After an incredible experience at Falling Water and Lautrec the night before it was back to The Burgh for more art, flowers, shopping, and food – waking up later than usual I decided to forgo the gym and after a quick shower the three of us made our way down to hipster/bohemian Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh for a breakfast I was told “can’t be beat.” Arriving at Coca Café just after 8am and finding free parking along the street we made our way in to the small shop to find only four tables full and only one server working. Greeted pleasantly we were invited to sit wherever we like.
Speaking of tables and seats, they are probably the first thing anyone visiting Coca Café will notice. Somewhere between yard-sale and antique store the restaurant features no less than 20 different styles of chair and everything from a small two top to a table that looks like something you’d find in your grandmother’s kitchen. Lining the wall with works of local artists, many of which were for sale, and filled with natural light the main room is fun and whimsical – so much that you can almost overlook the coffee, juice, and tea bar that dominates the right half of the space.
Greeted quickly by our server, an attractive and smiling young woman named Sharyn we were presented with menus and drink orders were placed – 2 coffees, one Almond Coca Moca and a subsequent hot tea for my sister, plus water. I will note now that if Sharyn is not an owner or co-owner of Coca Café she deserves a BIG raise – making lattes, taking orders, bussing tables, running food from the kitchen, rolling napkins and silverware…I wouldn’t have been surprised if she was cooking, as well – and even with all that our cups never reached empty. Inside those cups – bold and balanced La Prima Coffee with free refills for $1.95 and Stash Tea for $1.25…a resounding bargain.
Orders placed we sat for less than fifteen minutes before our shared starter would arrive steaming hot from the kitchen. Listed as “Zucchini Bread - made with chocolate chips and coconut, served with fresh fruit” this was unlike any Zucchini Bread I’ve ever had in that the bread was certainly made of well chopped zucchini – fibrous, moist, and full of nutmeg and cinnamon – but it was also loaded with shredded coconut and small chips of bitter dark chocolate giving it a “Mounds Bar” taste and texture. Topped with a creamy butter this was a nice taste – it made me want to try the Banana Bread, as well.
When it came to main courses we ordered in predictable fashion – each ordering something different and sharing around. Selecting first my mother, a fan of all things lemon, opted for the Almond French Toast - with fresh berries and lemon cream sauce. While the dish certainly would not have been my first choice it actually turned out to be superb with thick and hearty rustic French bread cut at an angle, dipped in cream, vanilla, and cinnamon plus chopped almonds and pan fried crispy. Topped with an ethereal cream sauce that tasted far too sweet to be called “lemon” (perhaps Meyer Lemon?) the whole dish felt light, summery, and fun.
For my sister’s selection, the dish I’d originally targeted - Challah French Toast with brie, fig jam, and fresh berries. Luscious and buttery the Challah on its own would have been delectable, but dipped in batter and griddled to crisp the bread was lovely. Topping the bread first with heavy slices of creamy brie and then adding a smear of sweet fig compote plus a handful of strawberries and blueberries the dish was already wonderful, but a drizzle of maple syrup really brought out some of the mellow notes in the cheese.
For my main course, potentially the most interesting item on the menu – the Herbed Goat Cheese French Toast with country white bread stuffed with herbed goat cheese and topped with fresh berries. Featuring three huge pieces of thick and airy bread, the slices were then cut diagonally and stuffed with rich and pungent chevre laden with basil, chive, salt, pepper. With a hearty crust supporting the bread and earthy aromatics sandwiched within the bread was then dipped and pan seared to golden brown. Topped simply with berries the whole concoction begged for a generous helping of pure maple syrup and when completed resembled the sort of sweet/savory interplay that one would expect from an Italian or Greek dessert course.
Full but not stuffed we settled the modest bill and left a well deserved tip for our outstanding “do-it-all-and-do-it-well” staff of one. Making our way to the street and subsequently to Phipps Conservatory the meal at Coca Café was one of the best breakfasts I’ve had in some time and everything from the quirky decorations to unique selections to outstanding service were absolutely worth the trip.