The Zenith – Restaurant Review

The building is a little hard to pinpoint from the street as it blends into the connecting residences, and it’s definitely difficult to find parking, but it will be worth the brief aggravation to experience Zenith. It’s not just a pleasure to dine at The Zenith; it’s truly a unique experience. Walking into the dizzying array of stuff will have a person overwhelmed and slightly confused. Isn’t this supposed to be a vegetarian restaurant? Yes, just keep walking through the (amusing) antique clutter and you’ll enter the equally busy dining room with one-of-a-kind chairs, placemats, and silverware. Not only is Zenith a 100% vegan restaurant offering the occasional addition of cheese, it is also an antique and art store selling anything from vintage dresses to 1966-calendar inscribed porcelain plates to World Encyclopedias (they still exist!).

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As a lover of dining out and sharing meals with friends and family, I was pleased to see how many large tables made up the dining space. There wasn’t a two-top in the joint or many tables with matching chairs, either. I appreciate this subconscious emphasis on communal dining, and I imagine it to be an instant conversation starter during the busy Sunday brunch hours.

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OK, on to the main attraction: food! I enjoyed a filling and completely comforting meal of soup and lasagna during a quiet, chilly Wednesday afternoon in the ‘Burgh. The meal started with a bowl of crusty homemade croutons and steaming hot brothy onion soup. And then came the best tofu ricotta lasagna with vegan basil cream that I have ever had. OK, this is the only vegan lasagna I’ve tried so far, but it was a winner! Creamy, herbed filling with meaty noodles, tangy-sweet marinara, and a salty, basil-rich topping. It. Was. So. Good. The leftovers were equally as pleasing 🙂

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And then there was cake and tea. Did I mention I experienced Zenith solo and made it an afternoon excursion? As if the meal wasn’t enough, I warmed up my soul with cherry almond hot tea and a piece of chocolate cake as big as your face. The loose leaf tea list was a mile long and I did manage to save some cake for later. Win, win. Who wants to join me for Zenith’s popular Sunday brunch? I’ll save some stomach room.

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Good Taste! Pittsburgh

You know what’s great about being a Food Studies student? FOOD. ALL. THE. TIME. ok, that’s my real life anyway, but being a legitimate studier of food allows me to participate in different foodie-related activities, such as festivals and fairs and other fun finds! Enter: GoodTaste! Pittsburgh, featuring local vendors, cooking demos, and lots of eats to go around!

Not only did I attend this event a couple weeks ago, I also got to participate as a vendor on behalf of my program and pass out some delicious pumpkin waffles, courtesy of my student-colleague Barb.

I wasn’t entirely impressed with the food samples – I was hoping for more local goodies and companies I could support in the future, but there was still plenty of excitement! MyPlate showed up with props to educate us on nutritious options:

There were also plenty of non-plastic, real food options:

FUDGE!

Natural/Organic vendor's offerings

 

Beet-flavored picked eggs? Looks weird, tastes yummy!

Buffalo flavored eggs...a new twist on a buffalo wing!

I was also very excited to meet Jeffrey Saad, runner up on season 5 of The Next Food Network Star. He judged the gingerbread house competition and also taught me how to make the perfect eggs…

taking his judging job very seriously

 

very excited to talk about eggs!

Overall, it was a fun experience and I walked away with a full belly and bag of treats to take home! Check out their website for other highlights.

Food Tour of Dormont

Happy Food Day!

This weekend, to celebrate my love of eating and the upcoming Food Day, I took a food tour of Dormont, a South Hills neighborhood near Pittsburgh. OK, I didn’t really need a reason like an adopted food-related holiday to spend two hours walking around and eating at every stop 🙂

First stop: A historical look at Dormont through their 100-year commemorative mural.

Next stop: Potomac Bakery. What better way to start off a tour than with a cookie from an over 80 year-old family-owned bakery?

The thumbprint cookie was yummy, but I was clearly dreaming about donuts!

Next Stop: Dormont Dogs. Mmmmm specialty hot dogs with delicious buns from Potomac Bakery. Keeping it local!

Texas chili dogs for the rest, and a bruschetta veg dog (bottom left) for moi!

