Save The Square Dates — Now!

Okay, so maybe its cold and wet as we write this. But we're sticking with the idea that it really is springtime in Downtown. Especially when we check the PDP events calendar for all the happenings in Market Square — and all over Downtown — during April with even more in store for May, June, July and August when the city really heats up with great entertainment, fabulous food and so much more.  The City is in busy-mode approving permits for all the public spaces in Pittsburgh and the renovated Market Square is no slacker on that front.  It has really been embraced by local organizations, whether holding their first events in the Square or the annual return.

We really don't care if March is roaring out like a lion instead of whimpering like a lamb. That's because we're ready to paint the town red, white, green and just about every other color when PPG Pittsburgh Paints attempts to set the record for the world's largest paint swatch on April 1 (no fooling!) from 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.. With a totally official judge from the Guinness World Record Book on hand to monitor the event, PPG will show how easy it is be to green with a 4 by 17 foot swatch in grassy hues. After the record setting event, the swatch will move to Two PPG Place, where it will be repainted various colors throughout the year based on popular public vote. Onlookers at this historic event will take home a free paint sample and discount coupons for PPG paints.

Spring is a great time to take a stroll around town. And it's even better when there's a great reason for putting your feet on the street. This year on April 10, Market Square is an official rest stop on the annual Walk MS fundraiser. Now maybe you're feeling a little bit rusty after a long winter layover. That's why the walk offers two options — a one-mile course and a 5k jaunt, which is just a little over three miles. Either way, the walk is an incredibly powerful way to join the movement to beat this disease that attacks the nervous system. To register, visit the MS Walk website today for more info and let your feet do the talking in the battle against MS.

Fair is fair and that's why the Women and Girls Foundation is once again sponsoring the Equal Pay Day Rally in the Square on April 12. This square deal event stresses that women deserve to be paid the same as their male colleagues who do the same type of work. Starting at noon, the rally will address the issue of just how far women need to go to reach parity on the pay scale with men.

The topic brewing during the April 15 Tea Party Rally in the Square will be "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs." Party supporters certainly will bring a critical mass to the scene, as a speaker is set to talk about economic opportunities created by the Marcellus shale seam throughout much of the northeast. And just a reminder, even though April 15 is the traditional deadline for filing taxes, this year's date is April 18. Now who says the IRS doesn't have a heart?

Speaking of hearts, do you know that coronary disease is the leading cause of death among women? It's true. According to the American Heart Association, five times as many women die of heart attacks than from breast cancer. On April 19, from 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m., the Go Red for Women Mission Rally will create a greater awareness among women about the realities of heart disease with a lunchtime demonstration of nutrition tips, exercise suggestions and free heart screenings. Sure this is serious business. But there will entertainment and a chance to win a gift certificate valued at $500.  Now that's something you can take to heart.

For most of us, paper cuts and sore backs are the worst work related injuries we'll ever suffer. But some workers face much more serious dangers. During the region's industrial past as well as over the past year many workers have paid the ultimate price in the workplace, making civilized life possible. On April 26, from noon-1p.m., the AFL-CIO and Allegheny County Labor Council pay tribute to those who have lost their lives in the workplace.

On the radio, Tunch and Wolf — that's former Steelers Tunch Ilkin and Craig Wolfley — enliven gameday broadcast with their often humorous sideline insights. But these ex-NFLers have a serious side away from the gridiron as they help turn around the lives of the homeless. To preview their Walk for the Homeless, Tunch and Wolf will hold a mini-walk for local media April 20 with a stop in Market Square to present the Locker Room Leadership Award. You can step up, too, for this event and pace yourself around the Square.

Now we know that's a lot of activity — for April. So just wait to see what's in store in the months ahead when the Farmer's Market returns to the Square along with the weekly lunchtime concerts, Carnegie Library Reading Room and the KidsPlay program. To make sure you don't miss anything, check our events calendar often.


