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Garden restaurants offer peaceful outdoor retreats

| Sunday, June 17, 2012, 7:33 p.m.

Garden restaurants are not the setting for power lunches, fast-food dinners or clock-watchers.

Whether they're hidden behind an urban town house or sequestered by towering trees and shrubbery somewhere beyond the city limits, these are restaurants that invite diners to power down, turn off their cell phones and linger over a meal or a glass of wine.

"People say it's like a little oasis," says Barbara McKenna, owner of Hyeholde Restaurant in Moon. "There are people who eat out here all the time. Jack and Joanne Ham (the former Steeler and his wife), our best customers always eat outside."

It's easy to see why.

Sharing a pot of tea and some freshly baked scones outdoors in the well-manicured garden, where shade is provided by towering trees and birdsong punctuates the silence, you can almost feel your blood pressure decreasing and stress-hardened muscles relaxing.

A meal in a garden is the perfect setting for reconnecting with friends, having an extended conversation or celebrating a landmark occasion.

The latter is what brought Gladys and Bill Kredel of Butler to the Pines Tavern in Gibsonia for a weekday lunch to celebrate what she described as her "milestone birthday."

"I love the atmosphere of dining out. I think it's very charming," she says. "It's just cozy. The atmosphere is lovely, and you don't have to dress up. It's a casual afternoon out."

It's also very popular.

While some restaurants take reservations for garden tables, others either don't take any reservations or won't guarantee seating in a specific location.

That doesn't diminish demand, says Doug Allen, general manager of Harmony's Log Cabin Inn. "It's very popular. We will have people come in and wait an hour and a half for a table outside," Allen says.

And the popularity of garden dining doesn't necessarily decline along with the temperature, Allen adds. Like many restaurants, Log Cabin Inn keeps its outdoor area going as long as demand continues.

"On a warm day in December, people still sit out there," Allen says.

Here are some restaurants in the area that offer outdoor dining in garden settings.

The Back Porch Restaurant

As you might expect from the restaurant's name, meals are served on the covered porch or veranda of this 1785 home of hand-built bricks. The porch overlooks a backyard of shrubs and green lawn, where two tiny white cloth-covered tables also serve diners beneath green umbrellas.

Cuisine: American-Continental eclectic

Notes: Reservations recommended. Outdoor tables may be requested but are not guaranteed. Outdoor dining usually continues into mid-September but depends on the weather. Major credit cards accepted.

Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; dinner, 4-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays

Address: 114 Speers St., Lower Speers, Washington County

Details: 724-483-4500

The Cafe at the Frick

Not all of us have wealthy relatives to invite us over for a summer lunch in their garden.

Our consolation is the Cafe at the Frick.

Set in the center of the Frick family's former estate in Point Breeze, the Cafe extends its dining options out into the gardens. Some tables shelter beneath a green canvas awning while others shelter diners beneath umbrellas on the stone-slab patio.

All of them offer an open-air view of the trees, manicured lawns and carefully tended flowerbeds that offer the best aspects of public park and private home.

For a special late-afternoon treat, book a table for afternoon tea. Order a glass of champagne or a mimosa and enjoy the envious glances of those passing by.

Cuisine: American and continental menu emphasizing seasonal and locally grown ingredients

Notes: Nonmembers can make reservations 24 hours in advance. Drop-ins accommodated when tables are available.

Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays. Tea served from 2:30-5 p.m.

Location: On the grounds of The Frick Art & Historical Center, 7227 Reynolds St., Point Breeze

Details: 412-371-0600

La Casa

The tiny backyard dining area of this Shadyside restaurant provides a peaceful urban refuge.

A tall wooden fence sequesters diners from the world beyond, and much of the outdoor dining area is covered to screen out the summer sun or occasional drizzle.

La Casa specializes in tapas -- small plates of Spanish-inspired food that encourage a relaxed and extended dining experience. A small fish pond and abundant ferns and bushes accented with bright flowers encourage diners to linger over a glass of wine and yet one more plate of serrano ham and Spanish cheese.

Cuisine: Spanish with an emphasis on tapas

Notes: Reservations accepted for outdoor tables. Cut-off and start dates determined by weather but continue into the fall as long as there's a demand. Smoking at the bar if restaurant is not busy.

