This delightfully enthusiastic article on a dinner experience at Orbis was written by barista Jess Johns following our Global Tastes with Local Produce dinner in August. Thanks for the the over the top review Jess. Sonja and Grant.
A Worldly Dinner at Orbis Caffe
Sonja and Grant Schutte took over Aldo Coffee Company and re-opened as Orbis Caffe in the winter of 2011, and how they have been living up to their new name! As a cafe, Orbis still serves some of the best coffee in Pittsburgh. They pull espresso from both Chicago-based Intelligentsia and Annapolis, Maryland-based Ceremony, and they retail bags of beans from both roasters as well as Washington, PA-based 19 Coffee. Both wife and husband are equally fixated on quality, as you see every day with each beautiful drink and mouthwatering quiche they serve up.
On the last Saturday of every month, however, they take it to a whole other level, hosting a limited seating 5-course menu featuring cuisine from a particular country. They’ve been all over the world in these last 3 years, and this August they are holding, for the 2nd time now, a worldly menu featuring local ingredients.
Grant and his daughter Holly are the dynamic duo in the kitchen, working so smoothly and by now quit single-mindedly together. The courses seem to build themselves around whatever interesting, eye-catching ingredients they find in their painstaking research. This month’s menu, however, was built solely on all of the beautiful produce that’s grown or raised in our very own region.
The evening began, as it always does, with cocktails. Local cucumbers were skinned, diced, and left to soak for 24 hours in gin while a simple syrup was made with lemon juice and fresh mint from Orbis’ garden. A shot of this concoction was hit with a splash of Pellegrino water, a few ice cubes, and a sprig of mint and there you have it-- a refreshing Gin Fizz. Also on tap were beers from two local breweries, an IPA from Penn Brewery in the North Side and a Nut Brown Ale from Hop Farm in Lawrenceville.
Our trip around the world started with the appetizers. First a classic Italian combo, prosciutto crudo and melon. The wonderfully sweet cantaloupe from the farmer’s market in Mt. Lebanon was wrapped in the salty dry-cured prosciutto by Parma in the Strip; the flavors were perfectly balanced. Next, from France, baby quiches. Mild, meaty chanterelle mushrooms were foraged in Seven Creeks Steubenville OH, and after being thoroughly cleaned and trimmed were cooked down in butter. Onion and garlic were all that needed to be added to make these simple yet full-flavored little bites. Lastly we got a taste of the Middle East with a take on bruschetta. Baguettes from Mediterra Bakehouse were sliced thin, toasted, and rubbed with garlic cloves. Beautiful butternut squash from Kern Farms were cut in to cubes, cooked to caramelize, and mixed with a lemon tahini, red onion, and Za’atar spice. It was all at once crunchy, sweet, and savory, with the sumac in the za’atar really standing out.
Our palates well seasoned, we found our tables and sat down to the first course; a savory cheesecake with curried peaches and a side of kale salad. This delectable little dish, a concept straight from the head of Holly Schutte, put front and center the wholesome chevre from Cherish Creamery. It was mixed simply with scallions and held together by a parmesan crust, however the curried peaches took it over the top and led us to India. To further build those flavors, cumin, coriander, and peppery arugula were highlights in the wonderfully refined kale salad.
The second course was a revelation! Back to Italy we went with a hand-made linguini that was out of this world. The dough was simple, just flour, salt, and egg, yet the process was the definition of tedium as Holly used an old-fashioned hand crank to produce the lengthy strands which had to be separated and floured. It was all worth it, however, when out came these perfect little bowls of pasta tossed with a light sauce of tomatoes, olive oil, and garlic and drizzled with a bit of homemade basil oil. “Summer in your mouth,” Grant said at one point and it truly was!
The following course took me right back to Key West where I lived for a summer-- the Cuban sandwich. This take on the Cubano was at first not what I expected because there was no bread… But I was immediately won over! First and foremost, the pork. A beautiful pork shoulder from Heilman’s Hogwash Farm marinated for two days in Mojo seasoning; orange, lime, cilantro, oregano, garlic, and olive oil, and was then roasted. That was the base of the plate, topped with a chiffonade of Italian rosemary ham. A classic Cubano is served with Swiss cheese and yellow mustard, here however a delicious cheese mustard sauce, made of butter, cream, Dijon mustard, and cheddar, was drizzled over the meat. Topping it all off were homemade pickles; thinly sliced cucumbers that Grant fermented for six hours along with bay leaves and allspice. This dish was outstanding, who needs bread!!?
Next up was a visit to Japan with a very satisfying stir fry. The homemade tofu from Lotus Foods was fantastic; seasoned with ginger, garlic, and scallions, it had a perfectly crisp shell while the inside remained delicate and creamy. The Japanese eggplants were double cooked so their flavor just popped, and the baby bok choy was super fresh, picked the day before on the Varner’s Stone Church Acres farm in Finleyville, PA. The two vegetables were stir fried with soy, ginger, and miren, a japanese cooking wine, then the pieces of tofu were simply placed on top in the bowl. It was so straightforward and delicious I could have eaten it all night long!
The final course of the night brought us right back home to the good ol’ South-- brisket, grits, and slaw. The star here was of course the brisket, provided by Logan Farms. It was given a dry spice rub with garlic, salt, onion, cayenne, paprika, and (here again) cumin and coriander, and was left to sit for 24 hours. It then went into a smoker where it spent 14 hours getting nice and tender. A bit of apple juice was rubbed over the brisket closer to serving which gave just the right amount of moisture, and the fall-off-the-bone pieces were served on top of some soupy cheesy grits. “Mais Moulin,” a Haitian recipe, combined grits with cheddar, cream, white pepper, garlic, and onion. On the side was a refreshing slaw; red, white, and savoy cabbage was tossed in a yogurt dressing along with lemon, garlic, dried parsley, and paprika. It was the perfect combination of flavors; smoky, creamy, and tangy all on one plate.
The cherry on top of this fabulous meal was the dessert, an Affogato, so small, so simple, yet packing such a punch of flavors. Italian for “drowned,” it is a shot of hot espresso over a scoop of ice cream. In this case, a shot of sweet and chocolaty Black Cat espresso was poured over home (Holly) made ginger peach gelato using some very juicy summer peaches. Served on the side was a nice piece of rosemary biscotti from local Italian bakers Le Paste Dolci. The gelato was oh so creamy, the espresso milky sweet, and the biscotti was the perfect crunch… it was first-class fantastic!
What a night, so much good food and SO much fun! If you have not yet been to Orbis’ monthly dinner, I highly recommend you do so immediately… In the back of this homey, unassuming coffee shop you’ll find a five-star restaurant.