Family Affair in the Square

Now, we know that most people think of Market Square as a grown-up type of place, but starting this Tuesday morning, youngsters rule in the Square when KidsPlay! launches a summer load of fun activities geared towards children and families. Whether it's story time or craft making — or even catching a sneak peek inside the Pittsburgh Police bomb squad truck — tots, tykes and even tweens will find something to like during KidsPlay!, which runs from June 5- August 21 from 10-11:30 a.m. And did we mention free snacks like ice cream and chips? 

So you know -- moms & dads, granddads & grandmas, and even aunts & uncles are invited to join the kids in their family down to the Square next Tuesday to take part in a ton of activities. Best of all, a special guest from Downtown's very own Toonseum will be on hand to entertain. That's right, master cartoonist and storyteller — not to mention Toonseum's executive director —Joe Wos will delight kids and adults with his quick wit and even quicker drawing hand as he creates cartoon drawings on the spot for a few lucky youngsters to take home with them. 

During June, kids also will get a chance to meet real-life heroes such as city firefighters and police officers, learn how trees make the world a healthier place and get an inside look at why everyone needs to learn about the arts. Later in the summer, KidsPlay will bring back one of the Square's all-time favorite visitors —"That Guy With the Birds." With his band of fine feathered friends — all parrots rescued from not so great situations — John Lege's pampered pets dunk a basketball, play ring toss and perform other tricks that will amuse all. When John and his birds are around the Square, it's always time to fly! 

While the kids are having a good time, the grownups might take a short stroll to the Carnegie Library Reading Room, which also rolls into the Square every Tuesday morning from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. through October 9. Adults and kids will find plenty of good reads on the Carnegie's roving library carts that are filled with everything from best sellers to do it yourself manuals of all types. Plus, you can't beat the prices either, with hard covers selling for $2 and paperbacks going for just a buck! Best of all, every book  you buy supports the library's Downtown branch. 

So make it a family affair in the Square every Tuesday morning with KidsPlay and the Carnegie Library Reading Room. 


Bluebird on the Wing

Let's just say that a little birdie chirped the news to us about the Bluebird Kitchen. Now we'll tell you that the Bluebird Kitchen is on 221 Forbes Avenue. But the easiest way to find the Bluebird Kitchen is to look up for its sign — a welcoming circular fixture with a tiny bluebird on a nest of woven twigs in the center.

Open for just two weeks, the Bluebird Kitchen is the creation of Mt. Lebanon native Liz Moore. After 11 years of living in New York City — where she worked for a "monster" of an IT company— Liz returned to Pittsburgh to live out her dream of owning a small cafe and bakery. After looking at spaces in other parts of the city, Liz landed the Bluebird Kitchen near the Square — a decision based on Market Square's renovation and new office and hotel building construction nearby.

Thanks to windows that stretch nearly from floor to ceiling, natural light brightens the butcher block counters that offer a perfect perch to view the workday world rushing by. And when you open the door at the Bluebird Kitchen, chances are that Liz will greet you with a smile and take your order at the register. Once you say hello, it's time to check out the menu on the four giant chalkboards behind the counter, which lists breakfast items from fried egg sandwiches topped with cheddar and Gruyere cheese, with a side of house-made sausage, to organic steel cut oats. Of course, you can window shop the baked goods and decide on a muffin or doughnuts fried on the premises.

Liz promises a core lunch menu of tasty treats such as the "croque monsieur" sandwich, a French twist on the classic ham and cheese, plus an ever-changing selection of daily specials. While she handles the "front of the house," a creative young staff is busy in the kitchen. Whether it's a nutter butter cookie or the ciabatta bread on your roast beef sandwich, the Bluebird staff prepares everything in house from scratch. Even the meats served are cured and cooked in house. Running the show in the kitchen, executive chef Steven Thompson — who honed his skills at Downtown's Nine on Nine and Oakland's Lucca — stays busy whipping up new culinary surprises that are sure to delight. Open Mondays-Friday from 7 a.m.-3 p.m., the Bluebird Kitchen (412-465-0330) is one winged thing that will always be welcome in the Square.

