With Mother's Day approaching, it's time for the annual roundup of new spots for brunch.
While few new restaurants have chosen to serve brunch, there are a number of additions since last year, from a tiny storefront that focuses on one dish to a spacious cafe where there's always something new to try. Several restaurants added brunch too recently to be included in detail, and other restaurants may still choose to add brunch service, so look for a follow-up story later this summer.
Where once there were cupcakes now there are waffles -- Waffalonia, which specializes in Liege-style waffles from Belgium, has opened in the tiny Squirrel Hill storefront that housed the original Dozen Cupcakes. Waffalonia's owners undoubtedly hope that the space outgrown by Dozen will bring them the same kind of success.
These aren't just any waffles. Liege waffles are made from a thrice-risen dough laced with pearl sugar. They're dense and yeasty once cooked, with little pockets of sweetness and caramelized edges from the pearl sugar.
The decor emphasizes the waffles' foreign origin, the menu posted like a train station's departure board, with various concoctions named after different cities. The Antwerp is topped with ice cream (from Dave & Andy's) and chocolate sauce ($5); the Namur has sliced bananas and Nutella ($4.50). My favorite is the waffle simple spread with Speculoos, a paste made from ground-up gingersnaps that has a texture similar to peanut butter, if less sticky. As odd as it may sound, the creamy texture and gingery, slightly spicy flavor was the perfect partner for the not-too-sweet waffle.
Liege waffles aren't just for breakfast -- especially not topped with ice cream -- but the focused, friendly shop is a nice change of pace from the elaborate ritual of sit-down brunch. That said, Waffalonia is still working out a few kinks. The waffles are significantly better when they're freshly cooked, so unless there's a line, they should be made to order. It would be nice if they provided some more substantial silverware, as the current versions weren't quite up to the job (although they worked better on freshly baked waffles).
There are a few stools at narrow counters at the back of the room, but there are relatively few seats; so on nice days, plan on taking your waffles to go.
Round Corner Cantina
As befits a bar, Round Corner Cantina in Lawrenceville starts brunch late (noon), has a lengthy list of boozy brunch drinks (try the tequila-based bloody maria on special) and doesn't allow anyone under 21 to darken its doorstep.
Unlike most bars, however, this one also pays attention to the quality of its food. In fact, Round Corner serves some of the more varied, thoughtfully prepared Mexican fare in town. Most of the tables are small, and somehow seem smaller when the bar isn't as crowded, but cozy up to your friends and don't keep drinks too near the edge of the table, and even a substantial order should be able to fit.
The brunch menu is really more of a lunch menu with the addition of a number of egg dishes. Eggs were scrambled with spicy chorizo, Yukon gold potatoes, poblano pepper and queso fresco, a savory mix that got even better with a judicious application of hot sauce ($12). Poached, they were layered with tortillas, salsa verde, queso fresco and cilantro for drippy and delicious Chilaquiles ($9.50). Fried, they accompanied a skirt steak with tortillas, grilled green onions and a drizzle of chimichurri for a straightforward and satisfying plate of steak and eggs ($14).
Those not in the mood for eggs might try the fish tacos, tempura-battered mahi mahi drizzled with crema, and garnished with shredded cabbage, queso fresco and cilantro. Served on warm, doubled flour tortillas, these became a touch too starchy, so pile on a bit of the crunchy, spicy side salad, a mix of shredded cabbage and sweet and hot peppers, to impart a little more bite. Each of the three tacos was wrapped in a small square of parchment paper, a thoughtful touch that ensured nothing got soggy ($11.5).
Something sweet would have been a good addition. Churros were listed on the menu, freshly fried fritters served with milk caramel, sugar and bacon, but on the day of my visit the kitchen wasn't making them ($11).
Service was a little lackadaisical (it might have been nice to know that the kitchen wasn't making ceviche or churros before we tried to order them), but they did make a point to inform us of drink specials and kept us in water, napkins and chips throughout the meal.
