nothing’s changed, because I’m just used to trying a little bit of everything and never excelling at one thing, just always being moderately okay at a lot of things.

If there was a movie about your life, what actor would play the role of you?

S:  I’m trying to think of the person who I most identify with…Ellie Kemper from the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt…I feel like she’d do a good job for me.

B:  Vince Vaughn.  I don’t talk as fast as he does, though.  He’s just somebody who I identify with because he started out by writing his own movie and then he made his own way into the movie world. And he’s a Libertarian too, which I identify with…the only Libertarian in Hollywood pretty much.

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What is your spirit animal?

B:  Bald Mothafuckin’ Eagle. *laughs*

S:  You would say that.  I’m starting to think that my dog is.  In a past life I would have said something like a fennec fox, and I don’t really have a reason for that other than I just like them…they’re adorable.

B:  I would say a lion, but that sounds to conceited, so we’ll go with a mountain lion and/or a cougar.  Because I don’t want to call myself a lion, because that’s like, “I’m a fuckin’ lion” and it’s so big headed. It would definitely be a big cat of some sort, because there’s a certain amount of viciousness to them but only when it’s warranted, but then there’s gracefulness to them.

S:  So I think I would probably say a butterfly. I’m fascinated by the caterpillar to butterfly transformation, the whole thing…like I have a butterfly garden and keep the caterpillars and let them go.  And I love the idea that science doesn’t even know  why they shift and how that whole process happens, but they are becoming something else.  And the migration for monarchs blows my mind too, that they just instinctively know.

B:  Just born to travel!

What is the most memorable trip you’ve ever taken?

S:  Our five month trip was out of this world.

B:  Yeah, we did so much in five months.

S:  That was life changing.  I know that for a lot of people that type of experience is not just something that they can do.  But, I shouldn’t even say that.  They think that it’s not possible.  But there are a lot of scenarios that a lot of people could make it work.  That trip just changed our lives.  We lived out of backpacks for five months and the people we met, the experiences we had, we stayed with families and to see how they live on a day to day, it’s just so polar opposite of what we do and the things that we worry about. And after I was overwhelmed just walking into a grocery store.  People don’t have these options.  It really opened my eyes that we have way more control in our lives than we think we do and it really comes down to prioritizing what’s most important.

B:  I think mine was this past trip with everyone, because we were taking such a leap and trying to expose people to something so different.  The Honeymoon trip.  We had a lot of people who meant a lot to us.  I had one of my best friends in my entire life who’s had a lot of shit happen to him and he took a chance to go on this trip, and just seeing how he changed from the first day to the end of the trip.  That happened to a few people.  And it was something coupled with us taking such a chance on kickstarting this business, and using something like our honeymoon, it was very personal, it’s like your time as a couple to go out and do what you want to do, and for us to take a chance and invite all these people.  It could have gone so horribly wrong, or so we thought.  And I think it opened our eyes that this could really work.  We were ready.  This does change people and it really does make people reevaluate themselves.

Where is your happy place?  Where do you go where you need to get away from the craziness?

S:  In a hammock.  It doesn’t even matter where the hammock is.  A house is not a home without a hammock.

B:  I would say the property.  We have property down in the Southern Tier and I could be mowing the lawn and just hang out and watch the dog run around.  Just hanging out and cooking shit over the fire and watching the sunset.  Super duper happy place.

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What is your favorite restaurant in the city?

B:  Currently, I’d say Kaydara.

S:  We really love it there.  It’s pho and it’s Vietnamese fusion, so it’s a mix of a bunch of different stuff, so we always go there.  It’s definitely pretty close to what we had in Vietnam.

B:  I would say that’s my favorite place right now. Either that or a fuckin’ taco place like Don Tequila’s or Cantina.  But Kaydara is the number one for now.

My last question that I always ask, because it’s very important.  What do you want to be when you grow up?

B:  I just want to be somebody who motivates people to be who they want to be.  That’s it. As long as I can do that, I just want to be somebody who makes it easier for people to achieve what they want to achieve.