From bluebirds to "hogs," the Square will be roaring with Harleys and other motorcycles roll into the Square Thursday evening for the first "Iron City Bike Night."  If you were born to be wild, you can get your motor running every Thursday starting at 6 p.m. through August 30 as the Market Square Merchants Association welcomes easy riders of all stripes to enjoy free music by local bands— along with food and beverage specials — all summer long.


Great Eats, Great Reads and Great Tunes

Summer's still more than a month away according to the calendar. But the activity meter is heating up as four of the most popular attractions return to the new town square of Downtown this week. What's in store for Market Square during the warm weather months is a lineup of farm fresh foods, good books at bargain prices and free music throughout the work week. In other words, the Farmers Market rolls into town this Thursday, the Carnegie Library Reading Room opens a new chapter starting Tuesday and the Mellow Monday and Thursday Noontime concerts strike just the right chord.

By now, everyone knows that the Farmers Market plants its roots deep in the Square every Thursday during the spring, summer and fall. Now in its eighth season, the Farmers Market is a perennial favorite with Downtown residents, workers, shoppers and just about anyone else who happens to stroll through the Square on Thursdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Along with a bumper crop of returning favorites, the Farmers Market will expand from nearly a dozen vendors to 25 sellers of fruits, vegetables, organic meats, pastries, prepared foods, vegetarian pet treats, fresh-cut flowers, beeswax candles, Angora goat yarn and so much more that you'll want to visit every week just so you don't miss anything.

While you're picking a peck of perfect peppers or savoring a flaky Greek pastry, you can tap your toes to the sweet sounds of some of the City's best musicians during a free lunchtime concert that fills the Square each Thursday from Noon-2 p.m. with the blues, soul, bluegrass, rock and more from local talents such as Joy Ike, The Whiskey Holler and this week's first act, Maddie Georgi, an amazing balladeer who has belted out the National Anthem at Pirates and Steelers games. From tunes with a heavy back-beat to songs with an upbeat tempo, the Thursday Noontime Concerts will keep your toes tapping all summer long.

If you're looking for a real page turner, the Carnegie Library Reading Room continues a novel approach to reaching out to Market Square visitors who have an appetite for a good book during lunchtime. Back for a third season, the Reading Room welcomes readers of all ages to browse its ever-changing collection of fiction and non-fiction best-selling titles as well as books on topics ranging from gourmet cooking to automotive repairs. And you don't need a library card for this mobile branch of the Carnegie Library since all the books are for sale at the bargain prices of $2 per hardback and a buck for each paperback. While you'll be expanding your home library and base of knowledge, the proceeds will benefit the Downtown Carnegie location on Smithfield Street.

On the second Tuesday of each month, a staff librarian will be on hand to lead book discussions and help buyers select titles. For those caught up in the worldwide web, every third Tuesday will feature an update on what's new in technology at the Library. And throughout the season, which runs from this Tuesday through October 9, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., popular programs such as "30 Books in 30 Minutes," salon sessions and cookbook celebrations — complete with a cooking demonstration from a local chef — will be featured. But we have to warn you, the early bookworms at the Reading Room really get the best reads.
Okay, now let's get this party started right with the Mellow Monday concerts. Sponsored by the Market Square Merchants Association, this soothing acoustic music series helps take a bit of the manic out your Monday, starting today, with some smooth sounds from the likes of Brad Yoder, Maddie Arnold and this week's headliner, Nina Sainato. We like to think of the series, which runs every Monday from Noon-1 p.m. through October 29, as the perfect side dish to the fabulous lunchtime meals served by the great restaurants in and around the Square.

So forget about the calendar...summer in the Square is here. Come on out and join the fun.


Everyone Loves A Wiener!

We like to think of Market Square as the City's very own United Nations of food. After all, you can dine on cuisine from Europe, Asia, Latin America and just about every corner of the earth. But up until a couple weeks ago, one dish you couldn't find in the Square was an All-American hot dog. Which is why we're here to tell you about an old friend who's returned to the Golden Triangle with the U.S.A.'s favorite sausage. That's right, we're talking about Yovi's Chicago style wieners.

