Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Take a Look at Project Pop Up: Night Market III

By, Anastasia Farmerie--Marketing Intern at Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership

If you missed it because of the snow, here is a recap of last Friday's Night Market. Local artists, crafters and food purveyors showcased their skills in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Project Pop Up - Don't Miss It!

by Brian Kurtz, Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership

Who says that a 12 degree day in January isn’t the right time to have another Night Market in Downtown Pittsburgh? Surely not I! We are bringing the collection of new and returning vendors to Project Pop Up: Night Market III this Friday. Only we won’t be taking over a parking lot – rather extra space that Symbiotic Collusion (SyCo) offered us inside 131 7th Street (between Bosa Nova and Tambellini’s) during the Gallery Crawl on Friday January 25th.

Vendors will be selling jewelry, paintings, illustrations, clothing, hot chocolate, accessories, natural products, ceramics, pies, coffee, sculptures and baked goods (from Downtown’s award winning Bluebird Kitchen!) from 5:30 - 9:00. The Chamber Light Players string quartet (a group of SyCo) will keep everyone entertained. Don’t think elevator music but instead classic and modern hits from your everyday playlist. We at the PDP are excited to be cohabitating with SyCo and their Artist-in-Residence Derek Reese, who will be on hand to talk about his installations while selling a few pieces.

Our full vendor list is available on the Night Market III webpage.

In addition to Night Market III, we have partnered with the Pittsburgh Curling Club to present Project Pop Up: Outdoor Curling at the corner of 8th Street and Penn Avenue. Members of the club will be on hand to demonstrate the art of curling (sans ice) as you push the kettle on wheels towards the target. So no one gets too cold, we are bringing in standing heaters and a warming station with Yelp Pittsburgh who will be giving away hot chocolate and gloves to participants.
When it’s this cold I like to do nothing but eat until I get warm so the Cultural Trust has worked to bring in a few of Pittsburgh’s own Food Trucks! We’re bringing in tables and chairs so you can sit and eat your street food under the standing heaters. If it’s going to be cold and snowing, we might as well embrace our climate and have some fun with it!

While you’re moving from place to place along the crawl route, make sure you stop by the other Project Pop Up: Downtown participants including Boutique 208 at 208 6th Street, Fraley’s Robot Repairs at 210 6th Street, Dream Cream Ice Cream at 539 Liberty Avenue (They now have “Dream Steam” – hot chocolate with a scoop of your favorite ice cream!) and Awesome Books at 929 Liberty Avenue.

It’s going to be snowing and cold for sure, but we’re giving you plenty of opportunities to warm up with Project Pop Up. I hope you take the chance to stop by Night Market III – we’re #21 on the official Gallery Crawl map – and Outdoor Curling to see what we have to offer. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed! 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Q & A with Famous Pittsburghers

Name: Toby Atticus Fraley

Company/Organization/Job: Self employed artist

Quick blurb about your company/organization: I make a living as an artist through private commissions for homes and businesses , public art projects and arts festivals around the country. My main areas of focus right now are oil painting, mixed media sculpture and ceramic sculpture.

How long have you been doing what you do: Since 2001

How long have you lived in Pittsburgh: Southwestern PA has always been my home. I was born in Washington PA and lived there until 2009 when I moved to Dormont. This past September, I moved to Bridgeville where I bought a house with my fiance.

1. What is your favorite thing to do in Downtown Pittsburgh? Why?

Music has always been a pretty big part of my life and I try catching as many acts as I can passing through town. Some of my favorite musicians have played in downtown venues over the years. Wilco once played a free show at the Arts festival, the icelandic group Sigur Rós played an unforgettable show at the Byham as did David Byrne (formally of The Talking Heads) who I had the opportunity to meet afterwards. It's great living in a city with so many restored halls for musicians that either could not fill arenas or have musical styles that simply wouldn't fit those venues. 

