15 Hot Brunch Spots
These local eateries lead the way in the Pittsburgh brunch movement, serving fare that’s worth waking up late for.
Photos by Heather Mull
Forget Brangelina. The best portmanteau ever coined is undoubtedly brunch. There’s something inherently decadent and indulgent about brunch that neither breakfast nor lunch can claim. And we have 19th-century visionary Guy Beringer to thank for making a plea for the most reasonable ambiguation of mealtime: “Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting.”
And the meal’s on the rise locally, with options ranging from the traditional French toast to a polenta pepperonata. Whether you like breakfast classics, crave stylish new takes or just need an excuse to sip champagne in the morning, here are 15 of the spots leading Pittsburgh in this most civilized of meals.
Broiled grapefruit with ricotta and honey, served alongside a freshly made cocktail here. Photo by John Altdorfer.
Housed in the iconic firehouse in the Strip District, Bar Marco is one of the intrepid restaurants ushering in the New Pittsburgh. Its casual, unaffected hipness belies the seriously stellar food and libations offered. The brunch menu features sweet, savory and side items, including classics with thoughtful touches — such as rosemary French toast with orange ice cream and maple. Dishes like the buckwheat pancakes, pork-belly benedict or broiled grapefruit with ricotta, mint and honey (served with a shot of Boyd & Blair vodka!) will convert even the staunchest brunch skeptic.
(2216 Penn Ave., Strip District; 412/471-1900, barmarcopgh.com)
Unless you arrive the moment Coca Café opens for brunch, be prepared to get a coffee to go from nearby Espresso a Mano and wait in line. One of the establishments that paved the way for the Lower Lawrenceville boom, Coca is a breakfast and lunch institution. Its brunch features seasonal specials, as well as egg-based dishes, breakfast breads and sweets. Some of the popular dishes from the breakfast menu — like the smoked-salmon omelet and the goat cheese-stuffed French toast — are available, too. Even cooler: Most items can be made vegetarian, vegan and/or gluten-free.
(3811 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/621-3171, cocacafe.net)
The “Potato Benny” — eggs Benedict with corned beef on a potato pancake, topped with chive hollandise. Photo by Heather Mull.
Cornerstone Restaurant & Bar
Ever try a Potato Benny? Well, the folks who love Cornerstone Restaurant & Bar swear by it. It’s eggs Benedict without the customary English muffin; in its place is a crispy potato pancake, topped with corned beef, a poached egg and chive hollandaise. Another must-try offering is the Freeport & Eastern frittata (a nod to the eatery’s corner position), with pancetta, melted leeks, Brussels sprouts and goat cheese; as with a number of other menu items, the frittata can easily be made vegetarian. The Cornerstone brunch menu is entirely seasonal, so chefs only use the freshest ingredients. Bringing a whole cadre of brunch enthusiasts? No worries — there’s a private room you can reserve to keep the party rollin’.
(301 Freeport Road, Aspinwall; 412/408-3258, cornerstonepgh.com)
Gluten-free waffle with berries, coconut, soy butter and maple syrup, and a green smoothie. Photo by Heather Mull.
One of the city’s best-kept secrets, Eden is the perfect place to go when seeking a brunch experience that breaks all pejorative perceptions of what “healthful” tastes like. Boasting a remarkably unique menu, Eden offers a cross-section of options to please the gamut of dietary philosophies, from the omnivore to the raw foodist. Order the simple yet satisfying curry eggs, perfectly scrambled with local goat cheese, or another ultramarathon-fueling entrée. Not to miss is the most-popular dish: vegan waffles that are also gluten-free. They’ll change your life.
(735 Copeland St. (lower level), Shadyside; 412/802-7070, edenpitt.com)
Chocolate beignets with berry sauce. Photo by Heather Mull.
No one elevates coffee and doughnuts quite like E². In fact, the restaurant has a separate made-to-order doughnut menu with options like chocolate-covered doughnuts, sugar-covered beignets and anchovy-stuffed zeppoles. That alone should make you hightail it over to Highland Park. But fried dough is just the beginning. The brunch menu changes weekly but includes mainstays like the popular polenta pepperonata — two fried eggs with polenta, topped with pepperonata and shaved Parmesan, served with grilled focaccia — and specials like Brussels sprout hash. Among brunch offerings, you’ll always find a seasonal frittata and a farmer’s breakfast featuring eggs from chef/owner Kate Romane’s home, Churchview Farm.
(5904 Bryant St., Highland Park; 412/441-1200, e2pgh.com)
Watch: E² chef Kate Romane on urban farming
Sometimes you just want an all-you-can-eat buffet. If that’s the case, go to the Grand Concourse. This 30-year Pittsburgh tradition offers items that please folks split between breakfast and lunch — and dinner, too. Omelet bar? Check. Pancake bar? Check. Salads? Check. Prime rib? Check. An assortment of cakes? Check. You get the idea. Have dietary restrictions? Don’t fret: If you call ahead, the kitchen crew can accommodate special requests. Grand Concourse is especially packed on Sundays — so make reservations.
(100 W. Station Square Drive, Station Square; 412/261-1717, muer.com/grand-concourse)
Harris Grill is the phoenix of Ellsworth Avenue. After the original owners sold it to the current ones in 2004, the hot spot had to rise back after a 2007 fire that razed it; since then, it’s got even better (and wittier, it seems). Harris Grill’s pithy menu (similar to the one at Mt. Washington sister eatery Shiloh Grill) sets the tone for your experience, including choices like Omelletin’ Myself Go (with plenty of breakfast meats) and Lox, Stock & Bagel (all the fillings mixed together). The large outdoor seating area is great year-round.