Let The Good Times Roll In The Square

Maybe you don't know what it means to miss New Orleans. But once you sample the Po' Boys, Jambalaya and Red Beans and Rice at NOLA On The Square, you'll understand why Louis Armstrong sang the homesick blues about the Big Easy. Looking to spice up the Square with a taste of the Crescent City, owner Yves Carreau — who just happens to own the Sonoma Grille and Serviche on Penn Avenue — calls the French accented fare at NOLA "Nouveau Creole." Even if you don't parlez francais, NOLA will leave you saying "oo la la."  

Happily housed in the old 1902 Building, next to Nicholas Coffee, NOLA paints a colorful new face on the old structure.  Once you step inside, every day seems like Fat Tuesday. On the walls, trompe l'oiel murals capture the spirit of Mardi Gras with bejeweled masked ladies, floats and jesters marching down Bourbon Street as revelers gaze down from balconies. And the festive art throughout sets the tone for the real reason for coming — music, drinks and, of course, food!

Now if you trust your nose, follow the aroma to the open kitchen at the back of the building. Sure, it's okay to stop along the way at the bar to sample a Voodoo Doll, Hurricane, Le Bon Temps Roule or any of the other Bourbon Street inspired cocktails. Once your thirst is satisfied, check out executive chef Andrew Hebson and his culinary krewe in action as they whip up Pasta Pontchartrain, Poulet Frites et Salade Verte, Shrimp and Grits and other New-Orleans infused specialities. If you're searching for entertainment in the Square, the food prep action at NOLA is just the start.

We're pleased to say that NOLA is bringing back the sound of music to the Square with live bands performing at least two nights a week. Of course, the emphasis will be on jazz, blues and other tunes connected to the city that sits along the banks of the mighty Mississippi. Be there for the first live performance tomorrow night, Wednesday, March 23rd at 8pm or or check their events calendar for upcoming performances.  If you need a little bit more of a nudge to join the saints as they go marching in the Square, we should mention that diners can drop off their autos at no charge thanks to NOLA's complimentary valet service. Which means it won't cost you a pocketful of quarters to enjoy French Quarter cuisine.

As Market Square burnishes its already glowing reputation as one of the city's hottest meet, greet and eat dining destinations, NOLA turns up the heat. And speaking of heat, NOLA will provide outdoor cafe style seating as the weather warms in the weeks ahead, adding another entree to the city's Paris to Pittsburgh menu of al fresco dining. But why wait for summer? Roll on in to the Square and laissez le bons temps rouler at NOLA.


Fat Tommy's New Look

We think the grand reopening of Fat Tommy's Pizza is an easy slam dunk. With the Pitt basketball team starting its annual run at the NCAA March Madness title, this hometown pizzeria wrapped up its recent makeover just in time for the opening tip. And one of the best new toppings on Tommy's revamped pizza palace is a full service bar with two wide screen HD TVs. Now we're not recommending that anyone plays a little hooky, but this new watering hole is perfect for catching the  Panthers on the prowl with their game this Thursday afternoon. 

On the other hand, if you're prowling for a perfect pizza slice, Tommy's is a good start. Chances are that if you stop by the location on lower Forbes Ave during lunch, you'll catch Tommy in the middle of twirling a floppy disc of dough and yelling out orders to the staff that seems to be running a race that never ends. 

Now aside from the pizza and shop's namesake, just about everything inside is new — from the tile floors to tables and brighter lights and logo. Even the menu got a makeover. Sure, you'll find pizza of just about every type and plenty of sandwiches, salads and sides. And as the weather warms up, Tommy will add pasta dishes for lunch and dinner. Did we mention that he'll keep the ovens fired up and working Monday through Saturday until 9 p.m. most nights? 

Tommy tells us that the temps rise, he'll bring out tables for some pizza and pasta al fresco. We think pizza's just about perfect anytime time of year, but savoring a steaming slice in summertime with a cold brew is almost heaven. And Tommy's summertime dining experience will include happy hour beverage specials for a growing afterwork crowd that's staying longer Downtown to enjoy that Pittsburgh to Paris cafe life and avoid the hassles and headaches of rush hour traffic.  So whether you're checking the score of the game or just looking for a slice with pepperoni to go, Fat Tommy's is back. 

Know of another Downtown cafe, bar or restaurant that could use a first floor makeover?  Yearning for some outdoor cafe seating at your favorite joint?  Find information on the Paris to Pittsburgh matching grant program at www.DowntownPittsburgh.com.


