Another Square Deal Downtown

 Hey, it really is hip to be square around these parts these days. After all, Market Square is one of the hottest new dining and nightlife destination spots in Downtown. And in just a few months, we'll welcome back warmer weather with an exciting new schedule of al fresco events in the Square, including the Farmers Market, noontime concerts and the Carnegie Library Reading Room.

Mellon Square opening ceremony
October 18, 1955
But right now Market Square's sister square —Mellon Square — is getting a major overhaul that promises to make this mid-city oasis greener and better than ever thanks to the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, the City of Pittsburgh and many generous individuals and organizations who are supporting the project.

Working on the Cascade Fountain at the
corner of Wood and Oliver
With the PPC guiding the project, the Mellon Square makeover will cover a lot of ground. In fact, just about every square inch of our sister square will receive some extra special TLC over the next months. In fact, works crews have been on the job since the dog days of last summer, cleaning and repairing the stairways from Smithfield Street, waterproofing the terraces that over hang the shops below and enjoying a great bird's-eye view of some exciting chase scenes from this summer's sure-bet big-screen blockbuster "The Dark Knight Rises." 

Before square one: Parking lots and shops occupied
the spot that became Mellon Square. Courtesy
the Heinz History Center.
While Market Square's been part of the Pittsburgh scene since the city's earliest pioneer days, Mellon Square is a more recent chip off the old ’Burgh block. When it opened in 1955, Mellon Square was a crowning jewel of the city's famed first Renaissance, which helped Pittsburgh blow away its "Smokey City" image. Replacing a crowded block of shops and surface parking lots, Mellon Square earned a place in urban planning as the first green space built on top of an underground parking garage. Since then, generations of Pittsburghers over the past half-century have flocked to the park for a moment of solitude during the day or to relax with co-workers during lunch. 

The City Green: Robert Bowden captures the
beauty of the renovated Mellon Square
in his watercolor rendition.
When the job's done, Mellon Square will more closely bring to life  the original vision for the space. Though part of the initial blueprints, a terrace over the street-level shops never made the final cut. But nearly 60 years later, the former giant planter will welcome visitors to a rectangular refuge from the streets below with grassy areas, benches and handicapped access. The falling waters of the Cascade Fountain will be turned on again and the park's center fountain and pool will shoot spouts of water high in the sky. New trees have already taken root in repaired planter boxes. And while the completed project will most certainly please the eyes of all beholders, some of the most incredible work is below the surface as workers have installed new drainage and irrigation systems, insulation, electrical wiring and waterproofing. 

 So don't forget to take a few steps toward Mellon Square when you're out on the town. You'll enjoy an amazing work in progress.


Market Square 2011 Rookies of the Year

From the Grammys to the Oscars, it's awards season again. While the entertainment industry is honoring the tops of the pops and big-screen blockbusters, we're here to shine the spotlight on the 2011 Market Square Rookies of the Year and our Comeback of the Year. And the winners are...

Winghart's Burgers & Whiskey Bar 
When the doors to this burger joint opened on a freezing cold day last January, the lines were already forming almost to Forbes Avenue. Tucked into the southwest corner of the Square, Winghart's serves its specialty hamburgers to everyone from local deal-making execs and degree-earning college students to tattooed hipsters and Cultural District bound families from the ’burbs. And with waitstaff servers straight from an Elmore Leonard novel or Tom Waits' song, Winghart's grilled burgers and wood-oven gourmet pizzas taste even better with a pint of microbrew beer or a shot of special-blend whiskey. Open 11 a.m.-midnight Monday-Friday and noon-10 p.m. Saturday.

NOLA on the Square
Come on and let the good times roll at NOLA, where executive chef Andrew Hebson combines the spirit of Bourbon Street with Creole-infused kitchen creations to deliver a taste of the Crescent City on the Square. To help diners better enjoy the New Orleans vibe, NOLA gets jazzy with live music at least two nights during the week and free valet parking every evening. Whether it's a pre-show cocktail at the bar or a sit-down dinner after the final curtain — or both — NOLA brings the flavors of the Big Easy to Downtown. Get in on the Mardi Gras groove at NOLA 11 a.m-11 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

DiBella's Old-Fashioned Subs
You'll almost need to pinch yourself upon entering DiBella's in the Square. The old-time look inside this brand-spanking new location is so authentic it feels as though it's been around since the first town criers shouted the daily news to early Pittsburghers who gathered around the Square. The menu features made-to-order sandwiches stacked with freshly sliced meats on baked-on-the-premises breads that are big enough to satisfy just about any size appetite. And with Downtown becoming a 24/7 destination, DiBella's is open every day from 10 a.m-9 p.m. for hungry early birds and night owls.

