Sunday Brunch in Bloom at Pittsburgh’s Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens will give you a different perspective on this famous garden’s plants and there’s a reason for that: You’ll be eating them.
The original glass conservatory building, a gift to the city from philanthropist Henry W. Phipps, was built in 1893. It remains beautiful and vibrant, indoors and out, in every season. But now there is a new building behind it; one that the website declares is one of “Earth’s greenest buildings,” where, weather permitting, vegetables and herbs are grown on its green roof and served at the Sunday brunches. The brunches begin next Sunday and are scheduled for select Sundays through May, including Easter and Mother’s Day. The menu and price for each Sunday are set, and children are welcome. Go to the website www.phipps.conservatory.org /exhibits-and-events/featured-event.aspx?eventid=453 to see the menus and make reservations, which are a must for the brunches.
To arrive at the Special Events Hall where the brunch is held, you will have passed through the Palm Court, the South Conservatory (an 1897 addition to the original glass house) and the Mangrove Circle. After the meal, it is only a short walk through the tropical forest, out the door and across the patio to the Center for Sustainable Landscapes, where you can walk through the rooftop garden that has fed you. Then tour the building beneath it, which is an innovative model of sustainability on track to meet or exceed the world’s three highest green standards for a facility. Among the center’s accomplishments is the ability to generate all of its own energy, and treat and reuse all water captured on site. Look up to the rooftop of the production greenhouse to see the vertical axis wind turbine, very sculpturesque, and walk down the hill beside the CSL to see the beautiful lagoon designed as part of the water treatment.
Tours of the CSL are free with admission and begin at 1 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. You must register because there is a limit of 20 people per day.
The Phipps is always family-friendly; its website lists programs available for every age. Located just behind Carnegie Mellon University, it has even become the “cool” place for Pittsburgh’s many college students to hang out with friends. There is no denying that the place is very calming, whether you’re among the succulents and cacti where a Chihuly chandelier hangs, or in the Stove Room, which houses the Butterfly Forest from April to September.
For other good eats that are more than just good eats, visit Conflict Kitchen (www.conflictkitchen.org), a kiosk in Schenley Plaza a short walk from the Phipps and bordering University of Pittsburgh territory. Conflict Kitchen serves food from countries with which the United States is in conflict. Established in 2010, it is part restaurant, part political awareness, and part art project.
I learned of this unusual, themed restaurant in the art gallery at the University of Buffalo. Dawn Wesleski, co-director of Conflict Kitchen with Jon Rubin, gave a lecture as part of UB Art Gallery’s fall exhibit of what UB curator Sandra Q. Firmin tells me is called Social Practice Art or Post Studio Practice.
Food from Cuba, Iran, Afghanistan and Venezuela has been featured at Conflict Kitchen. Only one cuisine is served at a time and runs for about three months. Its website states “Each Conflict Kitchen iteration is augmented by events, performances and discussions that seek to expand the engagement the public has with the culture, politics, and issues at stake within the focus country.” Check the website for the schedule.
The North Korean food that was served at the time of my visit was delicious, and I was encouraged by a chance encounter with a Korean woman also ordering food, surely a sign of authenticity. The kiosk is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Still hungry? Jozsa Corner Hungarian (www.jozsacorner.com) serves up a bundle of atmosphere with its traditional Hungarian dishes. Another restaurant where you get more than just food, Hungarian native Alex Bodnar has been operating down by the railroad tracks along the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh’s Greenfield/Hazelwood neighborhood since 1988, a neighborhood which, like others in Pittsburgh, is on its way up after falling into disrepair. Bodnar prepares his grandmother’s traditional Hungarian recipes with joy, and he’s happy to tell you all about it. The restaurant is a student favorite and is written up in many of the college publications, all of which he has posted in the entry area.
Bodnar decides what’s for dinner, a concept I love, making the meal truly a communal experience – an important aspect of dinner or any meal. There is no menu; Bodnar brings the food he has chosen to prepare that day to the table and tells you what it is. It is served family-style, furthering the feeling that you have come home to dinner. Feel free to ask for seconds. You might be sharing one of the restaurant’s three tables for 12 with others, as we did, increasing your communal experience. The evening we were there another of the long tables was filled with a family celebrating a college graduation and one was full of chic 20-somethings celebrating a birthday. BYOB.