A Square Catch of the Day

Now that Fat Tuesday's over, we're here to give you the skinny on meat-free dining options in the Square for the next few weeks. Of course, if fish is your favorite dish to begin with you've got no beef — or chicken or pork, for that matter — with surfing the Square to net the catch of the day at any one of the scene's dining spots. But for you carnivores, we're here to help you navigate the Square's culinary waters.

Okay, when you start talking about fish sandwiches and other deep-sea treats, you've got to start with the Original Oyster House. Almost as old as King Neptune himself, the Oyster House dropped anchor in the Square just about 140 years ago. If you can fathom that, then you'll want to visit this genuine historic landmark for a heaping helping of breaded fish sandwiches or oysters, some creamy slaw, a cold draft and a real taste of Pittsburgh's past.

Sailing along, Mancini's beckons with a couple of meatless specialities such as the spinach feta roll and a spinach, feta and egg sandwich. Of course, Prantl's shares the same sweet space, so you might have to resist some of the treats you promised to give up until after Easter. Then again, as Oscar Wilde once spouted, the best way to beat temptation is to give in to it.

Our next port of call on this voyage around the Square is  A & J Ribs.  If you're expecting to find a meaty menu at a rib joint, you'd be right on target. But A & J's serves up a fish sandwich that will satisfy the appetite of the heartiest beef eater. Plus, with a ton of sides like homemade mac and cheese and collard greens, there's plenty to choose that doesn't roam the earth on two or four feet.

If the bounty of the harvest is your palate pleaser, Bella Sera, that cozy urban trattoria, serves up a feast of pasta dishes. Pasta Bella dishes out penne with farm-fresh pesto, onion and roasted red peppers sauteed in olive oil. Of course, there's a fish sandwich on the menu that can be ordered fried or grilled. And the focaccia sandwich satisfies with fresh mozzarella, grilled eggplant, roma tomato and farm-fresh pesto. Don't forget to check out the drink menu with a pleasing selection of specialty cocktail, wines and microbrews. They help any meal go down just a little easier.

In case you didn't make it to Mardi Gras, NOLA on the Square opens later this month with a menu heavy on culinary treasures from Louisiana's Crescent City. For authentic bayou flavor, Pasta Pontchartrain is swimming with spicy crayfish, artichokes and other fiery ingredients. Of course, there's the traditional Po' Boy — a wonderfully over-stuffed sandwich filled with Abita beer-battered oysters, spicy Cajun slaw and sun-dried pepper remoulade. Check back here in a couple weeks for more info on the grand opening.

As we continue to ride this food wave, it's on to Bruegger's, where the speciality sandwiches include the Leonardo da Veggie, an artsy masterpiece of light-herb garlic cream cheese, roasted red peppers, muenster cheese, lettuce, tomato and red onion. Next door, Dunkin Donuts punches holes in the idea that you can only find round pieces of fried dough in a donut shop. Turns out the lunch menu here includes flat bread sandwiches such as the egg-white veggie and grilled cheese.

Around the corner, Fat Tommy's will open again very soon, ready to ply pizza pies topped with spinach, broccoli, mushrooms, spices and cheeses. Did you notice we didn't mention any meats? If you're searching for something more than a slice or two of FT's specialty, you might want to try a veggie calzone, sub or wrap.  Or you might just order the tuna salad. One thing's for sure, Tommy's gives you almost as many choices as they give you pepperoni...uh, we meant peppers... on a large pie.

Another landmark looms in the shape of Primanti's. Yeah, the cheesesteaks here are way beyond "almost famous." Seems like any time you turn on a cable channel devoted to food, the host is chomping away at a mighty mountain of meat, fries, slaw, cheese, egg and tomato between two thick slabs of Mancini's Italian bread. But the "Colossal Fish Sandwich" is a whale of a deal, too.

At Subway, the Veggie Delite is a crunchy combo of garden fresh lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers, onions and condiments on fresh baked bread. A short oar stroke away is La Gondola, where the pies and baked sandwiches feature plenty of veggie and no-meat choices.

