The Emerald Square

Irish eyes will be smiling around the Square this St. Paddy's Day when all of Pittsburgh goes green on March 12 to celebrate the Emerald Isle's favorite son. Especially since this year's parade — the biggest march between New York City and Chicago — will kick off what event organizers are calling a "New School St. Patrick's Day" with a special "Family Friendly" zone in the Square from 10 a.m.- 2 p.m.

Now we think the Square is family friendly just about anytime of the day. But just to make sure that parents and their wee ones can search for lucky shamrock cookies and ribbeting frog cakes at Prantl's and yummy green icing donuts at Dunkin Donuts, the center of the Square will be an alcohol-free zone from 10 a.m. -2 p.m. Along with tasty treats, many parade performers will bring their acts to the Square to entertain all the little sons and daughters of Erin.

Parade organizers  partnered with city officials and the many merchants in the Square to add a little more structure — and a lot more fun — to this year's parade and post-parade activities. So while the youngsters enjoy themselves in the Square in the morning and early afternoon, the grownups can join the party from 2-6 p.m. when the fun gets a little more "spirited" as local country rockers the Stickers take to the stage. We can't promise that they'll sing "Danny Boy" with a twang, but these slick guitar pickers will have the crowd doing their own version of a river dance. Sponsored by Coors Light, the Pickers show will be just one of the attractions in the Square.

Of course, a big part of any event in the Square is just being there — and enjoying the sights and sounds. But we want to make sure you enjoy some of the many tastes of the Square. If dancing a jig or two works up an appetite and a thirst, there are plenty of choices in the Square to satisfy both.

Already a big favorite, Square newcomer Winghart's Burger & Whiskey Bar recently was voted one of the top three hamburger joints in the Burgh by discerning diners in a WPXI poll. Traditionalists might favor a sky-high sandwich from Primanti's or the catch of the day at the Oyster House. For a bit of south of the border flavor, Moe's Southwest and Chipotle serve up some of the best Mexican flavored dishes around. And for a to-die-for pie, La Gondola will serve you up a little slice of heaven. When it comes to food for the soul, A&J Ribs is always finger lickin' good. For some Old World goodness and New World brews, check out the Italian eats and microbrews at Bella Sera. For some super subs and salads, drop in at DiBella's Old Fashioned Subs, one of the newest eatery's on the block. By the way, don't forget the bounty of bagel eats at Bruegger's. And if you need a bit of a pick me up, order a cup of caffeinated joe or frothy latte from Nicholas Brothers, which will serving until 2 p.m.

So mark your calendar for March 12, when everyone is Irish for a day and kicking it new school for St. Patrick's Day in the Square.


We ♥ Winghart's Burger & Whiskey Bar

"It's so good that when you take a bite out of that burger, you just know that somewhere in the world a vegan is crying." — Homer Simpson

Most times we don't find ourselves agreeing with TV's favorite animated dad. But when it comes to the All-American, USDA patties at Winghart's Burger & Whiskey Bar in Market Square, we got no beef with Homer's extraordinarily exquisite ’toon taste. And judging by the people lined up out the doors and into the Square during lunchtime yesterday, plenty of Pittsburghers second the emotion. 

Just five weeks after opening its doors, Winghart's specialty burghers are reaching cult status in Downtown and beyond with rave reviews online and from the Post-Gazette's own mystery diner — Munch. Of course, to stand out among the tough gustatory competition in the Square, the burghers at Winghart's are anything but wimpy. Which is why owner Zach Winghart grinds premium chuck steak on site every day. Classically trained right here in town at the Culinary institute, Zach is also is a certified butcher. So every cut of meat that ends up between a bun is choice. Just ask Branko Kapusta. 