Next Stops: Hollywood Theater (A super cute, non-profit movie theater with real balcony seating, cheap snacks, and a lovely art gallery), Don Campiti’s Pizzeria (serving slices in paper bags!), and Fredo’s Market (a cute Eastern European-style deli & restaurant with Bosnian immigrant owners that reminded me of my daddy!)

Last Stops: Sugar Cafe. Holy Irish Carbomb cupcake! Guiness stout chocolate cupcake with Bailey’s buttercream frosting. Yes, please!

Pumpkin cupcakes, Cosmo citrus-cran cupcake, and my Irish carbomb on the bottom. YUM!!

So what if I had to lick the frosting before taking a picture?

Finally: Asian Pear wine tasting (with locally grown Asian pears) at Beyond Bedtime Books.

Culinary Cory with giant, locally grown Asian Pears

My reactions: Dormont is completely charming! I loved visiting local businesses, whether food, books or the non-profit movie theater. Everyone was so festive in their Halloween decorations, and really emphasized keeping business as local as possible. I can’t wait to go back and try the Dor-Stop, featured on Diners, Drive-ins & Dives!

completely charming Dormont

Thanks to Burgh Bits & Bites for a great tour! Culinary Cory was a great guide, and they totally catered to my veggie needs (which was extra nice because I was the only “special” one!)

Food tours are a great way to get an intimate feel for a neighborhood, whether it’s one you’re visiting as a tourist or one you should learn more about as a resident or neighbor. You not only get to experience the neighborhood through local food vendors, you also get to learn about their history and how the food culture of that place came to be.

I’m really glad I learned about charming Dormont through food, because I might not have visited otherwise. And then I wouldn’t have been able to experience delicious veggie dogs and alcoholic cupcakes. Now that would have been a shame!

Allegheny Green Innovation Festival

Autumn is a great time of year for lots of festivals, conferences, and the like. The air is crisp, the pumpkins aplenty, and the environmentalists abound. On a sunny and chilly Saturday (perfect fall weather, if you ask me!), I recently attended the Allegheny County Green Innovation Festival in beautiful Hartwood Acres. I learned all about the many environmentally-friendly and sustainable orgs/movements trying to improve my community…

check out the chicken coop in the background!

Haven’t you always wanted a chicken coop in your backyard?! Did you know that chickens have personalities like any pets, and they will produce much fresher, healthier and better tasting eggs than you can ever buy in the store? Oh yes, my friends. I know you want a chicken coop now! P.S. Their poop is great as a natural fertilizer 🙂

Solar panel hard at work

I was also involved in the festival’s “sustainable food challenge” that my school got to judge! It was very cool to see some food vendors in our community trying to source their ingredients more locally or ethically, consider reusable utensils (or none at all…I saw stuffed grape leaves on skewers!), and incorporate as many sustainable practices into their business as they can.

My favorite local food vendor (who also sources local ingredients) - The Franktuary

My 2nd fave vendor - (future) fair trade ice cream!

There are still a few weeks left of decent weather, so check out your local festivals today! There’s so much to learn about going greeeeeeen. Speaking of that, GO GREEN! GO WHITE!

Happy fall 🙂

Brasserie 33: Oui, Oui!

A completely random date night occurred like this:
Hubs- “Wanna go out to dinner?”
Me- “Yes! Where?”
Hubs- “I dunno. Somewhere in the city?”
Me- “Okayyyy….How about this French place I’ve been wanting to try? I have a Groupon!”

And just like that, we were driving to Shadyside and dining on lovely French cuisine at Brasserie 33.

The only way to start a French meal....wine and bread!

I have to say that this entire dining experience was wonderful. We were greeted at the door in (authentic) French and immediately directed to our seats at the bar. I called ahead and learned that the very few tables available (less than 15) were all reserved for this Saturday night, so we happily took the offer of up close and personal bar seats. We’re not picky.