(5747 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside; 412/362-5273, harrisgrill.com)
An assortment of goodies, including an orange-pistachio crepe, bacon-egg biscuit cup, and a chicken and waffle mini-sandwich. Photo by Heather Mull.
Mansions on Fifth
Brunch at Mansions on Fifth is as grand as the name suggests. Everything in the lavish spread evokes Old World, perfectly in sync with the quality service and the setting. Here, the experience is multisensory: You’re seated amidst wood-paneled walls and world-class art, listening to ambient live music, dining from an elegant menu. The expansive feast has something for everyone, and the chefs may accommodate special dietary needs if notified in advance. Omnivores will love the rack of lamb, beef tenderloin, grilled salmon and crab cakes. Vegetarians will savor the braised spinach, butternut-squash risotto and roasted asparagus. And for those with a sweet tooth, French toast, pancakes and desserts abound.
(5105 Fifth Ave., Shadyside; 412/381-5105, mansionsonfifth.com; Monthly brunch on the first Sunday, plus Sunday holidays)
The “Devils on Horseback: Breakfast Edition,” is a cream cheese-filled date, wrapped in pecan bacon in a pool of maple syrup, served here with grilled bread, house-made blueberry jam and butter. Photo by Heather Mull.
Meat & Potatoes
You know where your priorities lie if you’re elated by the fact that the list of cocktails at Meat & Potatoes takes up one-third of the brunch menu. (And that doesn’t even include the Bellini and Bloody Mary bars!) With drinks like French Toast Flip, Irish Breakfast and Aloe Vera Lemonade, you need to plan a very easy day post-meal. The fare is true to the restaurant’s name, featuring different meats like pastrami belly, Korean BBQ and smoked brisket. All this in a comfy 105-seat, velvet, wood and marble space with a 25-seat bar and a DJ (just on Sundays). Mirrors float above the banquet gastropub-style, enabling you to people-watch on the sly while sipping your Kingston Club.
(649 Penn Ave., downtown; 412/325-7007, meatandpotatoespgh.com)
Watch: Beer cocktails at Meat & Potatoes
Antipasto bite in a pastry cup, short-rib tostada with caramelized onion cheese and apricot disk with candied maple walnuts and Boursin cheese. Photo by Adam Milliron.
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
While museum cafés are often an afterthought, Café Phipps is a destination in itself; the airy café serves food that evokes the same oxygen-high that a conservatory tour gives you. Fitting then that brunch at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is a special event, held in the Special Events Hall of the lush Tropical Forest India environ. All fare is made from scratch, and seasonal ingredients are sourced locally. The selection is perhaps the most egalitarian of all, with options like a grass-fed beef carving station, a tofu scramble with slow-cooked black beans and quinoa pumpkinseed oatmeal. One of the best deals in town, a brunch ticket also includes admission to Phipps — a perfect way to spend a Sunday.
(One Schenley Drive, Oakland; 412/622-6914, phipps.conservatory.org; Brunch on select Sundays from March to December)
Liege waffle with red wine-poached pears. Photo by Heather Mull.
No one knows how to do “neighborhood restaurant” better than Jesse Seager. Point Brugge (and its sister restaurant, Park Bruges in Highland Park) takes the cliché out of “great food in a cozy atmosphere” — a sought-after yet often elusive combination. With a Belgian-influenced menu, you can’t go wrong with Point Brugge’s Liege waffles: The dense waffles are made with a pearl sugar-studded batter that caramelizes when cooked, making for a delicious characteristic crunch. The eatery also offers a substantial prix-fixe menu, with weekly specials and regular choices like Moroccan baked eggs, Merguez sausage and tartes flambée. But most tempting of all are Brugge’s frites (some of the best fries in the city) — they’re so good that it’s perfectly OK to order some with a salad.
(401 Hastings St., Point Breeze; 412/441-3334, pointbrugge.com)
Quiet Storm Vegetarian & Vegan Café
Editor’s Note: This article was first published in March of 2013. Since then, Quiet Storm Vegetarian & Vegan Cafe has closed.
Beef bulgogi and egg with Korean marinated ribeye, potato confit and grilled bread. Photo by Heather Mull.
Editor’s Note: This article was first published in March of 2013. Since then, Tamari has closed its Lawrenceville location.
Tin Front Café
For the best homestyle brunch entrées and a buffet of sides, take a trip to Homestead. Tin Front’s vegetarian spread is an ever-changing selection of egg and vegan burritos, omelets, quiches, pancakes and French toast. But don’t get fooled by the V-word: As one diner swears, Tin Front Café is “so good, you forget that it’s vegetarian!” Love beans, greens and grits? Try the Southern Comfort burrito (also offered as vegan), generously filled with black-eyed peas, kale and grits. Love Elvis? Then you need to try the Sunday at Graceland French toast; a spin on the classic, it’s presented as a sandwich filled with banana and Nutella. How can you miss that? And the value can’t be beat; for $11.95, brunchers choose one entrée and unlimited sides — just be sure to call ahead if you’re bringing a group.
(216 E. Eighth Ave., Homestead; 412/461-4615, tinfrontcafe.com)
On Sundays, lines at The Zenith are famously long — so local bands often play to keep waiting customers content as they get java from the coffee bar. Most menu and buffet items are vegan, but there’s also an egg dish for non-vegan diners and cheese available by request. The $10 brunch price includes a meal, coffee or tea and access to the buffet of sides. Tip: Consider getting your share of peanut noodles shortly after arriving — people have been known to riot when they run out. The noodles really are that good.
(86 S. 26th St., South Side; 412/481-4833, zenithpgh.com)
Leah Lizarondo authors the food blog Brazen Kitchen. She received her certification in plant-based nutrition from Cornell University and in health counseling from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. She also has a master’s degree in public policy from Carnegie Mellon University.