Eden offers flavor without losing any during the cooking process
The word "cooking" often is used interchangeably with "preparing food" -- but that's not necessarily accurate.
Much of the menu at Eden in Shadyside is "raw," or prepared without the sustained application of heat. In addition, most of it is vegan, which means that there's no meat or dairy involved, and gluten-free. Oh, and there's a strong emphasis on local produce, grown in Western Pennsylvania.
Yet, for all its self-imposed limitations, one thing Eden doesn't leave out is flavor. If you can get this much flavor out of mostly uncooked produce, you're doing something right.
"I suffer from lots of different allergies, and I've always been very health-conscious, which makes it hard for me to eat out," chef/co-owner Hilary Zozula says. "I know a lot of people who are struggling with that, who aren't sure if there are certain things in the food that they weren't told about. I just really wanted to have a place available where people could go and eat and not have to 'work it off' or feel weird about it. Just really honest, really pure food."
She grew up eating raw and vegan food in California, and has no formal training -- although there just aren't a lot of places where you can learn this style of cuisine. "Whenever you heat something above 115 degrees, it gradually loses its nutritional content," Zozula says. "Some things, like meat, you have to cook. But with fruits and vegetables, nuts and sprouts -- when cooked, they slowly lose the vitamins and minerals that they have. It's a little frustrating.
"It's completely different from cooking. It's about spices, mixing, dehydrating. It's definitely not your normal culinary experience."
Until recently, Eden was known as the Juice Box Cafe, which focused on sandwiches and freshly-squeezed juices. The juices remain.
Understated, unpretentious, under the stairs.
You have to walk down from street level to get to Eden, a cozy little semi-subterranean spot on Copeland Street in Shadyside -- one of the few places in Pittsburgh where you'll find storefronts stacked three-high atop one another, much more common in compact, densely populated East Coast cities like Boston.
The dining room is small, clean, uncluttered, with intriguingly odd local art on the walls. We sat at a table beneath an almost full-size, realistic portrait of a friendly bartender.
Service was fast and friendly, offering helpful explanations of unusual dishes without prompting. An unseen stereo played classic soul music at a comfortable volume.
It helps to set aside certain straight-up comparisons -- like whether "cashew cheese" tastes better or worse than real cheese -- and just accept that some things will taste different, and move on. In most cases at Eden, the new flavors are excellent, just a little unusual.
A good place to start is the three-course tasting meal ($15), which gives a small sample of each main dish and includes dessert. It's a nice way to sample the main items on the menu, without committing to any one thing, and they don't seem to mind if you split it between two people.
But if you're confident enough in your choices, the Beet Ravioli starter ($5) is a good way to begin. The "ravioli" are constructed from thin slices of candy cane beet -- named for its red-and-white-swirled coloration -- which is surprisingly mild and sweet. Inside, there's another surprise -- cashew cheese that's creamy and slightly sweet like a good ricotta. It's not grainy or mealy like some nut-based faux-cheeses. Lemon and basil round out the dish.
The Zucchini Pasta ($11) features noodles made from thin slices of zucchini, which can be a little tricky to work with -- but it was perfectly ripe, with none of the expected bitterness or sogginess. It's covered in a rich sun-dried tomato marinara and "nutty Parmesan cheese."
Some of the dishes appear to be named ironically, but this only tends to invite unfair comparisons with their cheesy and/or meaty counterparts. The Marinated Veg. Pizza ($12) in no way resembles pizza, for instance, but is delicious in its own right. Atop a crunchy dehydrated-vegetable crust, there's an artful arrangement of cashew cheese, paprika, sunflower seeds and sprouts. The Steak & Potatoes ($12.50) substitutes mushrooms for steak and cauliflower for potatoes, with a rich, salty, slightly overpowering miso gravy. Although it might have benefited from a lighter sauce, it's quite good -- as long as you're not expecting actual steak and potatoes.
Not everything at Eden is raw, and there are even a few options for carnivores.
The Mole ($12) is a hot dish, served with either tempeh or local free-range chicken. The mole itself is a dark, yet mild, tangy, soupy sauce, served with corn tortillas, fresh avocado and an orange slice on the side.
Desserts included a dairy-free Raspberry Lemon Cheese Cake ($6.50), which somehow approximated the taste and consistency (if not appearance) of cheesecake with cashews, walnuts, dates and vanilla sunflower seeds.Additional Information:
Cuisine: Casual, fresh, local, healthy food, emphasizing raw, vegan and/or gluten-free dishes. BYOB
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Mon., Wed.-Sat.; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday (brunch)
Entree Price Range: $9-$15.
Notes: Accepts all major credit cards; reservations accepted.
Location: 735 Copeland St., Shadyside
Details: 412-802-7070 or www.edenpitt.com