2. What is your favorite Downtown restaurant? Why? What’s your favorite dish?

Breakfast options downtown are a little harder to come by when compared to lunch and dinner. Bluebird Kitchen has helped fill that void though. I'm a big fan of their stone ground grits topped with bacon, cheddar and a fried egg. The restaurant itself has a nice cleanly designed interior with a handful of places to sit but if the weather is nice I prefer eating out in Market Square, another little gem of downtown. I'm even pretty fond of their little bird logo. The whole place seems fairly well thought out.

3. What is your favorite piece of public art in Downtown? Why?

I really like the Brian Holderman mural, "Yesterday's Tomorrow" on the corner Liberty and Seventh. The retro futuristic theme and slightly vintage feeling color palate are right up my alley. The hopeful future it portrays is a future I would like living in. I also think it works really well with the proportions of that building, far taller than it is wide. I hope it's there for years to come.

4. What is your favorite public space in Downtown? Why?

While it's closed for refurbishments right now, I like walking down to the very tip of Point State Park. It reminds me of standing on the bow of a ship moving down the Ohio River. It's amazing to think of all that has happened on that triangular piece of land from forts to factories to the park it is today.

5. What is the most underappreciated or unexpected aspect of Downtown Pittsburgh? Why?

There are a couple parking garages downtown that have great, interesting views of the city from the top level. You can get more of a panoramic view of the cityscape up there that's not visible from the sidewalk. It's a really unique perspective with no people, traffic etc. cluttering up the scene, it's just a swath of towering buildings. We're often looking for those parking spots as close to ground level as possible but if the weather is nice I'll sometimes park on the top just to have a look around the city.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

By the Numbers
By, Kenneth Trueman

Six, maybe seven, minutes. In the time it takes many people to place and receive their order for a fancy coffee and a muffin, I have walked from my apartment in front of Point State Park to my office at the corner of 6th and Liberty. It could even be faster in this city of shortcuts, but I figure I should at least respect the crosswalk light at the corner of Forbes and Stanwix. That is still less time then it takes many people to get from their parking lot to their office.

I moved to Pittsburgh from Montreal at the beginning of November 2012. Though I looked online at apartments in a number of neighborhoods (North Shore, Southside, Oakland, etc.) and visited them once here, it was an apartment downtown—new and partially furnished—that caught and kept my attention. While I paid a bit more than I had budgeted, it didn’t take long for the “numbers” to work out. Numbers like the 6 minutes it takes me to get to the office. (Or 12 if you count the round trip.)

Numbers like the money I save on gas for commuting and on parking. Or the directions—360 degrees in all—I can head out in the early morning to go for a run. (In fact, I can run every day of the week and not take the same path out of downtown as I follow one of three rivers that give this town its character. It’s the same thing for when I go cycling in search of those wonderful hills that ring the city.) 

Because I live downtown, I can sleep 1 extra hour in the morning and get home at least 30 minutes earlier than I would otherwise. That 6-minute walk, cutting through the charm that is Market Square, is all I need to decompress from the day at the office. Even with a conservative estimate of the value of my time—the opportunity cost if you will—I still come out way ahead.

Recent resident of Pittsburgh, Kenneth Trueman, doing some work on his laptop.
I know exactly what I have “given up”. A 3-bedroom home on a 9000+ square foot lot in the 2nd ring of suburbs south of Montreal. An hour and 15 minute commute each way by bus and subway. At least 45 minutes one way by car during a fast rush hour. The quality of life I have gained in return, while not immeasurable, is vastly better than what I have given up.

“Well, you must miss something?”, you say. I will add my hat to the ring of those clamoring for a grocery store downtown. In the meantime, I trudge across the Roberto Clemente bridge to the nearest Giant Eagle. As an avid cyclist, I would love to see a bike store downtown as well, or somewhere that could provide inner tubes and other bike supplies. A movie theatre showing mainstream (read Hollywood) first run movies would be nice, and my immediate neighbors in Point Park University and those up the hill at Duquesne University would likely concur. And I would love to find the perfect cannoli in the Golden Triangle.

