Family Affair On The Square

Okay, get your score cards out. Because another new player just entered the Downtown dining scene. The latest entry in the Golden Triangle's revved up restaurant revival is Vallozzi's Pittsburgh, a chic, sophisticated Italian eatery open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday.

With a primo location on Fifth Avenue across from the Fairmont Hotel and law offices of Reed Smith in Three PNC Plaza, Vallozzi's is already building a solid case for itself as one of Downtown's must-taste dining destinations. We dropped in for a chat with owner Julian Vallozzi on a recent chilly Monday and discovered a packed main dining room. Not bad for a joint that opened on March 12 with no pre-opening press hype or giant advertising campaign.

Actually, one of the biggest draws was Vallozzi's much-awaited opening. Merging three former street-level businesses into one location provided some interesting and time-consuming construction challenges. For months, curious passersby peered through the big plate glass windows to view progress, from holes being punched through thick brick wall to tables finally being set with fine linens and wine goblets. So, when the last hard hats called it a day, more than a few people ventured in for at the restaurant's traditional rustic Tuscan interiors with a modern touch — and stayed to enjoy the Old World accented dishes from the kitchen of chef Josiah Henry. Along with a long menu of Italian specialties, Vallozzi's features art work from local talents.

Now here's a little dish on how Vallozzi's landed on Fifth Avenue. Turns out that the original plan was to open the place in East Liberty. But after talking to the Piatts — you know, the guys who developed Piatt Place, MarketSquare Place and other posh Downtown living spaces — Julian and his dad Ernie, the head honcho of Vallozzi's in Greensburg, settled on a location near Market Square. "Downtown is really emerging," says Julian. "And with the new PNC Tower on Wood and Fifth and new hotel at The Gardens in Market Square, this is really the heart of Downtown. We couldn't be in a better spot."

Let's get back to that tie-in to the Square. Along with the upscale dining area and a bar cool enough to be the favorite watering hole of Frank, Dino and Sammy, Vollazzi's includes a tiny, airy breakfast and lunch nook on the corner of Fifth and McMasters Way, in what was the old Candy-Rama store. Serving freshly made morning pastries and midday savories, Mattiniero is ready to please every weekday from 7 a.m.-3 p.m. By the way, Mattiniero is Italian for "the early bird." And if you want to catch sweet treats such as the overstuffed s'mores and Vallozzi's very own potato-dough cinnamon rolls, you better rise and shine with the mattiniero.

A big-time Pirates fan, Julian invites fellow Buccos faithful to stop in for a post-game bite and a beverage or two after Opening Day next week. Now that there's free T travel between the ball park and the Gateway stop, Vallozzi's is only a 3-block walk from the Stadium. And if you're keeping score, that's a win-win all the way around.


Take The "T" Train

People get ready there's a train a comin' to the new Gateway T Station on March 25. And you don't need a ticket to climb aboard for a free ride from Downtown to destinations on the nearby North Shore. Yes, it's true, this upcoming Sunday morning the Port Authority's long awaited T-Plus extension of the subway will forever link Downtown with the city's North Side with a two-minute tunnel trip under the Allegheny River.

Stretching 1.2 miles from its glass cocoon at Gateway Station in front of Fifth Avenue Place, the new line goes underground and underwater to reach the North Side Station just across the street from the Honus Wagner statue in front of PNC Park.  It then emerges from the earth to rise above street level towards its final stop at the elevated Allegheny Station next to Heinz Field. Along with two of the city's favorite sports palaces, the new line pulls attractions such as the Carnegie Science Center, Rivers Casino, National Aviary, Children's Museum, Stage AE, hotels, restaurants and other must-see tourist destinations on the North Shore closer than ever to Downtown.

Now, besides the fun side of the T-Plus, the North Shore extension will help ease the daily parking crunch commuters face in Downtown garages, which often turn on their "full" signs by 8:30 a.m. Thanks to support from the Stadium Authority and ALCO Parking, all rides between the North Side Station and all Downtown T stations will be free. Convenience is the word! The stop is located under the West General Robinson Street garage and trains running every four minutes during morning/evening rush hours. Considering that drivers won't have to circle around town looking for a open garage or lot, we expect drive time to be shorter than ever.

Travel is also free when you head the other way. From any Downtown stop you can head to Allegheny Station for some gridiron action, an educational field trip or a date with "lady luck," and the trip is on the house courtesy of the Steelers and Rivers Casino. Though it might be the last stop on the T-Plus, Allegheny Station is just the beginning of all sorts of fun for nearly everyone.

Now, here's another big plus about the  new subway line.  While the T-Plus is a big benefit for daily commuters, the extension pays some pretty nice dividends for the after-work crowd. For instance, since the ride doesn't cost a dime, the new line is the perfect way to save significant cash on "special rate" parking for sporting events and concerts on the North Shore. Many Downtown garages offer flat rates as low as $5 after 5 p.m. Park, then jump on the T for a free ride to the other side of the river. With four Downtown stations to choose from, our very walkable Downtown just got a whole lot easier. What we really mean to say is it just got a lot easier to spend a little extra time and money in Market Square!  It's just one block from the new Gateway Station. Market Square: the new best place for your pre-game snack, or your post-show drink.  Even better, afterwards you'll beat traffic congestion around the ball fields and concert venues. That's a win even if the home team doesn't score a victory.