S:  When I actually had to think about it when somebody asked me that after college and stuff, when I was asked what would be my dream job, it was something so lofty like, “Open a summer camp.” I think the about the happiest that I’ve ever been, and not to say summer camp was the end all be all, but as a general statement, all of the different things and activities and the people you are meeting, I think summer camp is a totally underrated thing that now, kids find a million reasons not to do that. That was such a defining part of growing up and learning to appreciate those things and trying stuff that you would never be able to do at home.  So I think we’re on the path for me getting to be what I wanted to be when I grow up…a camp counselor! But just in a very exaggerated form.

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Thank you SO MUCH Brandon & Stephanie for taking time out of your crazy schedules to meet with me.  It was a blast talking with you and I’ll definitely have to take a trip with you soon!

Are you thinking of doing a bit of adventure traveling but don’t know where to start?  Check out We Must Dash and you could find yourself on a trip that will change your life.

NCP in NYC!

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Last week, my family and I headed up towards NYC for my cousin’s wedding.  The wedding was actually about 45 minutes outside of the city, but luckily we drove down the day before so we could spend a few hours exploring!

We arrived at our hotel Thursday afternoon, and took the train into Grand Central.  It was my first time on a train and my first time in Grand Central!

And, by the way, big shout out to the girls at MAC in Grand Central.  Halfway through our drive down, I realize that I FORGOT MY ENTIRE MAKEUP BAG AT HOME.  And for my fellow makeup addicts, you know just how traumatizing this is.  Thank goodness for my pro discount, and thank goodness for the convenient Grand Central store.  They hooked me up with everything that I needed in about 10 minutes.  And when I say everything, I mean EVERYTHING.  Oh well…at least I have all new products now!

The very first thing that we wanted to do was visit the 9/11 Memorial.  It was so heartbreaking and so moving…you see all of these images in the media but it never really hit me so hard until I actually visited the museum.  I was able to take a few photos:

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After spending 2 emotional hours in the museum, we needed to continue on our trip, as we had dinner plans with 2 of my friends. Here’s a tip…if you are planning on visiting the 9/11 Museum, block at least 3 hours to go through the entire thing…we could have spent so much time in there.

So listen, I love visiting the city, but the traffic makes me want to punch myself in the face.

How do we pass the time? Cab selfies!

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The other must-see on my list of our very short trip to the city was Big Gay Ice Cream. I’ve known about them for a while, follow them on all forms of social media, and needed to get a taste of their amazing looking soft-serve for myself!

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Obsessed with the unicorn windows!

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I opted for the Salty Pimp…vanilla soft-serve with salted caramel dipped in chocolate. YES it was as amazing as it sounds.

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Right now is about that time when I’m going to show how much of a dork I really am to the entire world. About 12 or so years ago, I was super active on LiveJournal. I belonged to this community called The Lindsays, where only people named Lindsay (and spelled it that way) were allowed to join. Fast forward to now and I’ve still kept in touch with two of the girls who happen to live close to the city. Luckily, they were both free that night, so we were able to all meet up for dinner! They were both so lovely and sweet and I am so happy that we all got the chance to meet! Love you, Lindsays!

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Friday was the date of the wedding, and my brother flew in from Seattle just for the occasion. He looked fabulous, as usual.

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The wedding was held at the Kittle House, which was super cute and old and was on a huge hill. The scenery was beautiful!

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We were slaying it with our dramatic looks.

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The bride looked beautiful and they make a wonderful couple!

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They had a “mason jar” theme, and I loved the detailing on the napkins…so cute!

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We definitely took advantage of the photo booth!

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And they ended the night with a smores station outside! The perfect ending to the perfect weekend!

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Wait, you know what, put it down, flip it and reverse it. The perfect ending to the perfect weekend is a rest stop cow farm Starbucks selfie on the way home.

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A Weekend In Pittsburgh: Part Three!

After our visit to the Cathedral of Learning, we decided that we wanted to head over to the famous Duquesne Incline!

Here are a few facts about the Incline from their website:

Opened to Public: May 20, 1877
Cost to Build: $47,000
Length of Track: 794 feet
Elevation: 400 feet
Grade: 30.5 degrees
Speed: 6 miles per hour
Passenger: Capacity 18 per car

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This was our view as we boarded the little car and traveled up the incline.  It was a little scary but pretty awesome at the same time!

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At the top, they had tons of old photos and history about the Incline.  I think that was really special…I love seeing historical photos.