For those things that you just can’t find downtown, there is the bus and the T, though I have not yet tried the latter. There is also a Zip-car (a Mazda named “Mignon” I believe) that I can rent by the hour (with gas and insurance included) that is parked beside my building; in fact, I can look out one of the 6 windows in my corner apartment to see if it is available should I need to dart out to the suburbs and back (for a trip to the bike doctor!). Finally, in a throwback to the Sears Roebuck catalog in the days of the first half of the 20th century, there is online shopping and shipping for those items that simply can’t be found downtown. That’s how I got my vacuum cleaner and my hand blender. (The concierge in my building is happy to sign for packages while I am away at work or play.) Basically, everything I need is at hand or handy in as little as 2 days.

My contribution to this blog will be from the perspective of someone who is new to Pittsburgh but who is a firm believer in the value of cities, particularly their downtown cores, from a historical, architectural and social perspective. I will provide a ground level view if you will, as someone who “lives and breathes downtown” seven days a week, through all seasons. There is so much history and there are so many stories to tell about this city and I hope I can add some value in telling them. (Sometimes it takes someone from the outside seeing it with fresh eyes to realize that what you have is special.) If you have any recommendations for a newly adopted “Yinzer”, or have suggestions for other “numbers” that I could consider, please do not hesitate to reach out via the Comments section below.

About the author: Kenneth Trueman moved to Pittsburgh for work in November 2012. As a new resident of downtown Pittsburgh and one of the rotating bloggers for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, he is very much looking forward to experiencing what Downtown has to offer!

Monday, January 14, 2013

You Can Now Get Your Thai and Chocolate Right in Downtown

The corner of Penn Avenue and 9th Street just got a lot more exciting with the addition of two new businesses in the beautifully renovated building located at 901 & 903 Penn Avenue!  So the PDP staff decided to take a bit of an outing and check out this happening corner!
These new businesses were of particular interest to the PDP because the building itself is going through the PDP’s Façade Improvement Program.
901-902 Penn Avenue - Home to Sinful Sweets and Nicky's Thai Kitchen

First we met up at Nicky’s Thai Kitchen.  Although they have yet to have an official Grand Opening, it is clear that Downtown Pittsburgh was ready for some excellent Thai Food to add to their dining options, as the restaurant was busy the entire time we were there.  First of all, the atmosphere truly transports you to Thailand, with lush artwork complimented rich, dark, colors on the walls, it is easy to forget you are Downtown.  The menu includes all of your usual Thai favorites along with some extra special Nicky’s dishes.  If you are familiar with any of their other locations, you will not be disappointed.

Nicky's Thai Kitchen
Since there were four of us, we were able to sample a nice variety of the menu including: fresh spring rolls and traditional egg rolls and chicken satay with a delicious peanut dipping sauce for appetizers.

Chicken Satay
Yellow Vegetable Curry

Next up - entrees: Brian tried the Yellow Vegetable Curry and had this to say – “I ordered medium and it was quite spicy and I liked the heat. As I did finish everything, can’t say it wasn’t good!”

Garpow Chicken Lad Kao
We also invited along our friendly photographer John Altdorfer, he tried the Garprow Chicken Lad Kao and stated “Everything about the dish spot on delicious. The generous portion of ground chicken with    fried garlic, bell pepper, bamboo shoots and jasmine rice blend well with each flavor standing out on its own. But the fried egg on top was a real treat. And the presentation is just gorgeous.”

Chicken Massaman Curry was up for Leigh who “really enjoyed the sweetness of the coconut and peanuts paired with the traditional Thai  spiciness.”  She was happy to have some leftovers!

