Trib Live: by Michael Machosky
Ligonier has a lot going for it, for a small town (population: 1,573).
There are plenty of small- to midsize cities that don't have as many interesting attractions, or good places to eat, as Ligonier.
First, there's Idlewild, the world's greatest amusement park for kids. (No, seriously, it wins that ranking almost every year, the Golden Ticket Award from Amusement Today.) Seven Springs is right down the road, for skiing. Fort Ligonier (open for the season April 1) played an important part in the pre-Revolutionary history of Pennsylvania and America.
Still, that doesn't explain why the small Westmoreland County borough tastes so good.
One ingredient, money, is there and has been for a long time. But Ligonier doesn't really give off an exclusive vibe. Money can crush a small town as easily as preserve it — walkable main streets and picturesque town squares can be knocked down and paved over in search of bigger lots and easier parking. Ligonier has avoided that fate to a remarkable degree.
There's a strong retail presence as well, mostly antiques and boutiques. The big bandstand in the middle of the town square, “the Diamond,” is so picturesque, it seems like a movie set (and, in fact, was featured in last year's “Love the Coopers”).
Ligonier isn't a place stuck in time, though. A great toy store and a nice little French brasserie that were here last summer are gone. And a restaurant called Table 105 (at 105 E. Main St.), looks to be opening soon.
Ligonier's “skyscraper” and most visible building — you really can't miss the Easter-egg-yellow Victorian with the big balcony and towering, conical corner. Inside is a pretty nice tavern, with an enormous selection of bar food and unpretentious, hearty fare: a Dagwood, a Reuben, a hot meatloaf sandwich. The balcony, of course, is the place to be if it's warm and dry outside. You can get Lord Ligonier's Burger ($12.99) — piled high with steak, BBQ pork, and bacon — and then get ready to survey your tiny kingdom below. You won't be going anywhere for a while. Details: 724-238-4831 or ligoniertavern.com
104 W. MAIN ST.
Every town or suburb or city neighborhood needs a nice little coffee shop where people can congregate, consume liquid energy and just sit awhile. Abigail's isn't terribly distinctive in any respect, but it isn't Starbucks, either. It's got coffee, espresso, tea, some freshly baked cookies and sandwiches, an old comfy couch, an old wooden table — not much more is needed, really. They also make a nice cup of hot chocolate, should you drop by in the winter (or anytime, really). Details: 724-238-9373
CUPCAKE CRAZY BAKERY & MORE
122 N. MARKET ST.
The upscale cupcake trend of a decade ago never died out, but it did retrench. Now, it's usually just one thing you'll find at a high-end bakery. This place, however, sticks to its guns (er, cupcakes), albeit in multitudes of buttercream-topped flavors: salted caramel, maple walnut, caramel praline, creamsicle, root beer, etc. The business also does full-size custom cakes. Details: 724-441-4162 or cupcakecrazybakery.com
122 N. MARKET ST.
Above the cupcake bakery is Carol & Dave's Roadhouse, a pleasant family restaurant and tavern with a surprisingly large menu. There's standard delights of burgers and wings and fried zucchini, of course, but also surprises like Thai Chicken Peanut Wrap ($8) and a Baby Kale & Bean Sprout Salad ($9) to lighten things up a bit. Details: 724-238-2296 or carolanddavesroadhouse.com
LIGONIER SWEET SHOP
119 W. MAIN ST.
This town has a sweet tooth. Everything from Jamaican rum-filled chocolate truffles to Jelly Belly jellybeans can be found here, along with postcards and other locally themed gifts. Local favorite Betsy Ann Chocolates gives this spot its distinctive scent. Details: 724-238-6060 or ligoniersweetshop.com
LIGONIER LANES/WICKED GOOGLY
209 W. MAIN ST.
It's a bar and restaurant in a bowling alley, in case you were wondering. Hey, you want a bar with a regular old name, you can go across the street to Joe's Bar. Here, there is pizza, wings, sandwiches. Fried pickle spears are good “bowling food,” but I don't know why. Details: 724-238-2123 or thewickedgoogly.com
136 E. MAIN ST.
This is a tiny spot — just 12 tables and some outdoor and counter seats. The menu, however, has a big-city feel. For breakfast, there's Kitchen Tacos ($12), full of chorizo, scrambled eggs, cilantro, pepperjack, salsa and sour cream. For lunch, there's Maine lobster and jumbo lump crab sliders ($16), with mango salsa, Asian slaw and grilled jalapeno mayo on toasted brioche. For dinner, items include porcini braised beef short ribs ($28), with horseradish and mascarpone polenta, roasted vegetables and a “merlot natural jus.” Details: 724-238-4199 or thekitchenonmain.com
MYRIAM'S TABLE CAFE 221 W. MAIN ST.
Ligonier isn't a place that flaunts its wealth. It still has dive bars and bowling alleys right on the main drag. This place, though, would look ritzy anywhere, at least from the outside. It's in a giant stone mansion, the Thistledown building, which has other tenants. This stately elegance from yesteryear is juxtaposed with an up-to-date menu with farm-to-table ingredients and wide-ranging influences. There are crepes and galettes ($8.50) with various fillings, such as lemon mascarpone and fresh blueberries, and La Prima coffee. The rest of the menu stays in flux, though there usually are sandwiches, salads, pates and flat breads. Details: 724-238-4584 or myriamstable.net
JOE'S BAR 202 W. MAIN ST.