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The view from the top of the incline was breathtaking!

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After the incline, we wanted to see where a lot of the weekend action was in Pittsburgh. We received recommendations from a lot of people to visit the Strip District.  The Strip is where a lot of the restaurants and shops are…it was similar to our Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo.  We could have spent the entire day there visiting all of the shops and grabbing a snack or a drink in each restaurant.  It was packed full of people!

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At this point we were ready for lunch. When we decided to take this trip to Pittsburgh, I had one place firmly planted at the top of my list that we HAD to visit.

Primanti Brothers.

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*Cue the singing angels*

I’ve known about Primanti Brothers for a while now, seeing them on various food television shows, but I never thought I would be so lucky to visit.  Let me tell you, this was the most exciting part of the trip  🙂

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We sat at the bar which kind of solidified the entire experience for me.  I ordered the turkey sandwich and Nicholas ordered the steak sandwich.  They were super quick and SO DELICIOUS!  I’m not embarrassed to say that I scarfed down almost the entire thing.  It was just that good.

For those of you who don’t know, their “thing” is that they put french fries and coleslaw on each sandwich.  Odd combination?  Maybe.  Super amazingly delicious?  Absolutely.

You better believe that I bought a tee shirt while I was there and have worn it several times since.

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After our amazing lunch, we walked around a little bit more and stumbled upon the Pittsburgh Popcorn Company.  Popcorn is one of my absolute favorite things in the entire universe, so we had to go in to buy some for our trip home.  The line was out the door!

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We ended up buying three different kinds: Peanut Butter Cup (omg so good), Cajun, and Cheddar & Caramel Mix. I wish I had some right now, actually.

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After the Strip District, we decided to head on over to a pretty awesome looking brewery that was built in a church. It is appropriately named, The Church Brew Works.

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They actually brew the beer on the altar.  This is wonderful.

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After our insane day of exploration, we went back to the hotel to rest for a bit.  We looked for a restaurant that was within walking distance to our hotel, sounded totally yummy but was still casual.  We ended up at this super cute Mexican restaurant Las Velas.

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Oh, hello super amazing Mexican food….this was probably the most legit yummy Mexican dinner that we’ve had in a loooooong time.

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The fried ice cream changed my life.  I’m still thinking about it.

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After our fabulous dinner, we took a slow walk back to our hotel, and to our surprise, were treated with a stunning firework show after the baseball game!  Talk about best seats in the house!

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Thank you SO MUCH Visit Pittsburgh for having us. We had such an amazing time and we can’t wait to come back for another weekend trip!

A Weekend In Pittsburgh: Part Two!

So, we woke up on Saturday bright and early and had a lot that we wanted to pack into one day.  We grabbed a coffee at Starbucks around the corner from our hotel and were on our way!

My friend had told me about the Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh.  They are classrooms that are dedicated to a specific country, and everything in the room is inspired by that country’s culture.  Nicholas, being a teacher, was really interested in this, so we decided to make that the first stop of our day!

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The Nationality Rooms are located in the Cathedral of Learning.  Here’s a fun fact.  It is the tallest educational building in the Western Hemisphere and the second tallest university building in the world.  Pretty impressive, huh?

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When I walked inside of the Cathedral, my first thought was, “Oh my god, I am in Hogwarts.”

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This is the photo he was taking:

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It was at this point that his camera battery died and we didn’t have a charger, so the rest of the photos from the Cathedral are low-res from my iPhone.

Okay, so now you are wondering what the Nationality Rooms actually are.  I pulled this information off of their website:

The Nationality Rooms are located on the first and third floors of the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning. The rooms were designed to represent the culture of various ethnic groups that settled in Allegheny County and are supported by these cultural groups and governments.  Dr. Bowman, who became Chancellor after World War I, was charged with developing a great university in a city richly populated with first-generation immigrant families. It was Dr. Bowman’s desire to provide students with unique classrooms which would reflect a highly-creative period in the motherlands of Pittsburgh’s new citizens. He conceived the idea of inviting community representatives of diverse nations to plan and build classrooms depicting an era or aspect of the heritage they had brought to America.  Principles were established which dictated that each room should represent a nation accorded diplomatic recognition by the United States government. In that post-World War I-era, it was decided that the content of every room was to be cultural, with the only political reference permitted being a symbol carved in stone above the room’s corridor entrance. No living person would be portrayed, and the room’s design would represent a period pre-dating the American constitution and the founding of the University in 1787.

