SUN KISSED: The Cafè is able to double seating capacity in the summer months with an outdoor patio that overlooks the Frick Art & Historical Center grounds (above). Irresistible desserts, like the Coconut Almond Lemon cake help the cafè to serve dessert to 75% of its customers.
SWEET SEASONALITY: An on-campus organic garden allows the cafè to prepare and garnish dishes with the freshest of natural ingredients. The Cafè offers a varieity of dessert that can satisfy every taste.
The Cafè at The Frick Art & Historical center, Pittsburgh (PA), boasts an array of mouth watering artisan desserts. The desserts showcase intense flavors composed from, traditional and—most uniquely—strictly seasonal ingredients. "We are committed to a philosophy of culinary traditionalism, using simple cooking techniques to combine seasonal ingredients and flavors in new ways," says John Muth, cafè manager who coordinates the cafè and oversees its seasonal menu.
"Have you ever made an apple pie, using the same recipe and the same ingredients first in the fall, then again in the summer?" asks Patrick Laird, executive chef. "The pie tastes incredible in the fall—tart and flavorful—but can taste like cardboard in the summer. Many blame the recipe, but oftentimes the recipe is not the culprit," he suggests.
Eating seasonally means enjoying the ripest and freshest food at the height of its natural harvest time. It also means supporting local farmers who transport their goods the shortest distance. The vast majority of fruits and vegetables prepared and presented at The Cafè are either grown in the organic garden on the Frick grounds or on local farms.
"The quality and taste of our foods are profoundly affected by how and where they are obtained," says Laird. "Farming is the first step in cooking and there is really no substitute for working with fresh, local ingredients."
The Cafè's philosophy is "in most cases, great taste is a local product," says Muth.
The cafè operates from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. preparing the majority of their desserts after hours to be served the following day. With significant size limitations in The Cafè's kitchen, the chef's work shoulder to shoulder. "The chemistry between our chefs is what makes us so successful," says Muth. "They work well together as a team. That quality makes it possible for them to work effectively in such a modest space."
Taking advantage of seasonal foods can amplify the flavor profiles in fruit and nutbased desserts. With a notable repertoire of desserts that include pastries, puddings, cakes and custards, Muth boasts that The Cafè serves dessert to 75% of its customers.
"The case in the center of The Cafè not only houses our desserts, but tempts our customers throughout their dining experience," says Muth. "The Frick elicits a response in visitors that we want to mirror in The Cafè. We do that with high-quality, classic foods that take on a modern interpretation."
"The crostata, for instance, can be made with peaches instead of nectarines," explains Muth. "Be sure to peel the peaches. You may also use the last blueberries of summer or the new crop of autumn raspberries. For fall, make the crostata with apples, pears and walnuts. Use a little less sugar and add some cinnamon. For the winter holidays, use apples, pears, and cranberries. (The cranberries will need a little more sugar though.) Welcome spring with a crostata filled with rhubarb. (This will also need more sugar.) Finally, in midsummer, fill the crostata with just raspberries when they are plentiful and inexpensive."
To Everything There is a Season
Every season: The Cafè makes a different crostata for each season. (A crostata is a rustic, free-form pie with fresh seasonal ingredients baked inside.)
See Recipe: Nectarine, Plum and Berry Crostada
Fall: Apple cranberry cobbler is made from fresh sliced apples and dried cranberries tossed with sugar, cinnamon and rum, then baked with a cinnamon sweet biscuit topping and served warm with housemade vanilla ice cream. Pear ginger bread pudding is made from diced rustic bread soaked in rum raisin custard with fresh pears and crystallized ginger. It is served warm with crðme anglaise.
Summer: The Peach cheesecake soufflè is a traditional peach flavored cheesecake folded with whipped egg whites, and is served with brulðed sugar and fresh peach coulis.
Spring: Strawberry white chocolate cake is a strawberry genoise layered with white chocolate mousse and decorated with chocolate covered strawberries. It is served with strawberry sauce
Winter: Bananas foster crðme brulðe is made from brandied bananas flambð baked with traditional French vanilla custard with a burned sugar topping. It is served with a fanned strawberry.
PHOTOS BY JOHN MUTH