It may have the more pedestrian name, but Joe's Bar is ... something else. The beer is cheap, and there are a few craft brews if that's your thing. But you really come here for the “local color” — and instead of a guy drunkenly rambling at the end of the bar, there's a giant taxidermy exhibit that looks like it escaped the third floor of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Details: 724-238-4877
105 E. MAIN ST.
In a perfect world, every small town, suburb and city neighborhood would have its own ice cream parlor. It wouldn't need to look out on the town square (or Diamond), and make its own hand-dipped ice cream from scratch. But it wouldn't hurt. A waffle cone is never the wrong choice, but if you can sit for a sundae, the Pecan Snapper (vanilla chocolate twist, fudge, pecans, strawberries, whipped cream, a cherry on top) is pretty great. Details: 724-238-4600 or ligoniercreamery.com
109 S. MARKET ST.
A little bit of this, a little bit of that. A little salad, a little breakfast (waffles and fruit), a little lunch and a little tea. The food sways toward the creative, healthy side — with offerings such as Greek orzo salad with olives and feta cheese, tuna and red bean salad with blue cheese. It also has a location in Greensburg. Details: 724-238-9611
SCAMPS TOFFEE AND SWEETS 219 E. MAIN ST.
Ligonier, if nothing else, seems fond of the concept “truth in advertising.” For instance, there's a toy store called Toy Soldier Gallery that sells, you guessed it, toy soldiers of every type imaginable. Scamps sells handmade toffee, dipped in dark or white chocolate, elegantly packaged in several sizes. It's so specific that the “and Sweets” part seems unnecessary. Details: 723-995-8116 or scampstoffee.com
Michael Machosky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7901.
What to do in Ligonier, other than eat
Browsing: Around the Ligonier Diamond and on surrounding streets, you will find an array of art galleries and boutiques offering clothing, jewelry, home decor, pet supplies and gift items including fair-trade, Celtic and Native American merchandise. Shops open year-round. visitligonier.com
Antiochian Village Conference Center Museum, 140 Church Camp Trail, Fairfield: Open year-round. Permanent exhibits include Eastern Orthodox iconography from Russia, Greece and Syria; hand-embroidered clothing from Syria and Israel; and antique engravings and lithographs of the Near East. Admission is free. 724-238-3677 or antiochianvillage.org
Compass Inn Museum, 1382 Route 30, Laughlintown: Reopens May 1. The restored 1799 stagecoach stop features seven rooms including a common room, serving kitchen, ladies parlor and four bedrooms, all furnished with period pieces. Grounds contain a cookhouse, blacksmith shop and barn. Admission: $9, $6 for ages 7 to 18. 724-238-4983 or compassinn.com
Fort Ligonier, 200 N. Market St., Ligonier: Reopens April 1. Site contains a full-scale restoration and reconstruction of the 1758-66 fort, art and historical galleries, exhibits and archaeological collections. Admission: $10, $8 for senior citizens and ages 17 to 21, $6 for ages 6 to 16. 724-238-9701 or fortligonier.org
Idlewild and Soak Zone, 2574 Route 30, Ligonier Township: Open on weekends beginning May 21 and daily beginning June 3. Recognized from 2010 to 2015 as the Best Children's Park by Amusement Today, Idlewild features rides, a water park, attractions, food stands, games and live entertainment. General admission is $42.99. 724-238-3666 or idlewild.com
Ligonier Beach, 1752 Route 30, Ligonier Township: Opens Memorial Day weekend. The 400-foot-long, aquifer-fed pool opened in 1925 and remains the place to cool off on a hot summer day. The premises include a snack bar, inside and outside lounges and a sandy play area. Admission is $8. 724-238-5553 or ligonierbeach.com
Ligonier Valley Rail Road Museum, 3032 Idlewild Hill Lane, Ligonier Township: Open 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays now, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays beginning April 1. Built around 1896, the restored station of the Ligonier Valley Rail Road contains more than 3,000 items pertaining to the history of the railroad, which was founded by Judge Thomas Mellon and carried passengers and freight from 1877 to 1952. Admission is $5, $3 for students through high school. 724-238-7819 or lvrra.org
Linn Run State Park, 770 Linn Run Road, Rector: Open year-round, the 612-acre park contains streams, picnic areas and 6.25 miles of hiking trails. Points of particular interest include Adams Falls and Flat Rock, a section of slick rock in Linn Run that descends into a pool, creating a natural water slide. 888-727-2757 or dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks
Powdermill Nature Reserve, 1795 Route 381, Rector: Reopens April 1. The environmental research center of Carnegie Museum of Natural History is home to one of the longest continually running bird-banding stations in the United States and offers a wide variety of educational programs. The grounds contain a special-exhibits gallery, gift shop and two hiking trails. Admission is free. 724-593-4070 or carnegiemnh.org/powdermill/