Monday, September 5, 2011

Pittsburgh RibFest Underwhelms and Infuriates

Pittsburgh is replete with traditions.  For instance, native Pittsburghers view the city skyline from Mount Washington approximately every 15 years or so with their visiting out-of-town relatives.  And who can forget never shopping in the North Hills if you are from the South Hills? Why do we continue these traditions?  The only reason most of us can think of is that we do them because we have always done them that way.  Worthwhile or not, we will continue to do things because it is our tradition.  I guess that explains the existence of the Pittsburgh Ribfest.
You may never have attended the Pittsburgh RibFest before due to your busy schedule filled with more important activities.  For instance, you may have just painted your bedroom and needed to watch the paint dry.  For those “not in the know”, and by this I mean “in the know”, the Pittsburgh RibFest is held annually over the Labor Day weekend and is located next to Heinz Field.   The festival, and I use that word loosely, is comprised primarily of food booths where you can sample surprisingly expensive barbecue fare after you have stood in line for the better part of your lifetime.  
One of the best parts of the RibFest, other than leaving it, is getting snarled in a sea of sweaty human bodies trying to move through the gauntlet of closely placed booths.  You often hear the word “bottleneck” to describe a narrow passageway, or a stage in a process where progress is impeded.  To call the Ribfest a “bottleneck” would be like calling the neighborhood of Shadyside “mostly white”.  If you are attending the Rib fest with children, it is best to equip them with flare guns so they will be able to signal you after they inevitably become separated from you.
RibFests, and other fests of their ilk, have large towering signage on the front of their food booths, most likely to entice potential customers with their fanciful designs in that post-tornado/hurricane style.  Booths boast of blue ribbon barbecue recipes and their illustrious winnings in so-called taste tests and competitions which are most likely in every way actually real.  I am sure the “folksy” nature of these booths is all well and good in the South or on the NASCAR circuit where these rib fests originated, but as a native Pittsburgher, I found it to be just a little bit too cerebral.

To avoid annoyingly long waits for food on an empty stomach, it is best to eat at home before you make your way to the RibFest.   When you do decide to stand in line for food, I suggest that you guess blindly at where you are supposed to wait to place your order.  When you do arrive at the front of the line and are ready to order, you may wish to first shave off your old-man beard, and then enjoy your front-row view as you watch a large number of people working feverishly preparing barbecue, none of whom seem to have any sense of urgency to take your order or make eye contact with you.  I hope you brought your wallet with you, because this kind of service and cuisine does not come cheap.  Yes, they do take money.

In addition to the food, the RibFest also offers booths to tempt shopaholics.  In addition to the Shopahol booth, visitors can purchase $10 sunglasses and sign up for unlimited texting with T-Mobile.  In other words, the shopping possibilities have very real and obvious limits.  But who needs shopping when you can simply come to a dead stop in the middle of a crowded sidewalk?

The Ribfest will undoubtedly continue to be an annual tradition, like it or not.  But we shouldn’t waste time and energy hoping for more widely spaced out booths, or more area for pedestrian traffic.  We should just enjoy it and take advantage of the opportunity to spend some quality time with our family and friends at home.  


  1. R Korn said...

    That about sums it up Earl. It was terrible trying to walk through there. I have been around many a rib fest and have never eaten at one because it is so expensive for 1 rib. When I go somewhere I want to pig out and I cannot do this there. Also it did not feel like you were in pgh, it was like we were in the middle of a Texas field with the tacky rib stands.

    There was also a rib fest at the South Park Fairgrounds this weekend. Not sure why they had two. I always remember going to the South Park one in high school until they moved it to Three Rivers/Heinz Field. South Park had a lot of carney's there.

  2. Pills said...

    I agree and am not a fan of the rib fest. Too many people wandering aimlessly around and then running into you. Add the expensive low meat ribs and it is always a bad choice.

  3. I went to Rib Fest yesterday and I have to say I somewhat disagree. Basically, I went just to pick up food and get out of there, so maybe that influences my opinion. I didn't have any expectations for entertainment. Yeah, it was expensive, but I can't say i didn't enjoy the food. Plus, it was raining pretty heavily, so the lines weren't that bad when I was there.

    The hilarious side note from my experience was that Bret Michaels was playing when I was there. The stage was on the other side of the main entrance from the rib booths and there were like 2-3 dozen people standing under umbrellas watching him play.