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Downtown Reflections. Photograph by Brian Cohen.
Downtown Reflections. Photograph by Brian Cohen. | Show Photo

Features

Best of Brunches in Pittsburgh

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When we first ran a brunch story in January, Pittsburgh’s brunch scene was on the upswing.  We pleaded for more options and the gods – chefs, restauranteurs – listened.  Here’s an update just in time for Mother’s Day, along with our tried-and-true list.
 
At Verde in Penn-Garfield, Mexican goes modern in both mood and food.  Huevos benedictos see two poached eggs atop house-cured bacon, wilted escarole and a blue corn English muffin then napped with a guajillo hollandaise.  Pair this dish with a sweet potato hash flecked with poblanos, red onions and sweet peppers and you’re set.  Tamari’s brand of Asian Latin fusion extends to its brunch where dishes like a Peking duck hash and curried burrito are a welcome wake-up call for the Lawrenceville crowd.  Chef Keith Fuller of Root 174 in Regent Square shows his playful side at brunch, too, with starters including jelly beignets and deviled eggs.  The hanger steak and eggs with a house-made hot sauce and crispy potato hash is more serious fare but it’s no less appealing.
 
Cure has just the antidote for your brunch Jones:  an occasional weekend appearance, starting with Mother’s Day.  Dishes featuring smoked trout, mussels and other surprises are on tap and will reappear in early June; check with the restaurant for future dates.  And then there’s The Milkshake Factory, getting into the act with its annual Sunday Milkshake Brunch, launching on Mother’s Day.  Think we’re kidding?  Belly up to the bar for milkshake flavors including blueberry pancake, banana nut muffin and Applewood bacon.
 
Kate Romane, chef-owner at E2 in Highland Park, cut her teeth with “the old Italian guys at Enrico’s in the Strip.”  Consequently, her weekend brunch is hearty and imbued with the flavors of Italy.  Hipsters, professors and fast friends fill a cozy, familial space where a dark wood banquette adds texture, bookcases line a French door and floor lamps cast a warm glow.  Starters include zeppoli, orbs of fried dough rolled in parmesan and black pepper, and beignets, squared-off donuts served piping hot with a dusting of powdered sugar.  Save room for mains like polenta pepperonata, a dreamy puddle of polenta surrounded by red pepper sauce and topped with a runny egg and melted cheese.  A frittata stuffed with hot sausage, peppers and provolone is wonderfully satisfying and served alongside a frisee salad and toast.  The French toast isn’t too sweet and is dappled with goat cream, apples and pecans.  “This is a restaurant for the neighborhood,” says Kate and she’s right, to a point:  it’s a restaurant for everyone.
 
The Round Corner Cantina in Lawrenceville has brought Mexico to its corner of town and that extends to Sunday brunch in the hands of co-owner and San Diego native Derek Burnell.  Begin with a $4 Bloody Mary or a Michelada, a tart beer cocktail, and segue to the chilaquiles, two poached eggs atop a mashup of soggy tortillas, salsa verde, poblano chiles, crema and queso fresco.  The result is ample ballast even if you’re not hung over.  Another winner is the chile relleno, a large poblano prepared tempura-style and napped in Mexican cheeses.  Refried black beans are served with the chile and the whole is smothered in tomato sauce.  Chips are homemade, salsas red and green and you can lounge on an outdoor patio from spring through Thanksgiving.  A block away is Coca Cafe and the line out the door confirms this place is a hit with locals.  The bright blue and red dining room is the perfect wakeup call and home to an arugula omelet far better than it sounds, with salami, herbes de Provence and arugula pesto plumping the protective egg shell.  An avocado and fried egg BLT also rates and the challah French toast with brie and fig jam has long pleased regulars.
 
Chef Jessica Gibson has been wowing diners at Bistro 19, a casually elegant table in Mt. Lebanon, for years and her talent is on ample display during Sunday brunch.  Multi-generational groups and knit-cap-wearing hipsters make the first seating and the setting beseeches you to order a bellini.  Eggs Benedict are served over a buttery Mediterra croissant that keeps company with bite-sized pieces of prosciutto and the whole is dressed with a light Hollandaise.  Fat home fries served alongside are more buttery goodness.  A smoked Atlantic salmon scramble benefits from thick strips of salmon and is flecked with goat cheese and chives while the French toast dipped in crème brulee batter are unique and wonderfully appealing.  And then there’s the bananas Foster pancakes served with a caramelized whiskey sauce...  Bring friends and linger.
 
Meat & Potatoes is one of those places you knew would be a hit:  a top chef (Richard DeShantz of Nine on Nine) in a gorgeous room (the circular marble bar is what downtown denizens have been waiting for).  While the gastropub is slammed during happy hour and beyond, the vibe is chill for weekend brunch and the food equally inspired.  A short rib hash presented in a small tureen sports meat & potatoes topped with poached eggs that are graced with a horseradish Hollandaise flecked with mustard seed.  Irish Benedict?  You bet, corned beef & swiss on French bread with a poached egg and Thousand Island Hollandaise.  A salmon flatbread is light and beautifully presented while the chef’s French toast are airy rounds of beer-battered sourdough topped with caramelized bananas and powdered sugar.  With food like this (and Edith Piaf and the Neville Brothers crooning in the background), how can you miss?
 
The queen bee of the Pittsburgh brunch scene is Sherree Goldstein, who’s been keepin’ it real at Square Cafe in Regent Square for nearly a decade.  Bright blue walls filled with rotating art are the foil for diner-style formica tables and vinyl chairs yet the handmade mugs and colorful, angular plates speak to the cafe’s earthy sensibility.  Vanilla cream cheese French toast topped with plump black, blue and strawberries are perfection and could be the best brunch dish in the city.  A Johnnycake is a cornbread pancake topped with warm apple compote while a savory chicken and leek crepe is enveloped in a rich sauce supreme.  Have the crepe with a side of sweet potato mash and you’ll be transported to brunch heaven.  There’s more:  a shrimp and crab meat omelet is large and delicious while Andouille sausage with jalapeno jam served over cheesy grits and two over-easy eggs is more deliciousness.  How does one choose?  You don’t, you show up with your crew and thank Ms. Goldstein for calling Pittsburgh home.
 
The Cafe at the Frick adds two brunch specials to its Sunday lunch menu served in a jewel box of a room; the Gypsy Cafe on the South Side hosts a rotating themed brunch every Sunday (Star Wars brunch, anyone?).  Terrific twins Point Brugge and Park Bruges also serve Sunday brunch in the East End.
 
New Girl In Town Elaine Labalme is egg-static about Pittsburgh’s growing brunch scene.

Captions: Eggs at the Square Cafe; Coca Cafe; Round Corner Cantina; chocolate at Square Cafe.
Photographs copyright Brian Cohen
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