Between bulging bites of a Shipwreck Burgher — a combo of melted brie, arugula, bacon, white truffle aioli and caramelized onions — Branko, whose name sounds like "bronco," told us that "this burger beats the heck out of  ___," well, you can fill in the blank. On break from his job at PPG, Branko's been keeping his eye on Winghart's, which is tucked between Starbucks and La Gondola Pizzeria, during construction the past few months. With an appetite pumped up by a hard day at the office and the balmy temps, Branko ventured into Winghart's for his first visit — and it won't be the last. "I'll definitely be back again to try to the brick oven pizzas." 

That's right. Along with a half-dozen specialty burghers with names like the Denny Double Blue, named after Zach's dad and generously drizzled with bleu cheese dressing and dry bleu cheese, and our favorite, the Market Square, a mouth-watering concoction of bacon, mushrooms and Gruyere cheese, the menu features six hardwood baked pies hand-tossed at counter side. And then there are the salads, soups and sides. Speaking of sides, every burger at Winghart's tastes even better with a hefty order of fresh-cut fries that undergo a secret multi-step preparation process before they sizzle to perfection in the fryer. 

Okay, we really don't like to see anyone crying in Market Square — unless there's a wedding in the works — so for all those non-carnivores out there, the Beretta Veggie special serves up a portobello falafel patty smothered with spinach artichoke spread, roasted red peppers, arugula, olives and feta cheese. Best of all, it's hefty enough for two to graze on. 

As for the second half of this jumping burger joint's name, the whiskey — plus ten beers on tap — is on hold while Winghart's awaits approval of its liquor license, which hopefully will arrive in time for St. Paddy's Day. When the whiskey and beer start flowing, Zach says he'll expand his hours beyond the 6:30 p.m. closing time and eventually open on weekends. But while a cold brew might help these burgers go down even easier, Winghart's is a already a winner. 


The Center of Growth Starts at the Square

Okay, you know you're doing something right when nearly 300 people fill up the grand ballroom of the Wyndham Grand Hotel before the clock strikes 8 on a Tuesday morning — especially after another winter storm dumped a new coat of snow on the roads and drop kicked the mercury to near zero.  Maybe it was the free Dozen cupcake awaiting everyone in the room. But we know that those early birds got a jump on the day's events to find out the big buzz at the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership's 2011 Annual Meeting.

Now you  might be asking yourself this question about now...How does the PDP's yearly get together have anything to do with Market Square? Well, we're glad you asked. Because we happen to think that the Square is at the heart of Downtown's Center of Growth, which happened to be the theme of this year's get together. And while there's plenty of new growth all around Downtown, some of the most exciting projects just happen to be in or very near the Square.

Of course, the biggest happening in that area was the reopening of the Square this past spring. Counting everything from the weekly Farmers Market to the two-day 50th Anniversary Light Up Night megawatt bash, the Square hosted  nearly 100 parties, rallies, weddings and other happenings. And with a revitalized Square at its core, new businesses branched out in all directions. From the lux trappings of the Fairmont Hotel to the hip Tavern 245 on Fourth Avenue, that growth is spreading out everywhere.

Hey, we'll be the first to admit that 2010 was a great year for the Square and, in general, just about everywhere Downtown. But we think 2011 and beyond will be even better. One reason is the fantastic members of the PDP, who work hard to attract new businesses, residents and visitors to what we think is the city's top neighborhood. And if you checked out the local daily newspapers recently you probably spotted the story about a new project that will add another highlight to the city's already picture perfect skyline. Set to start construction in 2012, Millcraft Industries will build a 15-story hotel/office complex on Forbes Avenue between Wood Street and the Square. And in case Millcraft sounds familiar, they're the creative folks behind the Piatt Place condos at Wood and Fifth Avenue and Market Square Place between Fifth Ave and Market Square. So you could say things are already looking up.

In the more immediate future, you just might say that the days ahead will be a lot brighter. That's because artist Carin Mincemoyer will add a little bling to the Square when she installs her specially commissioned "Diamond, Diamonds" project will adorn two lamp posts on Market Street with 80 illuminated Plexiglas "diamonds" to commemorate the Square's past, when it was known as the Diamond.