As we sat on our stools, we were welcomed by who I’m guessing is the owner/manager of the restaurant. He explained their new fall menu with excitement, and when I asked about vegetarian options, he thought for a moment and quickly offered to make something “beautiful” with pasta, fresh vegetables….mentions of sun-dried tomatoes, all kinds of great sounding ingredients! It was so nice to see how accommodating they wanted to be by offering to prepare something not on the menu. I wasn’t super hungry, so I settled for a shared appetizer and an endive and beet salad. You know me- I love to try a little bit of everything and I LOVE me some good beets. The food did not disappoint!

To start: warm brie, goat cheese and carmelized onion tarts

Our appetizer was mild, creamy and filling. The brie flavor was enhanced perfectly by each sip of my cabernet. I just wanted a bit more of the sweet carmelized onions. I’m a sucker for sweetness!

Salade! (pronounced sah-lahd)

My salad was the perfect light meal. Crisp endive, creamy Roquefort dressing, earthy roasted walnuts and succulent, sweet beets. Seriously YUM!

And the best part? The bread! I’m not a huge “bread basket at the restaurant” type of gal, but I was really digging the fresh tasting, slighty sourdough feel of the french bread. Mmmmmm 🙂

Hubs enjoyed his boeuf bourguignon. He inhaled that giant bowl!

The only negatives I would give this restaurant are the expense – in my frugal opinion, this is not your every day eatery – and the slight lack of authenticity in French atmosphere. The food hit the spot, the hospitality was superb (which is not very French!), but the restaurant space itself was too open feeling, with a wall full of windows, for my taste. I think of French restaurants as being dimly light, congested, and full of in-depth conversations. This place was just a little off, but definitely rates in my top 5 French dining experiences overall.

4 out of 5 stars, my friends! Hopefully you’ll get to experience “la cuisine Francaise” as well!

Call My Agent

I’ve been in Pgh less than a year and a half, and I’ve already made it on broadcast news twice! Once was about volunteering, and once about food, so it’s all positive stuff. Don’t worry, my ego will deflate soon 🙂

Breaking News!

Remember when I participated in Project: Food Budget with the (former) Reluctant Vegetarian and other bloggers? Well, three of us participants are Pittsburghers (including Emily, the Reluctant Veg, who started the project), so the local news station interviewed her and us about what we learned from the project.

Emily being interviewed about starting Project: Food Budget

In high school, I was on the news team and we got to visit the local stations in Detroit while they were filming the noon news. I thought it was so cool and went into college thinking I wanted to be a broadcast journalist. I ended up on a different path, but I was always fascinated by news reporting, so I really enjoyed the “behind the scenes” stuff of shooting a segment, especially one that I was in! Emmy award-winning anchor Michelle Wright from WTAE was great to chat with, too!

Where there are bloggers, there are plenty of cameras...

Emily is starting a new round of Project: Food Budget…for an entire year! Check out her post to join in the fun!

East End Food Co-op

I had never been exposed to a food cooperative until I moved to Pittsburgh. One of the first things I researched after finding out about my shift to the Steel City was the best grocery shopping in the area. I know, big nerd foodie over here! Beyond the well-known Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, I was excited to learn more about the East End Food Co-op, which features a mid-size market, full cafe (hot & cold bar, smoothies), and plenty of co-op benefits.

This member-owned, natural and organic store has been in existence for almost 35 years and supports sustainable food, environmental responsibility and community. I like the membership model, and the fact that they get to vote and make changes.

My favorite part is, of course, the food! The natural, fresh and veg-heavy foooood! They have a fantastic and affordable hot bar that’s perfect for a quick lunch or dinner to go, as well as a wide variety of juices and salads. Check out my vegan Mexican fiesta for less than $7:

Co-op lunchy: Mexican pulled seitan, rice and beans, kale, daiya cheese, pinto beans, grilled veggies and salsa.

I’m really glad to know there is a place to go with fresh, locally sourced, and often organic food options. There are tons of specialty veggie items that I can’t always find at the normal shop and a very large bulk bin selection. It makes me happy 🙂

The only issue I have is the higher than normal prices for produce, but I understand some of the reasoning (organic, smaller quantities ordered), so I just need to work it into my budget for the future!

Do you have a food co-op near you? Are you a member? I’m currently deciding whether it’s worth it for me to get a membership…

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