I know, enough with the history, bring on the photos! These photos were all taken from different rooms. Each room depicted a different country. They were all beautifully crafted and the attention to detail was amazing!

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Each room was so impressive and you can tell just how much time and energy went into representing each country perfectly.  I am SO happy that we made this our first stop on Saturday…if you are in Pittsburgh, this is definitely a must-see!

Keep an eye out for Part Three of my weekend in Pittsburgh!

A Weekend in Pittsburgh: Part One!

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from the kind folks over at Visit Pittsburgh.  They invited myself and a guest to spend the weekend in Pittsburgh as part of the “Quad City Blogger Weekend” and experiencing all that the city has to offer.  They would put us up in a hotel and give us some spending money to have a grand old time…how could I say no?!?

I’ve never been to Pittsburgh before, so I was super excited to do a little bit of exploring.  The drive wasn’t bad at all…it was only about 3.5 hours away from Buffalo.  Road trips are one of my favorite things!

When Nicholas and I finally got into the city, I was delighted when I saw where we would be staying.  We stayed in the Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel.  It was stunning!  It is a really old building in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh…I love the old architecture on the outside.  But even though the outside was old, the inside was modern and beautiful!

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The ceiling was gorgeous!

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I loved these stairs…so elegant.

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Our room was even more beautiful.

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And THIS was the view outside of our window!  Are you kidding me?!?

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If we didn’t already feel like major VIP’s, look at what was delivered to our room while we were getting ready:

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So fancy! Visit Pittsburgh really knows how to make a girl feel special!

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You better believe that we demolished that plate of sweets. The truffles were insane.

We made pretty good time getting into the city, so we had about an hour to change and get ready for dinner. We were meeting Visit Pittsburgh and the other bloggers invited for the weekend at a restaurant called NOLA On The Square, which was just a short walk from our hotel. The weather was perfect outside, so we were happy that we could walk!

Here’s us looking all dapper in the elevator.

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The restaurant was located in Market Square, which is kind of exactly what it sounds like. It’s a cool little section of the city that has restaurants in a square, and in the middle are a bunch of tables and umbrellas for people to sit out and enjoy some food and hang out.

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We walked around a little bit before dinner and snapped some photos of the city. The buildings were beautiful and gigantic!

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By that time we were completely starving, and it was good since it was time for dinner.

We met with the wonderful people from Visit Pittsburgh, along with the other bloggers who were going to be spending the weekend: Buffablog, Buffalo Eats, Pie Are Round, and Nicole Delamotte.

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NOLA on the Square was a really cool restaurant.  The atmosphere was relaxed yet modern and the food is New Orleans-style with a modern twist…as you can see from a few of the dishes:

Frogs legs…I did not partake in this, but Nicholas said it was really good.

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Nicholas’ dinner was the seafood gumbo…I love how they served it in the little cast iron pot.  I tried some of his chicken, rice, and sausage, and it had great flavor.

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I ordered the steak & frites…the steak was perfectly cooked, the fries were fresh potatoes, and the remoulade was seriously killer…I was obsessed with it.

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I was thinking of passing on dessert, but when I saw this on the menu I really couldn’t refuse.  It was a strawberry and pear cobbler with sweet corn ice cream and caramel pretzel popcorn.  That’s like all of my favorite things rolled into one.  The ice cream had actual little pieces of corn in it…it was so good!!

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And this was Nicholas’ dessert. Sweet Baby Jesus chocolate peanut butter beer. I don’t drink beer because I can’t stand the smell, but this smelled like a liquid peanut butter cup. He said it tasted exactly like that. That would probably be a really good ingredient to use in making a chocolate cake!

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By the time dinner was over, we were all happy and full, so we decided to take the short walk back to our hotel to prepare for the busy next day. The Pirate’s game was just letting out as we were walking back, so of course we had to take some photos on the bridge!

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That’s the end to our first exciting evening in Pittsburgh! Stay tuned for Part 2!