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Road trip dining: breakfast in Pittsburgh

Saturday in Pittsburgh and I'm on the shuttle from the Priory Hotel, headed for a late breakfast at DeLuca's in the Strip District. DeLuca's was recommended by a friend (as well by Roadfood.com) for its pancake breakfasts. But when I tell the shuttle driver where I want to go, he laughs. Weekend breakfast in the Strip District is a Pittsburgh tradition, he says, and DeLuca's — or any other eatery in the area — will be jammed, as will the sidewalks.

He's right. It takes more than 20 minutes to go less than three miles, and when he pulls up in front of DeLuca's, the line outside is halfway down the block. It's snowing, and although I've got a warm coat on, I'm wearing sneakers. By the time I get inside, my feet will be blocks of ice. When I hesitate, the driver says, "You should try Pamela's."

Pamela's P&G Diner is just around the corner and has a long line too. But this line is waiting inside. I tip the driver and he gives me one final bit of advice: On Sundays, he says, the lines are four times as long. Better to get my Strip District breakfast today.

I go inside, add my name to the list of people waiting for a table. It's warm in here, relatively speaking, but every time the door opens, a blast of icy air reminds me what it's like outside.

There’s a longstanding rivalry between DeLuca’s and Pamela’s — both are old-fashioned diners, cash only, where breakfast is a specialty. At Pamela’s, which is more than 30 years old, the painted-brick wall is crowded with pictures, most of them old, but by the cash register is a framed page from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette showing President Obama eating pancakes there in 2008. The Post-Gazette reported that the president ordered only a single pancake, plain, but the following spring, he invited the co-owners to Washington to prepare their distinctive pancakes for a White House event.

I'm not as health-minded as the president, but I did ask that the whipped cream be left off my strawberry pancakes. They are served crepe-style, rolled around the filling of strawberries, brown sugar and sour cream (no butter or syrup), but they are definitely pancakes, not crepes, very thin with crispy edges. And very good.

Around the corner is Peace, Love and Little Doughnuts, known for its maple-bacon doughnuts. I'm tempted to get one for later, but having already consumed more than my daily ration of sugar, show rare restraint and pass. Instead, I wander around, doing a little sightseeing, but the day hasn't warmed and snow flakes are landing on my sneakers, and I quickly wrap up my icy excursion to the Strip District. I’ll be back, either in summer or on a weekday, to try DeLuca’s.

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