Pillbox

Cafe Zinho is hip, delicious

Credit: Laura Scherb/Operations Manager Credit: Laura Scherb/Operations Manager

On Saturday, in my eternal quest to eat at every restaurant worth eating at in Pittsburgh, I ventured off the beaten path to Cafe Zinho, a small, quirky Shadyside restaurant.

On a small side street off of Ellsworth Avenue, Cafe Zinho is about as hipster as Pittsburgh Mediterranean cafés come: it doesn’t take credit cards, it’s BYOB, and it’s totally underrated.

Walking into the cafe feels like walking into the place where bohemianism was born: the chandeliers are colorful splashes of glass, the cash register looks like it dates back to the days of Bonnie and Clyde, and the walls are decked out with the weirdest, coolest, most grandma-became-a-hipster decorations I’ve ever seen. The atmosphere, quiet before 6:30 p.m., is intimate and energetic, which pairs perfectly with the food. However, I was disappointed to be seated not only right inside the door but also right beside the counter at which the hosts and waiters seemed to gather, making it feel like our dinner was being monitored by the restaurant staff.

In any other case, this would have prevented me from discussing my food aloud, but the food at Cafe Zinho was so satisfyingly delicious that there was nothing I had to worry about saying too loudly.

Like many others, the restaurant drops bread on the table. Instead of the tired French loaf, it’s a warm, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside cornbread — a perfectly quirky start to your meal. I was afraid that the Mediterranean platter appetizer would be cliché and played out: some pita, hummus, olives, tomatoes, red peppers, and cheese do not make a five-star plate.
However, my worries were unnecessary. Everything was seasoned so expertly that I felt that this dish was the best of its kind and a generous serving to boot.

For my dinner, I selected the only vegetarian option on the menu: the butternut squash ravioli with pumpkin coulis. (I must add that it was both a let-down and a surprise that this was my only option, especially at such a seemingly ‘hip’ restaurant where I would expect many vegetarians to dine.) When our waitress set my bowl down in front of me, I was sad to see such a small serving size. However, after several of these raviolis, I understood the thought behind the modest servings. The ravioli were incredibly filling, and by far the most autumnally appropriate dish I’ve had this fall. The butternut squash filling was light and sweet, with a hint of mint to finish them. They were perfectly paired with the pumpkin coulis, which was lightly spiced with cumin, ginger, garlic, and a little something else to make a pleasing marriage of sweet and spicy. The roasted vegetables that came with the dish seemed random but actually proved a nice addition. It gave the chance to taste the sauce on its own with something less flavorful.

The dessert was a beautiful, again modestly-sized, Portugese cornbread pudding. I was afraid that the dish would be too savory and overload the meal, but I was wrong again. In fact, the beautifully moist pudding was very sweet, and I was thankful that the sauce that came with it was creamy enough to mute the sugar a bit.

Everything was perfectly presented, and it is easy to see that the staff here truly cares about the food that they are serving, and the experience that the diners have. My biggest complaint was that for such modest servings, the prices were very high. The quality of the food was absolutely amazing, but even small portions of amazing shouldn’t cost $25 to $30. I wish the prices were more reasonable so I could justify eating that delicious ravioli again.

It’s easy to walk past Cafe Zinho, tucked away in a small house on Spahr Street, but this is one ex-garage that you want to make sure to try at least once.