After a six-year absence, Lee Yovanof is back in business Downtown, serving up the Windy City version of the frankfurter in the space below La Cucina Flegrea and next to Sienna on Graeme Street, also known as one of the shortest roadways in all of the City. Since opening his doors a few weeks ago, Lee says every day seems like a reunion. "So many of my old customers have rediscovered me," Lee says. "I was on Liberty Avenue for 19 years and built so many relationships with my customers," says Lee. "Now each day, another person comes back in and tells someone else that I'm back. It's such a good feeling."

The trip down memory lane started when Lee got the urge to sell his Chicago red hots again after helping his wife run a South Hills restaurant. "I really had the itch to get back," he admits. "I was looking for a new location in Downtown and saw an ad in the newspaper for this spot. It was perfect because it was already equipped for a restaurant and set to go. Though the address is different, much of the new Yovi's will be familiar to returning fans. The walls are still decorated with old-time photos of Chicago sports heroes, and a near life-size cutout of Michael Jordan basically greets customers at the door. But what really has regulars and newcomers alike making the trip to the new Yovi's is the dog. 

What makes the Chicago dog different from a New York frank or even a Pittsburgh version? "The Chicago hot dog is a nice looking dog," replies Lee, a native of Macedonia. "You start off with an all-beef wiener on a poppy seed bun and top it all off with yellow mustard, sweet green relish, diced onions, tomato wedges, a crisp pickle spear and tiny squares of sport peppers. It's beautiful." Along with one of the most artistic dogs in town, Yovi's serves fresh-cut french fries, thin-slice Italian beef sandwiches, hot and Polish sausages and more.

Adding a distinct new flavor to the Square, Lee says he's happy to add to the smorgasbord of dining options. "I think that the more variety the better. There's so much new life in Market Square these days. This is really a great place to be." And Yovi's — open Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.  — is a great place enjoy on old favorite with a different twist.


Ready to Run

On your marks. Get set. And off we go running to Market Square during the City's biggest foot race of the year — the 2012 Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon. Scheduled to start at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, May 6, the Marathon will put as many as 50,000 feet on the streets as the 26.2-mile course winds its way through Downtown and other Pittsburgh neighborhoods. The new course for this year begins on Liberty Avenue between Sixth and  Seventh Streets and ends at Stanwix and Commonwealth Place before all finishers head to Point State Park for prizes, festivities, refreshments and a well-earned rest.

With so many top athletes and weekend warriors on the run, plenty of streets in just about every part of the City will be closed for parts or all of the race. Which means you better know your way around the roadblocks and detours. Normally, we encourage everyone to enjoy the low, all-day weekend parking rates at Downtown garages, but on race day, access will be limited. Fortunately, the good folks at Dick's put together a handy parking map and road closure schedule that will make it easier for you to navigate before, during and after the race. One way to beat the traffic snarls is to park at the West General Robinson Street garage on the North Shore, near PNC Park, and jump on the T to Downtown for a free ride. And if you're heading heading into town from the South Hills, the First Avenue garage also is a great place to leave your vehicle and ride the T for free.
Courtesy of Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon
Now, if you're in the running this year, we'll be cheering you on from the sidelines...and racing to the Square to wait for the leaders of the pack to return a couple hours later. Early birds will get the jump on the tasty pastries and a fresh brewed cup of joe at Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks. Weather permitting, you might want to grab a table and sit down to mull over you favorite Sunday newspaper and just drink in the scenery of the City's ever-changing skyline.

Keep in mind that the first line of finishers will be going down the home stretch of the race just past 9:30 a.m., which means you better make tracks to see who takes home the top prize. Whether your favorite runner crosses the finish line first or further back in the pack, chances are he or she is going to need to refuel. Did you know that during a marathon a runner can burn anywhere from about 2,200 to almost 3,600 calories. So after a breather and re hydration, we suggest a victory lap around Market Square and a stop to replenish those depleted calories. Whether it's a monster sandwich from Primanti's, a bowl of carbohydrate-crammed pasta at Noodles & Company, a protein-packed gourmet burgher at the Diamond Market Bar & Grill, a healthy veggie burrito at Chipotle or a totally tasty taco at Moe's Southwest Grill, there's plenty to choose from in the Square.
Even if you weren't born to run, lace up those track shoes. We're going to give you a head start to the one place where everyone is a winner — Market Square!