Lastly Geof had this to say about his dish:  “I have eaten at a lot of Thai restaurants, including pretty much every restaurant in Pittsburgh that makes it.  I may go to one restaurant for my favorite red curry, choose a different restaurant for Pad Thai, and pick yet another place for Cashew Tofu.  After this meal, Nicky’s Thai is now my go-to place for Cashew Tofu- They got it right.  This version had a great balance of tofu to vegetables, and the sauce was the ultra-intense dark and spicy/sweet/salty style that makes me happy.  Plus, there was one lone Crab Rangoon perched on top of my rice- a very welcome stowaway.”
All-in-all, we can’t wait to go back.
New Sinful Sweets Customer
The only way to follow-up such a great meal, is a great dessert, so we popped next door to Sinful Sweets by Christopher George.  This chocolate shop specializes in handmade, gourmet chocolates.  There are some imaginative offerings, including chocolate covered bacon, and chocolate bars generously covered in coffee beans, as well as more traditional items including delicious chocolate covered toffee and chocolate covered strawberries. Although it was a cold day, we spied several people trying out decadent milk shakes.  We definitely put those on our “must try” list!

Delicious Peanut Butter Truffles
What a great lunch break!  Come on down to the Cultural District and check out these new businesses for yourself – you won’t be disappointed.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

New Year's Eve - 'Burgh Style
by Nick Kratsas

I just read that Pittsburgh has been chosen as one of the top cities in the US to travel to in 2013, and that got me thinking about how little time I spend in my own city. So, my resolution for 2013 is to start enjoying our city more, and I kicked this off right by spending New Year's Eve Downtown for my first First Night.


My wife and I met up with another couple and started our evening with dinner at Lidia’s Pittsburgh. This upscale Italian restaurant features homemade pastas and hearty Italian fare that is inspired by Lidia Bastianich, the famous TV chef of “Lidia’s Italy.” The restaurant has an open warehouse feel that matches well with the Strip District, and features a modern style decor with high, open spaces, a roaring fireplace, and white tablecloths. The wait staff are very accommodating and knowledgeable of their menu.

We started with appetizers of seared chicken livers served with corn polenta, and the Fritto Misto, which was the crispy fried calamari and shrimp, and tempura fried zucchini, carrots, onions, and other seasonal vegetables that came with a tasty tomato sauce for dipping. There was also a bread basket with fried bread sticks, thick slices of Italian bread, and focaccia style bread that was lightly oiled with Italian seasoning. These came with two spreads, one of which was made with olives that I practically licked off the plate.  Next came the beet salad, which had roasted beets, apple slivers, and goat cheese with a light oil dressing that was light and fresh. 

For my main course, my friends recommended the famous pasta trio. The waiter brings you an empty plate, and then suddenly three other servers appear with heaping pans of three different pastas that are chosen that day. I felt like I was in a Disney movie, because the servers come in quickly, one at a time, and toss pastas on your plate, and then another server magically swoops in with a cheese grater for fresh Parmesan - at least it felt magical, although that could have been from my second espresso martini, which was made with espresso and vodka, and even had coffee beans for a garnish! My three pastas included goat cheese and mushroom ravioli, a shell like pasta with Italian sausage, and a noodle pasta with a tasty red sauce.

The idea is you get an unlimited amount of the pasta you like best, but it was so hard for me to choose, that when the servers returned for seconds I just got all three. With that said, my favorite of the three was the ravioli, which had a delicate and thin pasta shell with creamy goat cheese and a light white sauce on top. I also was able to sample my wife’s chicken caccitore, which featured very moist chicken and a robustly seasoned red sauce. We also tried some of our friend’s quail which was surprisingly moist, and the manicotti, which was two giant tubes overflowing with ricotta filling that was thick and creamy.

