Gypsy Café

By | January 19, 2006

Gypsy Café
1330 Bingham Street
Southside. Pittsburgh. PA
412.381.GYPSY (4977)
Sunday Brunch 12-4
For dinner hours, check: http://gypsycafe.net/html/location.html

Brunch is a special meal. To me, a brunch is a meal that I roll out of bed late for, and that I eat without abandon. It is not a meal to diet with, it is a meal on which to gorge. Stereotypically, it involves some number of stations where you wait in line and glop stuff on your plate, buffet style. However, brunch technically only means “A meal typically eaten late in the morning as a combination of a late breakfast and an early lunch.” That means practically anything goes, and at the Gypsy Café, anything goes to great effect.

The brunch, served only on Sunday and after 12 noon, has a menu that is highly unusual. It is themed. Normally, this might be cheesy, but in this case, the chef, who sets a new theme every week, is just as nerdy as me, and just as much of a TV, movie, and video game junkie. His theme might be Muppet Show Brunch, Star Wars Brunch, Glam Rock Brunch, or Adult Swim Cartoon Brunch. A meal selection might be a Boba Fett-a Frittata: a spinach, olive, and – you guessed it – feta frittata. Or maybe you’ll go on Video Game day, and find the Final Fantasy French Toast on the menu, which is cinnamon-raison French toast with honeyed ricotta, caramel apples and crispy bacon. On my most recent trip, it was Sci Fi Day, and my brother got the Bananastar Galacticakes! What a stellar name! It was impossible for one of us not to get these banana pancakes.

While I appreciate the chef’s sense of humor, a gimmick at a restaurant is usually covering up some kind of crap-for-food. That is why I never go to places like Friday’s – the whole damn place is a gimmick! But, that is a rant for another day. At the Gypsy Café, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the food was delicious. It was delicious, hugely portioned, and cheap! (not so for the dinners, but you can read about that later in the review).

First of all, they have delicious warmed, crunchy pita triangles instead of toast. I am sort of addicted to them. And if you want to, you can order an appetizer of hummus, which they make in-house in various flavors. Reed and I have tried a few flavors, and by far the sun-dried tomato hummus is my favorite. It wowed me. The pumpkin hummus was not at all wow-ing, and the roasted garlic hummus was pretty good, but not as amazing as Aladdin’s hummus, or Sabra’s (a brand you can sometimes get at the Squirrel Hill Giant Eagle, in the ice cream section). But the sun-dried tomato hummus – woowee! – that is some delectable hummus!

As far as menu items go for brunch, the names may change every week, but usually the items are similar to each other. For instance, there is always an item that is essentially a whopping serving of homefries with all sorts of good stuff in it. When I am really hungry, I get this! Its homefries, roasted garlic (MMM!), carmelized onions, crumbled up bacon, and cheddar cheese, all mixed together in this giant pile. Then THAT is topped with two eggs, any style! It’s ridiculous! And tasty! And good as a leftover as well!

There is also usually an item that is a spicy omelet with a variety of items inside and pepper jack cheese. Reed always ferrets this one out and gets it because it is so consistently delicious, even though the fillings change slightly. It is a very good selection, probably the best brunch item this place makes. Of course, I always end up ordering whatever has the funniest name, but that can sometimes backfire. The pancakes, for instance, are only so-so, no matter how good they sound. But, the chef is very creative, and he’s not afraid to go anywhere with his dishes. One time I got a porridge made of quinoa, with all manner of dried fruits in it. It was a risk that paid-off. They also have a lunch type item in the list, and a light salad item. One more thing to note – on any given Sunday, there may not be a vegetarian option. However, it is possible to order almost anything as vegetarian, as they are generally vegetarian friendly.

I mentioned earlier a little something about the dinner. Because this restaurant is not primarily a brunch place, I should say a word or two about its normal mode of operation. I went to dinner there once, and I have to admit that I was disappointed by the food, especially for the price. They seem pretty proud of their gnocchi, so I ordered it. Turns out that it has nothing on Il Pizzaiolo and Girasole. If I weren’t regularly eating gnocchi at one of those two places, maybe this would seem delicious to me, but I’m still not sure. The gnocchi was a bit too gummy, and the sauce (I chose tomato, which they offer on the summer menu) was watery. I can’t speak as to the sage browned butter sauce though. Reed and I both got a chilled cucumber soup that was very strange. It was partially frozen, so that there were all these little ices in the soup – it reminded me of the way milk ices in a fridge that is too cold. The texture was actually pretty intriguing, but in addition the soup also had a predominant flavor of cumin that was so overbearing that I couldn’t even finish the soup. That is very unlike me – to not finish something, especially something with cumin in it. Anyway, it isn’t that the food was bad necessarily – I just felt regretful for having paid $20 – $25 a person for this meal. To me, the meal was worth around $12-$15 per person. To be fair, Reed and I should probably give this place another shot for dinner. Try an interesting steak or fish dish, a goulash perhaps. The menu descriptions are always mouth-watering. I’m just afraid that I will leave the meal feeling like I did last time – sad.

But the brunch is NOTHING like that! And it is super cheap! That homefry pile I described? That is like 8 bucks. Maybe expensive for ‘breakfast’, but not for brunch. And the restaurant has a great, and I mean really great, atmosphere. It is like stepping inside of a gypsy caravan, with purple and maroon swaths of cloth hanging on the walls. There are funky paintings, the brick is exposed in some areas, and the hostess booth is a totally amazing old trunk, like steamer ship style with a bunch of little drawers. It’s the kind of trunk that would be on the Titanic, that some European woman would put all of her elbow-length gloves into. Super cool. And to top it all off, the restaurant has a part-time psychic lady, Rebecca, to tell your fortune. She is only there on Friday and Sunday nights, and her services are not included in the meal. I have never gotten a reading from her, but I have seen her giving readings and she seems nice at least! They also have a band called the “Gypsy Strings” on Thursday nights, but I haven’t been to see them yet.

Overall, this restaurant has promise. My opinion at the moment is that the Brunch is wonderful, especially certain items, but that dinner has not yet crossed the line into ‘worth it’. They also serve lunch, but I’ve never been and can’t say anything about it, except that the menu items sound good. I know this doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement because of all I’ve said about the dinner, but really the Brunch is worth checking out!! Good ideas, good food, and funny to boot!

Get:
Sun-dried Tomato Hummus (if they are out, try the olive or garlic flavor)
Brunch (particularly the homefry pile and the omelet of the week)

Coffee: B+


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