Pittsburgh's brunch circuit
Springy Benny artichoke hearts, spinach, & portabella mushrooms, at the Cornerstone Restaurant & Bar in Aspinwall.
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Brunch, always a popular meal among diners, is getting more love from restaurants. A number of establishments have added or improved their brunch offerings in the past year. In fact, so many restaurants have jumped on the brunch bandwagon in just the past few weeks that I plan to do another roundup this summer. For now, I'll focus on restaurants that have had a few months (or more) to perfect their egg poaching and pancake-flipping skills.
When Rich and Melanie Westerfield announced they were closing Aldo Coffee Co. in Mt. Lebanon, it was a blow to the status of quality coffee in the Pittsburgh region. Fortunately, they left their customers and coffee lovers in good hands. A longtime employee, Sonja Schutte, and her husband purchased the business, fulfilling a longtime dream of owning their own cafe.
They re-named it Orbis Caffe and put their own stylish stamp on the interior with chalkboard walls and a sleek gray and black color scheme. They've also added a weekly Sunday brunch. Each month, they pick a different country or region to inspire the weekly brunch as well as a monthly theme dinner.
The changing themes ensure that every week there will be something new to taste from British colcannon, a savory mix of mashed potatoes, cabbage and leek served with delicious slices of fried ham, to goat cheese toasts with baked honeyed apricots inspired by the Dordogne region of France. Offerings might include omelets and baked eggs or buttery scones with strawberry jam and Devonshire cream. Portions were generous and prices low, typically $6 to $10 per item. This month, they're focusing on Greece. One brunch menu included saganaki, marinated pork, tzatziki and pita and spanakopita. The monthly dinner will take place tomorrow at 7 p.m.
A big bonus of eating brunch at a cafe? Much better coffee. Orbis has continued Aldo's focus on high quality coffee, serving espresso and brewed-by-the-cup, single-origin coffee from Intelligentsia in Chicago and local roaster 19 Coffee Co.
Meat & Potatoes
Meat & Potatoes in the Cultural District is the perfect destination for brunch lovers. The menu includes eggs, waffles and smoked salmon, but they're heavily interpreted through the same global, comfort-food lens that inspires the dinner menu.
A cheddar and jalapeno waffle was topped with several pieces of fried chicken and served with bourbon-jalapeno maple syrup ($12). The waffle was savory and slightly spicy, the fried chicken crispy and flavorful, with incredibly moist meat.
Eggs were more garnish than focus: Sweet, fatty Korean-style brisket was served with brussels sprouts kimchi and two poached eggs ($12), and in huevos rancheros (a special, but frequently available) two fried eggs played supporting roles to the incredibly flavorful black beans and braised pork, layered between tortillas.
A flatbread spread with cream cheese, draped with smoked salmon and seasoned with plenty of capers and thinly sliced red onion was light, but not at all ascetic ($10).
Drinks are a focus even at breakfast here. Along with a handful of specialty cocktails, there's a lavish bloody mary bar with three kinds of infused liquor to choose from, and an incredible array of garnishes and hot sauces for doctoring up the classic drink. Meat & Potatoes has been serving brunch since 2011, and in recent months it's become almost as tough a reservation as dinner, so be sure to call ahead.
This neighborhood restaurant in Aspinwall is as welcoming on weekend mornings as it is all week. Servers were extra-friendly to tables with kids, splitting portions, offering colorful plastic cups for water and exhibiting impressive tolerance for stacked containers of creamer and scattered sweetener packets.
Cornerstone's brunch options were weighted toward classic dishes, but they stand out for their incredible breadth. There were omelets, frittatas, four kinds of benedicts, corned beef hash and huevos rancheros. Pancakes came in five varieties, and classic French toast competed for attention with monkey bread and bread pudding. And for those who'd always rather eat lunch, there was a selection of appetizers, soups, salads and sandwiches.
Happily, quality was not sacrificed to quantity. Huevos rancheros were simple, but delicious, black beans with Monterey Jack cheese and onions topped with poached eggs, a side of roasted peppers and potatoes, and a red pepper tortilla ($10). One variation of eggs benedict (since replaced by a spring version) added diced sauteed mushrooms, braised spinach and oven roasted tomatoes to the classic poached eggs coated in a delicate hollandaise.
Blueberry pancakes were light and fluffy with lots of blueberries. At Cornerstone, all sweet dishes were served with a choice of bacon, sausage or two eggs, which is a great option for people who always have trouble choosing between savory and sweet breakfasts.
The Porch at Schenley
On weekdays, the Porch at Schenley serves a few breakfast items (an egg and cheese sandwich and sweet hand pies) from a take-out window on the western side of the building. On weekends, they augment its lunch menu with a handful of well-selected brunch items, including oatmeal with dried fruit ($8), chorizo and eggs ($11) and French toast ($10). A plate of biscuits drenched in sausage gravy was tasty, if a little soporific.
A slice of quiche was fluffy enough, with a flaky crust, but the best meal proved to the sunny side burger, a juicy burger topped with roasted peppers, onions, gruyere and a fried egg, and served with Porch's signature smashed potatoes ($11). During brunch, drink options include bloody marys and mimosas.
Orbis Caffe, 675 Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon; www.orbiscaffe.com, 412-563-1220. Brunch: Sundays from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Meat & Potatoes, 649 Penn Ave., Downtown; meatandpotatoespgh.com, 412-325-7007. Brunch: Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Cornerstone Bistro, 301 Freeport Road, Aspinwall; www.cornerstonepgh.com, 412-408-3420. Brunch: Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The Porch at Schenley, 221 Schenley Drive, Oakland; www.theporchatschenley.com, 412-687-6724. Breakfast: at the to-go window on weekdays starting at 7:30 a.m. Brunch: Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
A number of restaurants have added brunch recently. Look for another brunch roundup this summer, but for now, here are the basics:
Mad Mex, 220 S. Highland Ave., Shadyside; www.madmex.com, 412-345-0185. Brunch: Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Root 174, 1113 S. Braddock Ave., Regent Square; www.root174.com, 412-243-4348. Brunch: Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; no reservations.
Bar Marco, 2216 Penn Ave., Strip District; barmarcopgh.com, 412-471-1900. Brunch: Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Tamari, 3519 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412-325-3435; 701 Warrendale Village Drive, Warrendale; 724-933-3155; www.tamaripgh.com. Brunch: Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., prix fixe and a la carte menu.
Verde Mexican Kitchen and Cantina, 5491 Penn Ave., Garfield; www.verdepgh.com, 412-404-8487. Brunch: Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
First Published April 26, 2012 5:26 pm