Taste of Dahntahn Lounge
You don't have to be a Yinzer to love the homespun flavors and humor of Liberty Avenue's newest dining hot spot. Flavored with hints of Dino and Old Blue Eyes and just off the Square, Taste of Dahntahn keeps its glorious kitschy-retro neon sign on from dawn to dusk. During the week, TOD opens at 6:30 a.m for breakfast (and 8 a.m. on the weekends) and stays busy in the kitchen way after the sun goes down. This trip along Downtown's memory lane includes tabletops decorated with old-time photos of the city and Rat Pack Vegas-style entertainment. And don't forget the all-you-can-eat crab legs every Monday night.

Anna's La Cucina Flegrea
"That's amore" might best describe the special ingredient in the southern-Italian dishes that owner Anna Fevola creates in the kitchen of her second-floor restaurant that overlooks the Square from its lofty Graeme Street vantage point. A longtime fixture in Squirrel Hill, Anna is a welcome addition to the Square, where many of her fans are already enjoying her new home in Downtown. Come join Anna for a taste of Italia on Mondays 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturdays 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. and Sundays 12:30-8 p.m.

Noodles & Co.
Literally the new kid on the block—for at least the next couple weeks—Noodles & Co. serves noodles, soups, salads, pastas, sandwiches, and Rice Krispie treats every day from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. with extended hours on Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m. Because there are no can openers, microwaves or freezers, every plate of mac and cheese, fried pan noodles and penne is served fresh and made-to-order.With plenty of windows and a bright open dining room, Noodles & Co. is a perfect place for a comfort food and people watching on the Square all day long.

Diamond Market Bar & Grill
We says "cheers" to the Diamond Market Bar & Grill, a cozy corner tavern and restaurant where it seems that everyone knows your name — or soon will. With a nod to the Square's history, the Diamond Market Bar & Grill's name and decor recall an era when locals flocked to the space once known as "The Diamond" for meeting, eating and greeting purposes. With a menu of gourmet Angus hamburgers, sandwiches, craft beers and classic cocktails, this is one Diamond that sparkles plenty. Stop by any day of the week from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. for a bite to eat and even later for a nightcap at the bar.

Sinobi 2 Go
Serving healthy food at happy prices is the mission of this Asian-accented eatery on Market Street. Though it sports a small counter for eating in, Sinobi 2 Go lives up to its name with a takeout menu that's heavy on Japanese and Korean sushi and vegetarian dishes— but not calories. One of the house specialties is the Korean hot dog, an All-American wiener topped with a spicy kimchi and shredded pork or chicken. Perfect for lunch or a quick bite for the ride home, Sinobi 2 Go is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Las Velas

We tip our sombreros to our amigos at Las Velas for a much-anticipated and welcome return to the Square. After a fire closed this Mexican eatery late in 2010, Las Velas reopened in 2011 with a hot, hot, hot comeback. With south of the border favorites on the revamped menu, Las Velas earns a hearty "Ole!" for its traditional burritos, smothered enchiladas and seafood. And don't forget to order fresh chips and salsa and an authentic margarita to complete this culinary road trip to Mexico. Las Velas is open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and noon-8 p.m Sunday.

And for an even bigger taste of the city's best dining, Pittsburgh Restaurant Week 2012 serves up a wide sampling of the city's top restaurants. With great choices all over town, participating Downtown restaurants include Market Square's Bella Sera Urban TrattoriaElements just down the block on Stanwix, and Habitat located in the Fairmont Pittsburgh. Bon appetit!


Oodles of Noodles in the Square

You could say we've been around the block a time or two when it comes to dining in Market Square. With so many great choices, sometimes we make our meal choices by playing a culinary version of spin the bottle. But no matter what direction we end up heading, we always come up with a winner. Now —with the opening of Noodles & Co. — everyone can expand their lunch and dinner destinations in the Square to savor flavors from around the world without ever leaving the heart of Downtown.

Ever since its debut just a few day before Christmas, Noodles & Co. has been living up to its mission to serve classic dishes from around the world, right in our neighborhood. With a menu that features freshly prepared comfort food from the U.S., the Mediterranean and Asia, Noodles & Co. is your passport to noodle dishes, pasta, soups and sandwiches served just how you like them. From All-American favorites like three types of grown-up macaroni and cheese to zesty penne and spicy Japanese pan noodles, Noodles & Co. puts a special accent on every item they serve.

