The Garden Cafe at Heinz Hall offers quick, but specialty lunches
Downtown workers who want to enjoy a gourmet picnic without leaving the city can find an oasis within The Garden Cafe at Heinz Hall.
Water rushing down a massive stone wall greets diners upon entering the sunny courtyard. Small, round tables dot the landscape, and a circular pond holds a beautiful steel sculpture called Arpeggio. Four separate arches filled with water randomly empty slowly into the pond as diners enjoy their lunches.
The kitchen, consisting of a couple of grills and a prep station, sits to the far right of the courtyard, and is presided over by executive chef Tom Dunne and sous chef Duane "DJ" Czerniejewski. Czerniejewski brings a no-nonsense approach to cooking the casual American sandwiches, salads and wraps the Garden Cafe offers.
"I went into the Army after high school, and they put a book in my lap and told me I can do any job I wanted to," says Czerniejewski, 39, a married father of three boys. "Cook jumped off the page at me. If I could cook 24 hours a day, I would."
Czerniejewski cooked at a couple of local country clubs, and ran a personal-care home before arriving at the Garden Cafe, which operates during the summer for weekday lunches. Common Plea Catering runs the cafe and the indoor Mozart Room at Heinz Hall, which offers elegant dining during the Pittsburgh Symphony season.
Julie Polack, manager of Common Plea Catering, says the cafe has been busy since it opened, with diners and those renting the space for private events. There are about 50 seats in the courtyard, including benches, and every seat has a vantage point of bustling Liberty Avenue and Sixth Street.
"We do a lot of receptions, cocktail parties and private parties," says Polack, 29, a Pittsburgh resident. "We have a Friday happy hour from 5 to 7 p.m., and the chef cooks hamburgers, veggie burgers, hot dogs and specialty burgers. That has been very popular."
Czerniejewski makes sure each item on the casual menu of wraps, sandwiches and salads is made to order with fresh ingredients. He offers a grilled chicken and cranberry-aioli brie and baby spinach wrap on a honey-wheat tortilla, and a veggie wrap with marinated roasted red peppers, portobellos, tomatoes, spinach and feta cheese.
The large salads feature grilled chicken, pesto chicken or grilled steak on greens, and a spinach, strawberry and feta salad. Sandwiches are in high demand, and include the ham, turkey, bacon, lettuce and tomato club; the pesto chicken salad with tomato and leaf lettuce on a croissant; and the roast beef, ham, or roasted turkey with cheddar cheese and horseradish mayo.
"I'm a firm believer in using local ingredients and keeping them at their standard as best as I can," Czerniejewski says. "We try to keep it at high quality. We use Anthony's in Coraopolis for produce because they go to yards and get it local."
Meats arrive from Sysco and Weiss Provisions, and the honey-wheat tortillas come from Heineman in the Strip District.
A Bridgeville native, Czerniejewski learned how to cook as a child with his mom in the kitchen. The first dish he made without help was chicken cordon bleu.
"I really enjoy cooking," Czerniejewski says. "I would like to go back to school and be a food scientist. That's my dream."
He and his wife don't get to eat out much, but when they do, Czerniejewski says the biggest thing he looks for is the quality of food.
"If I want to go and pay $40 for a steak dinner, I want it nice and properly prepared," he says.
When he's not working, Czerniejewski likes to watch "Good Eats" with Alton Brown on the Food Network, and says he'll cook at home, but is happy when someone cooks for him.
"But when a meal gets put in front of me, I critique way too much," he admits. "The best part of this job is seeing the satisfaction of a happy customer. If they're happy, I'm happy."
Whole-Wheat Chicken, Brie and Cranberry Wrap
Chef Duane Czerniejewski is sharing his grilled chicken, brie and cranberry wrap.
This is a simple item that uses a honey-wheat tortilla shell and fresh baby spinach. He cooks a whole breast on the grill for this wrap. The sweet cranberry aioli is a nice alternative to regular mayonnaise.
- 1/3 cup cranberries
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 6 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breast
- 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 12 inch whole-wheat tortilla
- 1 cup washed greens of your choice (chef prefers spinach)
- 2 slices (2 ounces) French Brie
Heat a nonstick skillet. Place the cranberries and sugar in the pan and heat until the sugar is dissolved and the cranberries pop. Set aside to cool.
Rub the chicken with olive oil, and salt and pepper. Grill over medium heat until the internal temperature of 165 degrees is reached. Set aside.
Combine the mayonnaise and cooled cranberry sauce.
Slightly warm the tortilla, and place half of the spinach, sliced chicken, cranberry mayo, sliced brie and the remaining spinach. Fold in the bottom and sides of tortilla, and roll. Cut on an angle and serve with your favorite side.
Makes 1 serving.Additional Information:
At a glance
The Garden Cafe at Heinz Hall
Cuisine: Casual American
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays through Labor Day
Entree price range: $10-$15
Notes: Major credit cards accepted. Handicapped accessible. Reservations required for parties of 6 or more. Happy hour: 5-7 p.m. Fridays with a jazz band.
Address: Sixth Street and Liberty Avenue, Downtown
Details: 412-281-5140 or commonplea-restaurant.com