Highmark First Night

After a delicious meal that featured quick service and did not leave too much of a dent on my wallet, we layered on our coats and slapped on our Highmark First Night buttons that allowed us to partake in the city festivities. This family-friendly event produced by The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, takes place on Penn Avenue and adjoining streets, which are shut down and filled with stages and entertainment including art shows, comedy acts, theater presentations, and much more, taking place either on the streets or in many of the Cultural District’s venues.
Fire Dancer at First Night
On many Downtown buildings, there were projected images of art or spinning 2012’s, which added to the fun and artsy displays and tents along the streets, and Equitable Gas had steel drums with roaring wood-burning fires placed on most corners, so we had a chance to warm up in the 20-something degree cold night. I particularly enjoyed the Fire and Ice
Plaza, which was a big stage on 8th Avenue where ice artists and performers put on shows that included ice carving, acrobatics, fire eating, and much more. Street vendors sold fun light-up glasses, neon mohawks, funny hats and boas, and lots more to get you in the mood. There were also food trucks from Dozen bakery, BRGR, a truck with all kinds of pierogies, and another truck that sold fried apple pie rings, among other trucks. The fried apple pie rings looked like a combination of apple pie filling and funnel cake, and while I was tempted to try one, I had to restrain myself for our next reservations of the evening- 10:00 p.m. dessert at Meat & Potatoes. 

Panna Cotta with Cranberries
Absinthe & Sloe Gin Fizz
Meat and Potatoes
Meat & Potatoes, in the heart of the Cultural District, is one of the hottest restaurants in town, with very trendy food like their bone marrow, where they serve you a big cow bone cut open with bread to scoop the marrow out like a dip. It sounds phenomenal, so that gives me an excuse to come back for dinner in the future.

For this night, we went with drinks and dessert. I tried Absinthe for the first time, which was chartreuse liquid that reminded me of black licorice- it was almost like a tangy ouzo or Sambuca. My friends had Irish coffee and a sloe gin fizz which were also very good. My dessert was panna cotta, which reminded me of a thick and sweet yogurt, and had reduced cranberries on top, and it was served in a small mason jar. My wife had cheesecake that was baked in a short mason jar and was one of the best cheesecakes I've ever had, and one of my friends had a gingerbread cake with a thick caramel sauce. Since the desserts change all the time, I’ll have another reason to come back to Meat & Potatoes. 

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Back to Highmark First Night

With an hour to go until midnight, we sauntered off into the streets of Pittsburgh for more Highmark First Night fun. After peaking into a few of the theaters, dodging pedicabs that were decorated with colorful papier-mâché art that resembled psychedelic dinosaurs, and of course fun people watching with revelers that included young kids, twenty somethings decked out for the evening, families of all sizes, and the occasional partied out adult, we slowly made our way to the main stage by the Highmark building to watch the Dirty Dozen Brass Band lead up until midnight. The band is from New Orleans, and played brass band jazz music that was fun to dance and sing to.

The countdown began to midnight as 'Burghers and out-of-towners merged into one cheering mass to watch the “Future of Pittsburgh,” a giant led-covered ball, rise up its pole atop the old Hornes Department Store building. It was a beautiful sight when at midnight, the crowd shouted Happy New Year as the ball reached the top of its pole, fireworks shot off the top of Downtown buildings, and hundreds of people embraced for a New Year's kiss. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band played on for a half hour more as the fireworks rained down from on high for nearly twenty minutes straight as the projected 2012’s turned to 2013’s. Next year, I’ll be coming back Downtown again for New Year's Eve, and I hope to see you there as well. There’s nothing more fun than hanging out in our beautiful city and seeing it vibrant and filled with people having a good time. 2013 is going to be a great year, and I am  looking forward to finding out why so many people are talking about our little 'Burgh.

About the author: Nick Kratsas is a life-long Pittsburgher who currently lives in the South Hills. As one of the rotating bloggers for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, he is very much looking forward to experiencing what Downtown has to offer!

Welcome to the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership's new blog!  Here, we hope to share with you a variety of interesting experiences, from diverse points of view about life in Downtown Pittsburgh.  You will see new posts at least once a week.  Sometimes they will be someone's review of a theater or music experience, other times it may be an interview with a famous Downtown 'Burgher and yet other times, we may see a piece about an important issues affecting all Downtown stakeholders.  We hope you will follow along and enjoy this new experience!