The Café at the Frick

By | June 21, 2006

The Café at the Frick
7227 Reynolds Street
Point Breeze, 15208
Tu-Sun: Lunch11-5; Tea 2:30-5

This place is bombasticular! No seriously, it’s rockin’ like dokken. It’s in the zone, off the hook, over the wall, and under the radar. In other words, it’s a quiet little spot with bitchin’ food that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It may be expensive, but believe me you, it is worth every dime, every time.

The Café at the Frick has two major modes of operation: lunch and high tea. Both are totally great. Everything here is made from scratch and with such love that you can taste it in the final product. Many of the vegetables and herbs used in the dishes are grown right on the grounds of the Frick Estate, mostly in the greenhouse, which you can tour for free. Other ingredients come from local farms throughout the Pittsburgh area. Even the meat and eggs are purchased from Pennsylvania farmers with ecologically sound practices and animal-friendly policies. The animals are fed natural grains containing no supplemental additives, animal byproducts, steroids, hormones, or antibiotics. The Frick is dedicated to the support of the family farm, sustainable agriculture, and respectful treatment of animals, and their goal is to have 75% of their ingredients come from local resources. This place is totally awesome.

The dishes are innovative and unique, pairing ingredients you might not have thought to put together into one dish. If you’ve read my other reviews, you may have noticed that I am usually critical of unusual pairings. This is because only the very best chef can manage to pull it off. Kaya? Nut-uhhh…they can never seem to do it except on rare occasions. But the Frick? Ohhhh yeah! Every bite is an exemplary case of ingredients gone right.

Their secret is the cooking staff. The chef is simply some kind of kitchen wizard, wizzing up meals fit for Frick himself. They have soups, salads, sandwiches, and entrees, all of which are delectable. In particular, the soups here are not to be missed. This season, they offer Potato Sorrel Soup, a purée of new potatoes, lemon sorrel, leeks, fresh herbs, garlic, cream, and vegetable stock, with a dash of morel oil. My father-in-law allowed me a few spoonfuls of his, and let me tell you, it’s not at all some boring potato soup. It isn’t overly exciting either, it’s just really delicious. A second soup changes daily, and on my most recent visit it was a simple Asian vegetable soup that balanced all sorts of exquisite flavors beautifully.

You can’t go wrong with any item on the seasonally-changing menu, so just dive in and find the one that strikes your fantasy best. Here is a small selection of offerings just to get you salivating:

Alsatian Onion Tart – Traditional French flaky pastry baked with caramelized onions and nutmeg cream – served over crisp greens with spring berries and strawberry-balsamic vinaigrette

Beef Barbeque Sandwich – Applewood smoked beef brisket with Alabama white barbeque sauce, sliced avocado and crispy leeks on a kaiser roll – served with green bean-potato salad

Spring Rolls – Assorted spring vegetables, bean sprouts, enouki mushrooms, mango, and fresh herbs wrapped in rice paper – served with ginger-miso dipping sauce and soba noodle salad

Three Pea Pasta Carbonara – Imported bellflower pasta tossed with crisp pancetta, English peas, sugar snap peas, spring pea shoots, garlic, Pecorino cheese, and freshly ground black pepper – topped with a poached farm-fresh egg

Flatbread Pizza – Housemade Navajo flatbread grilled with fava purée, tomatillos, pineapple-onion relish, arugula, roasted red peppers, garlic, and pine nuts

Spring Lamb Biryani – Harissa marinated Pennsylvania spring lamb with cucumber-yogurt raita over saffron biryani rice

Don’t those all sound fabulous? What are you in the mood for now? Last time I was there, I was in the mood for that onion tart on a salad. Holy moly, that was one good tart! The tart was perfectly warm and the pastry was SO amazing. It was like they cooked me a tart, right then and there! The salad bed with berries was wonderful too, and I was pleased with the strawberry-balsamic vinaigrette, which wasn’t at all cloying.

But maybe its high tea that you seek, with all of its little finger sandwiches, cookies and scones. If you go anytime after 2:30, high tea is an option. Before I get started in on the deliciousness of their high tea, let me stop to tell you that you shouldn’t think this is some dinky snack or something. You will be very full by the time you roll out of the Café. It isn’t just tea, naturally. You are served a tower of treats that include the best egg salad sandwich you will ever eat (and I don’t like eggs at all so that is saying something), plus a couple other mini-sandwiches that might include chicken salad or watercress. Move down one level to the giant scones with jam and clotted cream. They are homemade, fresh, soft, flavorful scones that can only be rivaled by the scones from Enrico’s in the Strip. The clotted cream is homemade too, which makes a difference. Move down one level more and you are faced with a bevy of homemade cookies like French Madelines and so on. I’ll bet you can’t finish them all.

Of course, the high tea comes with an endless amount of hot tea as well, for which you will have to choose from their list of gourmet, loose leaf teas. My favorite is the Frick Blend, which is comprised of components grown in their very own greenhouse. It is always a little different, as it depends on the growing plants. I just love that whole idea. But you can also get English Breakfast, Earl Grey, and a variety of others. If you upgrade your high-tea, you also get champagne or cocktails of your choice. A Kir Royale goes down especially nice.

And the Café building itself is a wonderfully pleasant place to be, rain or shine. Once I was there when it was pouring outside, and it felt warm and cozy. Another time we sat on the sunny porch outside and it felt cool and breezy. It is always perfect. I don’t know how they do it! In the warm months, their outdoor seating is sublime. The Frick grounds are lovely, and high tea in their midst is part of a perfect day.

After you are done, or before, be sure to visit the rest of the estate. Touring the Clayton mansion itself requires reservations for a nominal fee, but everything else is free. That includes the grounds, the greenhouse, the Frick Art Museum, and the Car and Carriage Museum. The personal art collection of the Frick’s is always on display, plus there is a revolving set of visiting art. This is not a top-tier museum like the Carnegie; however, strolling through makes a pleasant afternoon. The Car and Carriage Museum is truly a must-see, especially if you are a Pittsburgher or like history. The first room contains many of the horse-drawn carriages the Fricks used, while the second room contains a few of their cars. They were affluent during that transitional period between horse-drawn and horseless carriages, and so there are opulent old Rolls-Royces and Stanley Steamers to see. There are many more cars too, which were later donated by an enthusiastic car collector. The museum is fascinating. I especially love the carriages, which cause me to imagine the Frick’s traveling down 5th or Wilkins Ave in turn-of-the-century Pittsburgh, going to pick their friends up for the opera in a ‘mini-van’ carriage, replete with foot warmers for one of those cold, snowy Pittsburgh evenings. Life for the Frick’s was surely grand, and though we can’t all be millionaires we deserve to occasionally eat like one. The Café at the Frick is just one of the splendid ways the Frick Estate brings everyday people into the life of a robber baron.

High Tea
Salad or Sandwich, or anything really!
Fancy champagne cocktails

The sneaky tip for this restaurant is to make sure that you save room for dessert! They have their very own pastry chef who is a captain of confection. The long dessert list is almost impossible to choose from. Everything sounds so wonderful, and it tastes even better. Don’t be the one who must go without a mousse!

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