For tasty and nourishing eats, take a trip to Eden in Shadyside, where raw and vegan dishes fill the menu.
Photos by Laura Petrilla
When the holidays come to a close (and we realize we might’ve consumed a few treats too many), it’s time to renew our commitment to healthy eating. A perfect place to start is Eden in Shadyside, which primarily offers vegan food — some raw and some cooked.
“Our restaurant is not necessarily aimed at the person who is vegan or vegetarian; it’s aimed at anyone who wants a healthy meal,” says chef/co-owner Hilary Zozula. “We just want people to eat more fruits and vegetables!”
Previously, Zozula and business partner Al Polanec ran the Juice Box Café in the same space; however, as time went on, the pair became more familiar with their customers’ preferences and realized that Pittsburgh needed a full-service restaurant with more nutritious options. Since opening in fall 2011, Eden has gained a following via word of mouth, mostly among locals focused on healthy living. But it also attracts those seeking vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free cuisine. Servers are careful to ask about food allergies, and chefs are accommodating with respect to ingredients and preparation.
After you descend the stairs into the intimate subterranean space, you will be presented with one-page menus for drinks, raw food and cooked food. The drink list only features nonalcoholic beverages, like smoothies and juices — including the very refreshing spinach, lemon and ginger shot ($3), a 3-ounce boost. Alternatively, you can bring a bottle of wine, as many people do (there’s a mere $2 corkage fee).
The raw menu features delicious food that makes you stop and think about the creativity required to make beautifully presented, tasty fare without using heat. “Cooking raw is almost like being a chemist; you have to think about how you can achieve different textures and consistencies in new ways,” says Zozula.
For those who are new to raw food, it’s wise to try the reasonably priced $15 raw sampler, which features three small appetizers, three small entrées and three small desserts. On the fall menu, highlights included the creamy and rich “raw gras” appetizer (a reinterpretation of fois gras) made with mushrooms, coconut oil, apples and cashews; the brightly colored sweet-root soup, comprising a puree of carrots, beets, chai spice, dates and coconut; and the spiced “alfredo,” with crunchy “noodles” made of sweet potato and butternut squash, accompanied by raisins, apples and crushed hazelnuts, all in a cashew cream sauce.
During warmer months, Zozula notices that diners tend to order raw food, while cooked dishes are popular when it’s cold. Among the hot entrées, my autumn favorite is the curried stew ($13.50), a warm, spicy blend of Swiss chard, cannellini beans and tofu with a sauce made of green curry, coconut milk and lemon grass, all served over a bed of quinoa. Another great choice is the BBQ tempeh and greens with polenta ($14), with Swiss chard, kale, beet greens and collard greens, along with a housemade barbecue sauce. Not a fan of soy? Fear not: All dishes can be made with organic free-range chicken instead.
Desserts are very tasty as well. The pumpkin pie ($8) is a great fall treat with a welcome mix of complex flavors; the filling contains apple, banana, date and spices in a walnut, almond and chia-seed crust.
The menu changes seasonally (the winter lineup arrives Jan. 11) and features as much local produce as Zozula can obtain. In the summer, there are tomatoes, cucumbers, basil and peaches; apples, squashes and greens are available in the fall. Wintertime brings goodies like beets, turnips and carrots — and due to the limited supply of local produce in the winter, Zozula also gets tropical and citrus fruits from locally based Paragon Food, which works with suppliers in Florida and California.
Since weekend brunch is popular in Pittsburgh, it only makes sense that Eden offers a hearty meal on weekend mornings. Local eggs and items like gluten-free vegan waffles ($9), breakfast burritos ($8) and homemade granola ($7.50) are served, along with various juices and smoothies. While this menu is pretty set, you’ll see a few new items on occasion.
The interior of Eden is its weakest point. Situated below ground level on Copeland Street, the space lacks design — it’s long and narrow with unappealing ceiling tiles. However, the owners have spruced things up by displaying local artists’ work on the walls (the lineup rotates monthly), which adds some visual appeal.
According to Eden’s statement, the owners want “[diners] to feel good about [themselves] and feel good about what [they’re] eating.” This is truly one of the most noteworthy things about eating at Eden — it provides a guilt-free experience, allowing guests to leave feeling better than when they arrived.
Hilary Zozula, Chef/Co-owner
What are you trying to accomplish with Eden?
First, I want people to be healthier. You can always benefit from eating more fruits and vegetables. Those foods offer so many important nutrients. Nowadays, I also notice that a lot of people find that eliminating certain foods makes them feel better. I’m not trying to push veganism at all — I just want all these people to have a nice place to dine.
Why are nuts used in many meals at Eden?
For some dishes, the nuts provide the main protein or act as substitutes for dairy products like cheese or butter. Nuts have a lot of fat and flavor, and provide interesting texture options. Each has its own unique flavor profile and can be turned into a liquid, paste, crunchy element or crust. Seeds also have a lot of interesting properties. There’s a bit of science to all this.
How did you learn to cook this way?
I have no culinary training, per se. My sister [chef Bethany Zozula of Eleven] and I grew up in California in a very health-oriented family. We picked avocadoes off of trees. We moved to Pittsburgh to be closer to our grandparents. And I taught myself how to cook this way because I wanted to continue eating the healthy foods I grew up on.
What advice do you have about feeding kids?
Eating should be something you do together as a family. I think it’s a misconception that adults can eat healthy food, while the kids eat junky “kid” food — and that the kids will outgrow their taste for those foods when they become adults. When those kids grow up, they have to constantly work at eating healthy and avoiding junk food, whereas if they grew up eating healthy [food], it’ll just come naturally.
How can readers learn to make raw food more interesting?
There are lots of websites that teach about raw-food preparation, such as yummyplants.com. You have to change your mindset, and think about how you could strip away the cooking process and still make dishes you like.