On the 1990 album in which his mama famously implored him to knock you out, hip-hop legend L.L. Cool J also dispensed culinary wisdom on the goofy track "Milky Cereal (Baby)" noting, "Ain't nothin' like a nice bowl of Corn Flakes in the morning to smooth you out."
Based on recent experience, Munch politely disagrees with L.L. on that point, but if this were a battle rap (Ridiculous? Yes. But just go with it) Munch's hip-hop mogul alter ego, munch.i.am would counter:
Cool J. is a liar and a lout -- ain't nothin' like a nice bowl of black bean soup and a sweet potato empanada on a Sunday morning to smooth you out."
Now, if Munch just delivered the weakest rhyme in written history, it was merely a segue to talk about the ethnic fare served monthly at the Sunday's Best brunch at 720 Music in Lawrenceville. It's about as unique a dining experience as you'll find in town: an American-Latin-Asian brunch held at a hip-hop record shop co-owned by peace-loving, practicing Buddhists, and with a live DJ spinning rap, soul and funk.
It sounds like the kind of hip(hop)ster haven fabricated for a "Portlandia" skit, but Sunday's Best is real, and offers the kind of multicultural mutual bread-breaking we can always stand to see a little more of here in Pittsburgh.
First opened in 1999 in Oakland, 720 Music bounced around the East End in various locations and forms for more than a decade before moving to its current Butler Street digs in early 2011. Sunday's Best started shortly thereafter, and according to co-owner Paul Dang, was inspired by the legendary brunches at the Zenith Tea Room on the South Side. With occasional exceptions, it takes place the last Sunday of each month, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Cost is $13 for unlimited helpings of an international feast prepared by the shop's owners, not to mention the music.
Most recently, the menu included well-prepared offerings of Vietnamese garlic noodles, Asian mixed veggie stir fry, mango sticky rice, citrus-lemongrass salad, sweet potato empanadas, fried plantains and soy-rizo, spicy black bean soup, mixed green salad with baby heirloom tomatoes and a tamarindo dressing; plus co-owner Nate Williams' made-to-order omelets and Belgian waffles.
The various dishes' disparity of flavors mingled well with each other. As noted above, Munch loved mixing the spicy black bean soup with the sweet potato empanada, Munch's pal The BBBOM (Blonde Barkeep Bud of Munch) liked the spicy mixed vegetables and the Vietnamese garlic noodles. Organic coffee and fresh brewed iced tea is available -- on Munch's most recent visit the tea was ginger-peach-peppermint. Munch had about nine glasses, it was so good.
The store also sells vintage clothing and accessories, and an array of hip-hop and Pittsburgh-inspired T-shirts and hoodies, and coffee and baked goods are available on a daily basis.
But music is why the place exists, and 720 has a fantastic selection of vinyl and CDs from John Coltrane to Lil Wayne, Miles Davis to Method Man.
The tunes spun by DJ Selecta on a recent Sunday leaned a little more to the soulful, funky side, or "music to digest your food to," a guy sitting near Munch said to his friend as "All I Do" by Stevie Wonder came on during a playlist that included some remixed Gap Band, D'Angelo, Ray Baretto and Arthur Conley (which admittedly Munch could only identify with the modern miracle that is the Shazam iPhone app).
It's a pretty cool scene -- and if the food doesn't smooth you out, the music and the good vibes certainly will.
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