This was my review of the restaurant Zenith in the South Side neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA.
Originally published in The Original Magazine, Issue 12, May 2013.
Finding My Zenith
Attending a vegetarian Sunday brunch at an antique shop… repeat that three times fast
When I tell my relatives across the country about Pittsburgh, I compare it to a spilled treasure chest. Through every part of the city, gems and riches have been scattered and hidden for newcomers and locals to stumble upon, experience, and pass onto their friends. This is where my metaphor gets lost. A communal treasure chest? Impossible. Yet Pittsburgh finds a way to bring the hole-in-the-wall restaurants, shops, bars, and community centers more accessible to each Yinzer every day.
In the fall of 2012, I was searching for another gem among the hills of the city, but with little time and even less money, I found no new treasures for myself until the last week of my semester. One of my good friends invited me to a Sunday vegetarian brunch at a place in South Side called Zenith. He also mentioned it being an antique store, so I immediately thought of a restaurant-meets-gift-shop establishment.
We walked along 26th street to the definition of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Had I come by Zenith alone or with a group of friends, I would have never thought it was a restaurant. The nondescript entrance is bursting with antiques from floor to ceiling, including chairs hanging from the ceiling. My friend directed us to the back to get seated for a table. We were asked to wait 15-20 minutes; my grumbling stomach persisted. So we waited, but time flew by amongst the racks of vintage clothing, tapestries, jewelry, old paintings, housewares, and funky items.
When our time came, the two of us were seated immediately at a larger table with a few others. I surveyed the eclectic dining room we sat in. From the carpet to the ceiling, contemporary works of art were ornately framed. I felt like I was attending an art show… just before the smell of cakes and salads began to waft our way. I eyed the buffet hungrily, deciding right then that I was going to opt for the brunch buffet. As we got our menu, my friend gave me a few opinions on what he thought would be good as an entree. Everything was indeed vegetarian, with a number of vegan and gluten-free options. Just as I was reconsidering my decision on the buffet, I read at the top of the menu that the entire meal was $10: the buffet, an entree, and iced or hot coffee/tea included. I was amazed and extremely happy with the amount of delicious food I was about to receive. For my entree, I settled on a seitan meatloaf with mashed potatoes and hot tea. After we placed our orders, we went to the star of our brunch: the buffet. It included a salad section featuring peanut noodles, macaroni salad, hummus, potato salad, lentil salad, vegetable salad, Israeli couscous, pasta salad, and too many more to mention. The cake buffet included a variety of bundt cakes: Banana Chocolate, Raspberry Almond, Chocolate Coconut, and too many more to mention.
Our table was tightly packed but cozy. We talked to our neighbors and noticed how just about every part of the table came from a different set. Forks were mismatched with plates and cups; we were even seated at different chairs around the table. The waitress mentioned to us that everything we saw before us was for sale. My friend actually ended up buying the antique cup he was drinking out of for $3.
All the food was absolutely delicious and filled each of us to the brim: from the tasty and flavorful salads, to the sweet and scrumptious desserts, to the main course itself. As a meat substitute, seitan tastes wonderfully compared to normal meatloaf and doesn’t leave you feeling too heavy after the meal.
At the end of our meal, we sat pleasantly plumped and looked around at the different pieces of art, discussing some and looking puzzled at others. I observed a few younger children at the restaurant that were captivated by all the artistic stimulation around them; the decor and gallery was a surefire way to keep the kids from crying.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “zenith” is defined as a) the highest point reached by a celestial or other object, and b) the point in the sky or celestial sphere directly above an observer. The abundant amount of collectibles, trinkets, and delicious food within this antiquerie-meets-restaurant made it a metaphorical zenith, and a true high point in my treasure hunt through Pittsburgh.