And in one of his last official capacities as the head honcho of the PDP, CEO Mike Edwards announced 2011's new five-year plan that will guide us toward a more vibrant, prosperous and cleaner Downtown for merchants, residents and visitors. We'll also be building baseline data from the past five years so that at next year's Annual Meeting we can distribute the first volume of our "State of the Downtown" Report.  This annually updated report will track facts and figures that will help potential developers, retailers, and residents get a picture of our Downtown, its strengths, its trends and its opportunities. Even better, Mike, who's returning to Washington state to work with the city of Spokane, reported that PDP stakeholders gave us a B+ over the last five years for cleaning up the city's image and streets, a big jump from the previous C+ in 2006. Hey, we're working our way to the head of the class and won't be happy until we earn straight A's.

Well, we all know the future looks bright for Pittsburgh and Downtown — despite the Super Bowl! So, in the days ahead look for more Paris to Pittsburgh renovations, more new dining spots in Market Square and all over Downtown.

Last but certainly not least, we want to thank the sponsors of this year's annual meeting — the law firm of Leech Tishman Fuscaldo and Lampl and Huntington Bank. Their generous support is greatly appreciated. And we welcome aboard all our new board members and officers as they provide the PDP with their time, talents, vision and leadership.


We Are The High Five Champions!

We're number one! We're number one! We're number one!  We really, really are...at least when it comes to raising our hands way up high. That's right, in the winner take all battle between Pittsburgh and Green Bay football fans, the Steel City grabbed the glory during this week's "Go Pittsburgh" High Five Challenge in Market Square, sponsored by the good folks at DIGIORNO Pizza. That's the "It's not takeout. It's DIGIORNO" line of supermarket pies that taste just like the ones you get from your your favorite pizza parlor.

Anyway, nearly 1,300 gridiron and pizza fans crowded the Square during lunchtime to show their true colors — and we don't have to mention what those are — and to try to make the Guinness World Record for the most high fives in one place at one time. Well, we came up a little short in the record book but the attempt was still a winner as DIGIORNO is donating a minimum of $12,500 to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. If you can't give yourself a high five, a pat on the back is okay, too.

And let's not forget Casandra Kelly of Greentree. Lucky Cass will be hosting one big party today with the $500 American Express gift certificate she won in a drawing. Hey, Cas, we're checking our calendar and, hmmmm, wouldn't you know, we don't have anything scheduled...yet. So if your super party guest list is coming up a little short, you know where to find us. Anyway, Cas couldn't have been happier to win the top prize, even if she did happen to be wearing a scarf from a local hockey team. Well, you know how Pittsburghers are. There just aren't enough teams for us to cheer for.

And wouldn't you know that every gray cloud in the sky vanished and the mid-winter rays bathed the Square with plenty of sunshine. Maybe that's the reason why Pittsburgh fans poured into the Square to toss footballs at targets, spin a wheel of chance and throw bean bags for great prizes that ranged from giant foam high-five hands to oven mits to mini footballs. Best of all, more true-blue die-hard fans from the City of Champions turned out than the folks did in Green Bay.  1,254 Pittsburghers to 705 Green Bay fans.  Which means we snagged the "best fan" title in this contest by 549 people. As if the outcome was ever in doubt.

With one title already under our belts, who knows how many more we'll win tonight when Pittsburgh and Green Bay match up again. We don't have a Magic 8 Ball, but we do see the number 7 in our future. If you catch our drift...and we don't mean a Green Bay snow drift.

We like to think of ourselves as good sports. No matter what the game, it's how you play in the end that counts. And no one played the game better than all-time fan favorite and football great Jack Ham. A longtime local hero, Jack was on hand before the rally started and after it ended to greet fans, sign autographs and cheer on the hometown crowd to victory. Now that's a hall of fame performance.

So, now that we own high-five bragging rights, let's starting thinking about the next title and hope that everything comes up lucky sevens. And, of course, here's a really big high five to DIGIORNO for hosting the best-ever pizza party in Market Square.