Kelly James, until recently the pastry chef at Sonoma Grille in the Cultural District, just opened her own cafe in Dormont, serving breakfast and lunch, as well as an array of classic cookies, cakes and pastries.
The walls are painted in vivid blues and hung with framed squares of whimsical fabric. Cake stands by the register are piled high with morning buns, another with bags of petite biscotti and crunchy, not-too-sweet granola.
The breakfast menu, served daily until 11 a.m., includes a variety of sweet and savory option, such as oatmeal with clover honey, toasted almonds, candied ginger and blueberries ($3.75); buttermilk waffles with maple syrup and raspberry jam ($6.25) and a bagel with cream cheese, smoked salmon and hard-cooked egg ($6.25).
Despite the café's name, Ms. James shows admirable restraint when it comes to sugar. Even a plate of cinnamon french toast got as much of its sweetness from gently cooked bananas, as it did from a drizzle of maple syrup (sadly not the real stuff) ($6.75).
She's no slouch when it comes to savory options either. Daily specials were particularly enticing, like a breakfast burrito filled with scrambled eggs and cheddar cheese, slow roasted tomatoes and sliced chorizo. The burrito had been cooked in a panini press, and unlike so many sadder versions, this one boasted a crisp tortilla, nicely melted cheese and warm scrambled eggs. On another day there was a cheddar biscuit split and layered with scrambled eggs, a thin slice of ham and fresh chives. These came with a small container of cut-up grapes and melon as well.
For a very quick breakfast, or if you're feeling particularly friendly toward your co-workers, there's a great assortment of morning pastries, recently including tender morning buns filled with a cinnamon-sugar glaze and buttery, moist blackberry scones.
The Sugar Cafe also serves coffee, of course, as well as espresso drinks. Beans are from La Prima, coffee is drip, and cappuccinos and lattes come in one size -- a large one -- and it's a little hard to tell the difference between the two ($3.50). Baristas could use a little more training, but in the meantime, many will be happy that a bottomless cup of coffee costs just $2.
Between E2, Food Glorious Food, Tazza D'Oro and Park Bruges, Highland Park is becoming something of a brunch destination. Park Bruges, the newest of the group, serves brunch on Saturday and Sunday starting at 11 a.m.
The menu is similar to the popular brunch at sister restaurant Point Brugge but with plenty of dishes unique to the Highland Park location. The brunch prix fixe is a great deal, bundling a choice of many entrees, several side dishes and a brunch drink (house mimosa, bloody mary or a glass of Prosecco) for just $20 to $23. And of course, there's a lengthy and interesting beer list for those who can spend their afternoon napping.
One of the best dishes was a savory potato-pepper stew with two baked eggs and two thin Merguez sausages, served with French bread for dipping ($13). The lightly spiced, rich lamb sausage was balanced by the sharp flavors of the sauce, and the eggs were just the right texture with creamy yolks and tender whites.
A croque madame was a knife-and-fork sandwich, country white bread filled with thinly sliced ham and gruyere, the whole thing lightly browned in butter and topped with two fried eggs ($10).
The Liege waffle comes with seasonal fruit (recently, it was a strawberry rhubarb compote) or melted chocolate, and if you ask nicely they will probably let you have both ($11).
There are also plenty of options for those who'd rather just eat lunch, including steamed mussels, a hearty spinach salad and macaroni & cheese blanketed in a layer of cheddar ($8).
Other new breakfast and brunch spots:
Dozen Bakeshop, Lawrenceville, introduced a new brunch menu earlier this month, emphasizing local products, including organic eggs. The creative options include lavender buttermilk pancakes with warm lemon creamy, blueberry compote and real maple syrup ($9) and a fingerling potato, mushroom and egg hash served over a polenta cake ($10).
Pizzutti's, Shadyside, has added Sunday brunch to its offerings. The menu includes a wide assortment of classics, such as eggs benedict (traditional, smoked salmon and Florentine, $10-12,) French toast drizzled with caramel ($8.50), blueberry pancakes ($8.50) and a New York strip steak with eggs made to order ($16).
Willow, Ohio Township, is now offering a buffet brunch on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.