No one will be surprised that fish of any type is a no show on the menu at Winghart's Burger & Whiskey Bar. Not to worry, though. Along with a house-made totally veggie burger, the wood oven pizzas include freshly tossed pies topped with veggies and cheeses of all sorts. And there's always the super salads too.

At the corner of Market and Forbes, Moe's Southwest Grill twists the traditional fish dish into the shape of a taco. The southwest dining accent here puts grilled lemon pepper tilapia in a shell filled with fresh pico de gallo, slaw and chipotle ranch dressing. And just about any of the burritos, fajitas and south of the border eats here can be ordered as beans-only or tofu.

Let's skip across Forbes, to another hot spot with a southwestern flavor. Still pretty much a newcomer to the Square, Chipotle Mexican Grill needs no introduction to fans of its "food with integrity." With a menu that's long on options, one choice is to hold the meat.

Finally, we're almost back to square one at DiBella's. As the newest kid on the Square, it's just a sideways walk across McMasters Way to the oldest joint in town — the Oyster House. But DiBella's tin ceilings and tile floors will have you believing it's been in the Square forever. What makes these old-fashioned subs float, for the most part, is the choice of ham, roast beef, salami and other meats. But the signature tuna salad sub and its veggie counterpart are high watermark alternatives.

This fishing expedition is over for now. Hope you enjoyed the journey 'round the Square.


New Sub Shop Surfaces In The Square

It was deja vu all over again. That's the feeling that hit us as soon as we walked through the doors of DiBella's Old Fashioned Submarines shop. Even though Market Square's newest eatery will open for business to the public tomorrow — that's Thursday, by the way — this super sandwich joint feels like it's been around for ever. Tucked into a corner of what was once the old "New Diamond Market," DiBella's has a vintage Pittsburgh look with its tin ceilings, tile floors and dark wood paneling that makes it look like it's been on the Square since the days when the city spelled its name without the "h" on the end. Which was way before people could Google, text, tweet or even LOL.

Anyway, it was all smiles as a VIP crowd of hungry lunchtime diners lined up at one of the city's longest counters in town to taste test a fleet of subs piled high with salami, capicola, corned beef, ham, turkey and other choice cuts of meats — stacked on a bed of lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, spicy and sweet peppers, onions and others add-ons. Now, our theory is that the secret of a great sandwich isn't always what you put between two slices of bread — it's the bread. And thanks to DiBella's on-site bakery, the oven-fresh sesame, multigrain, plain and everything rolls have the right stuff.

Because we believe that the voice of the people is the best word of mouth, we conducted a little survey. Of course, our results are more gastronomic than scientific. But the early polling shows that DiBella's got plenty of thumbs up from the preview party. In fact, we heard more than a few people say that they would be back for more on opening day this Thursday, March 3. Now we're going to let you in on a little secret that might get you to show up a little earlier than your usual lunch time. We're sharing the inside scoop that the first ten paying customers on Thursday will receive 52 coupons for a free sub. We'll do that math for you on this one. That works out to one free sandwich each week for a year — or about 8 a day for one week if you're really hungry.

We do have to issue a "heads up" hunger alert here. These subs are hefty, even for the "small" size, which measures in at seven inches long. By itself, this mighty mite is a pretty big bite. Our bellies were happy way past dinner time. But the large number is whopping 14 inches, enough for two people to share for maybe a couple of days. Fortunately, DiBella's is open for business seven days a week from 10 a.m. - 9 p.m. That's enough time to finish any size sub in one sitting. If the sandwiches don't quite top off your appetite, the menu includes signature salads, macaroni, deli pickles, and other sides. For the super serious eaters, Grandma DiBella's chocolate chip cookies are the perfect ending.

Like we said, DiBella's really seems like a longtime fixture on the Square. The nostalgic touches are so authentic that you can almost hear the town crier and clip-clop of horseshoes echoing off the Belgian block streets outside. Yet, the shop in the Square is the company's first urban store. Up till now, you'd most likely find DiBella's in a suburban location. After doing a lot of homework, they decided to test the waters right here in Downtown. From the smiling faces we saw there, we think it's going to be a square deal all around.