Under the shadow of a massive Heinz pickle balloon, live music rang through the air and scents of briny pickle juice wafted through the crowds in downtown Pittsburgh last weekend.
The sixth annual “Picklesburgh” festival — presented by Kraft Heinz and produced by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership — was a Friday-to-Sunday celebration on the Andy Warhol Bridge of all things pickled. More than 36 vendors tabled on the bridge, while attendees walked through free of charge to see what they had to offer.
Local businesses such as DiAnoia’s Eatery & Pizzeria Davide and Grandpa Joe’s Candy Shop sold pickle inspired foods in their respective culinary styles, like pickle dusted mozzarella sticks from DiAnoia’s and pickle cotton candy from Grandpa Joe’s.
Along with local businesses, vendors from outside the City came to the festival to sell their own pickle creations. Ronald Olson, owner of The Brinery at Two Acre Farm in Uniontown, spent the weekend working the festival for his family business.
“Being in a national spotlight here is very cool,” Olson said. “We couldn’t believe how huge this is, and it’s been like this since it opened on Friday.”
Behind a rainbow sign with the words “Pride Pickles,” employees working at The Brinery’s tent wore shirts adorned with the phrase “Pickle with Pride” to support the LGBTQ+ community in Pittsburgh, according to Olson.
“We want to be accepting of everyone,” Olson said. “You never know where people are coming from completely, we just want to help everybody do whatever they want to do.”
Olson’s tent was a fan favorite, with the line extending past several others on Saturday afternoon. While The Brinery sold some of its signature flavored pickles, such as garlic herb and wine or mango habanero, they also branched out to create some eccentric offerings specifically for the festival.
“Right now we’re selling a Monster pickle, where our extra large pickle has been brined with Monster Energy Drink,” Olson said.
Initially, Olson was hesitant about the idea, but he said his son convinced him to sell it at the festival.
“My son came up with the idea for it, and I just thought, ‘Yeah, he just wants an energy drink.’’ Olson said. “But I tried it and he sold me completely, so for me to really like that, I knew that somebody else would like it, and they’ve really sold very well so far.”
Another offering at the festival was pickle shaved ice, presented by Ekernally Yours Popcorn and Sweet Treats from Charleroi. Addio Fiordigigli, the company’s president, explained how their shaved ice is made.
“What we do is we put pickle spears into a cup, and then we blow shaved ice around it and top it off with pickle brine,” Fiordigigli said. “Pickle brine is salty, so it tends to be a little on the saltier side, so it’s like a frozen pickle juice slushy.”
Ekernally Yours is known for its popcorn varieties at the festival, such as dill pickle popcorn, hot pickle popcorn and bread ‘n butter kettle corn. But along with those and the shaved ice, Fiordigigli said they also offered a special dill pickle lemonade.
“What we’re doing is we’re making lemonade, putting a pickle on the bottom of it, and then we’re putting a splash of pickle juice inside it,” Fiordigigli said. “It just gives it just a little bit different taste.”
Even though the festival celebrates all things pickled, it still attracts visitors who may not even like pickles at all, including Alejandra Meza, 22, of Lawrenceville.
“I think it’s just a Pittsburgh thing, and I have to come to the festival so I can become a Yinzer,” Meza said.
Unlike Meza, Philip DiCicco, a master’s student at Carnegie Mellon University, greatly enjoys pickles and has been meaning to go to this event since he first moved to Pittsburgh seven years ago.
“Yeah, I love pickles — I unironically eat them for snacks,” DiCicco said. “I’ve been here a while now, and I have never been to Picklesburgh, so I was excited to come here and try some pickles.”
For Meza, this was also her first time attending the festival. Regardless of her feelings about pickles, Meza said she still tried different pickled food varieties, including a pickle flavored fudge.
“We had this pickle fudge, and it was so green. It honestly didn’t taste that bad, but it definitely had a briny taste to it,” Meza said. “We also had some chocolate fudge, beer and pierogies and I’m looking forward to trying any other foods.”
Along with having fun celebrating pickles, festival vendors can be exposed to hundreds of thousands of new people. According to Fiordigigli, Picklesburgh provides a valuable opportunity to expand his business to a large group of customers.
“You can come to an event where you can spend 20 hours and see almost 200,000 people in 20 hours, that is a heck of a lot better than spending 20 hours going to a smaller event where you see a lot less people,” Fiordigigli said.
Although the festival was successful for his business, Fiordigigli said Ekernally Yours, among other businesses, are still struggling to find employees due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The unfortunate thing is that COVID created a big problem with a lot of businesses because of the lack of workforce,” Fiordigigli said. “You know, we just can’t find the help, so two years ago, we had about double the product of what we made for this year.”
The crowded festival sparked a resurgence of the vibrant social life that had been halted by the pandemic. Fiordigigli said the best part of Picklesburgh was interacting with new people and making friends with other vendors.
“I’m a people person,” Fiordigigli said. “I love to see people and I love to talk to people, and we get to make a lot of friends when we meet other vendors and we start working with them, which is really cool.”