Located between the Oyster House and DiBella's Subs, Noodles & Co. is already building a loyal following among the Downtown lunch crowd. Most days, lines form outside even before they unlock the door at 11 a.m. Back for second trip with a friend in tow, Brian Decima discovered Noodles & Co. on one of his frequent lunchtime treks to the Square. Along with the "great service and nice atmosphere," He likes the freshness of the food, especially the plate of Pad Thai he ordered on this visit.

That fresh taste is no trick, since Noodles & Co. uses just-off-the-truck produce and meats that are delivered a couple times each week. "We don't have a freezer or can opener in any of our locations," says market training manager, Liz Camp. Even more impressive, there's a "no nukes" policy, since microwaves are taboo, too. So, if your Bangkok curry or chicken noodle soup isn't piping hot, you get a fresh serving.  And for more finicky diners, the staff can customize any item on the menu. "We want everyone to be completely satisfied every time they eat here," she says.

Like we said, Noodles & Co. attracts a big lunch time crowd that dines on the premises. In most case, meals are ready in three to four minutes and delivered to your table by the efficient staff. However, if you don't have the time to wait, you can order online or through an iPhone app. "We get a lot of takeout orders from nearby offices," says Liz. "We're trying to give people as many options to enjoy Noodles & Co. as possible." With dining options from around the world — and open every day from 11 a.m.-9 p.m.— Noodles & Co. is a global dining treat right here at home.


You Say You Got A Resolution

The holidays are gone for another year. But we're still making lists. This time around instead of gifts, we're jotting down resolutions. Now, we've heard some people talking about training for the 2012 Pittsburgh Marathon. Others say they want to pedal from Pittsburgh to the nation's capital along the Great Allegheny Passage  from the Steel City to Washington, D.C. But most of us just want to shed a few of those 7 to 10 pounds that most Americans put on during the holiday season. Which means, we're going to tell you to take a hike to Market Square to help you get 2012 started on the right — and healthy — track.

Normally, when we point you in the direction of the Square, it's to sample the great eats at any one of the 17 dining establishments that circle the Square. Don't worry, we'll get around to that. But since most of us are packing a few extra pounds, this walk to the Square will be a start trimming the fat from our waistlines and diets. And the first stop is the PNC Y. Technically, the new, LEED-certified YMCA is on Fifth Avenue, across the street from the new PNC Bank branch office. But, with its bird's eye views of the Square, we're claiming the Y as part of our turf. Inside, you can get physical in the Y's more than 44,000 square feet spread over three floors stocked with state-of-the-art weight training equipment, aerobics facilities, swimming pool, group exercise and other workout gear and programs. More than a gym, your local Y is a community.  Hey employers... if you want to encourage healthy staff behaviors the YMCA has employer-based programs available.  And can you think of a better way to run your way to fitness than on a treadmill that overlooks the Square?

If you're looking to pump some iron—but not the local brew—Gold's Gym on the corner of Forbes and Stanwix blends old school workouts with new era programs for an overall approach to fitness. Perched on the second floor of the Kossman building, Gold's offers cardio-powered programs to build strength and stamina as well as exercise plans that combine tai chi, yoga and pilates to increase flexibility and inner calmness.

Workouts and training programs are just fine. But we all need a daily dose of vitamins, minerals, proteins and other nutrients to keep healthy. To stock up on vitamins from A to Z, along with high-energy snacks to fuel your most intense workouts, drop in at the GNC store just across the street from Dunkin Donuts. Yes, there are some strange bedfellows on the Square!

As we said, we still want you to eat in the Square. After all, all those eateries — old, new and still to come — are among the reasons why the Square is one of the most exciting destinations in all of Pittsburgh these days. But for the next few months, keep moderation in mind. Sure, every once in a while you can indulge in a beefy Double Mattola at Winghart's or the pasta al quattro formaggi—that's Italian for pasta with four cheeses—at La Cucina Flegrea. Just remember that there are a multitude of less calorie-intense menu options at just about every dining spot in the Square. Whether it's the ocean-fresh salmon salad at Bella Sera or an Asian-flavored bowl of Thai curry soup at the recently opened Noodles & Company, there are plenty of healthy and hearty eating options in the Square. And no matter what you eat in the Square, you can always resolve to walk it off with a few laps around the terrazzo plaza!