There's a new day coming in Pittsburgh transportation. And the train leaves the station this Sunday morning. All aboard!


Sham-Rocking the Square

Ah, it certainly will be a great day for the Irish — and just about everyone else — this Saturday during St. Patrick's Day. Of course, all the fun starts with the city's St. Paddy's parade, second only to New York City's. Along the parade route, which starts at the Greyhound station on 11th Street and ends at the Boulevard of the Allies and Stanwix, more 150,000 revelers will line the streets to watch nearly 200 marching bands, floats, Irish-heritage groups and mounted police. Overall, more than 23,000 people march in this greenest of green parades.

No matter the weather, the world will seem bright and gay when Miss Smiling Irish Eyes Queen Mary Kate Gallagher steals your heart away with her Gaelic gaze. Another extra special guest for this year's parade is Vice President Joe Biden, who will review marchers as they pass by the Grand Stand. And if that isn't enough to make the rest of the U.S. green with envy, we're inviting everyone to join us in Market Square for an all-day celebration of the Emerald Isle's favorite snake charmer.

The festivities start with a family-friendly Irish Fair in the Square from
10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

This alcohol-free event's activities include music from the Celtic Shores, Montour High's Drum Line, the River City Brass Band and the McDonald Pipe Band. Now, if that doesn't make you get up and do a merry little jig, a band of buskers will be performing magic tricks to delight and mystify the wee ones and paint shamrocks and four-leaf clovers on the faces of all the little leprechauns in the crowd.

Once the kids stuff is done for the day, the adults in the crowd can party on with a glass of green beer as the Market Square Merchant's Association hosts the St. Patrick's Day Street Party. Of course, there will plenty of entertainment by the likes of the Bearded Irishmen, Wizard Bomb and Pittsburgh's very own Stickers, who will sham-rock the Square from 2-6 p.m. And as the sun goes down on everyone's inner Galway Bay, you can navigate the sea of green partiers to check out the indoor entertainment around the Square, from NOLA to the Fairmont Hotel and even Little E's on Liberty.

Now, we don't have to tell you that the Square is always a great place for a bite to eat or beverage or two. But when it comes to St. Patrick's Day, nearly all the eateries go that extra step or two to up their Irish a notch with special drinks and eats that will leave you thinking you're in old Killarney! Of course, from 2-6 p.m. every Irishman and woman 21 years or older will be able to responsibly consume an alcoholic brew outdoors in the Square itself on this day when every Pittsburgher has a more than bit of Irish in them.

Okay, keep in mind that tons of people will stream into Downtown for St. Patrick's Day. We highly recommend taking public transit for a safe and convenient celebration.  But if you're looking for a place to park your vehicle, most city garages offer all-day parking for $5. But remember that the third round of NCAA March Madness also will be taking place at Consol Energy Center, so you might want to get a space early in the day. And if you want to give your feet a break, just hail a green pedi-cab to safely shuttle you hither and yon around Downtown. The pipes are calling you, for sure, to celebrate a safe St. Paddy's Day in the Square.


This Cookie Won't Crumble

You didn't have to be a kid to enjoy Tuesday's party in Market Square for the 100th birthday of America's favorite cookie — the Oreo. But when the party started in the Square, this birthday bash brought out the kid in everyone. With multi-colored streamers, a dancing flash mob and plenty of free Oreos and milk for everyone, lunchtime in the Square was never sweeter.

The birthday buzz actually started humming on Monday evening, when a giant blue-and-white birthday present mysteriously appeared in the Square. By the time the Square filled with the curious and hungry during Tuesday's lunchtime, the surprise was out of the box as Mr. Oreo himself appeared for the festivities.

As one of the few cities around the world (one of only six American cities) selected by Nabisco, the Oreo's creator, to participate in this delicious centennial celebration, Pittsburgh showed that it could party with its global counterparts. Fueled by a midday sugar rush, partygoers boggied down with the flash mobbers who were decked out with "flaming" headpieces to resemble candles on a birthday cake.

In case you don't know your Oreo history, the first one popped out of Nabisco's ovens on March 6, 1912, in Manhattan and ended up being sold across the river in Hoboken, New Jersey. Since then, snackers around the world have bought more than 500 billion Oreos, with 95 million flying off store shelved every day. Now if you stacked all those Oreos on top of each other they would reach to cookie heaven and back — at least a couple times.

Now we don't know how you do it, but our preferred method of enjoying an Oreo is to remove one of those chocolate cake layers and oh so slowly lick away the filling. And, yes, you must wash it all down with a tall glass of white milk cold enough to almost make your teeth hurt. Even better when the milk comes from local award-winning, family-owned Turner Dairy Farms, as yesterday's milk was.  Turns out, there's no wrong way to enjoy an Oreo, as we found out from our fellow cookie fans in the Square. And though it's sold in more than 100 countries in the world to the tune of nearly $1.5. billion, the Oreo will always have a special place in the heart of Pittsburghers no matter how old they — or Oreos — might be.