Hours: 4:30-10:30 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays, 4:30-11 p.m. Thursdays, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 4:30-10 p.m. Sundays

Location: 5884 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside

Details: 412-441-3090

Hyeholde Restaurant

A patch of lawn sheltered by rhododendrons, tall trees and lushly leafy hostas makes outdoor dining at Hyeholde a study in green. Peaks and towers of the Norman-style building form the backdrop for wrought-iron chairs and tables covered with white cloths. As evening falls, candles flicker in glass globes on shoulder-high metal stakes.

Those looking for a more laid-back and secluded experience can commission a picnic that's served in one of the many gardens on the four acres that surround the restaurant.

Cuisine: American and continental menu emphasizing seasonal and locally grown ingredients

Notes: Outdoor dining available from May to October. Reservations accepted and recommended. Reservations can be made for outside tables. No smoking inside the building. Elegant Picnics ($45; $55 for two) require two days' advance notice. Spur-of-the-moment picnics ($50; $85 for two) often are available same day.

Hours: HyeTea: 4-6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. Dinner: 4-9 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 5-10 p.m. Saturdays

Location: 1516 Coraopolis Heights Road, Moon

Details: 412-264-3116

Log Cabin Inn

Travel five minutes north of Zelienople on Route 19, and you'll find dining in the middle of the trees.

The outdoor deck behind the rural and rustic 160-year-old Log Cabin Inn overlooks a backwoods forest that gave at least one diner the feeling of eating in the treetops. A canvas awning covers diners, providing shade in the summer and holding the heat in from the portable heaters that extend outdoor dining into late fall.

Outdoor dining is available as late in the season as diners can stand to eat there, general manager Doug Allen says.

Cuisine: American

Notes: Reservations for groups of 10 or more only. Smoking permitted on deck. Kids menu available. Casual dress.

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sundays

Location: 430 Perry Highway, Harmony, Butler County

Details: 724-452-4155

The Pines Tavern

A riot of color enlivens the otherwise peaceful garden at The Pines Tavern.

Owner Mike Novak has planted pots and urns with lots of greenery accented by tropical pink fuscias, bright orange coleus and red blossoms of angel wing begonias.

Diners can choose to eat at one of the tables beneath the tall trees, in the corner by the small stone pond and its burbling waterfall or on the vine-covered wooden porch overlooking the garden. The porch is a popular location even when it's raining, says the Pines Tavern's wine director, Victoria Wilk. "It's nice to watch the drama," she says.

On Saturday nights, weather permitting, jazz musicians hold forth in the garden.

Cuisine: American and continental menu emphasizing seasonal and locally grown ingredients

Notes: Outdoor dining generally available from mid-May through late fall. Reservations are suggested for the restaurant, but outdoor seating is on a first-come-first-served basis. Live jazz from 7:30-10:30 p.m. Saturdays.

Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; dinner, 5-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays and 5-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Location: 5018 Bakerstown Road, Gibsonia

Details: 724-625-3252

Spitfire Grill

The patio at the Spitfire Grill might be as close to Italy or Greece as some of us get this summer.

Sitting in the shade of a striped umbrella by a small fishpond with bobbing glass balls and surrounded by greenery should provide some consolation.

With a little imagination, those oversize jars might once have held wine and the small herb garden the seasonings for a Roman senator's dinner.

Of special note is the outdoor bar, which might provide a place to perch while enjoying one of the restaurant's 25 wines at $25 or one of the items from the special patio bar menu.

Cuisine: American regional

Notes: Reservations are not accepted, but names can be placed on a wait list if you call ahead. Outdoor bar and patio open May through October. Smoking permitted at tables outside. Inside smoking only at the bar and two of the 13 tables.

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays, 4-11 p.m. Saturdays

Location: 1517 Broad St., South Greensburg

Details: 724-850-4676

Sweet Basil and La Filipiniana Restaurant

On a warm summer night, it's pleasant to sit at a table beneath the arbor's grapevine canopy arbor, eating Southeast Asian food and sipping a chilled glass of wine.

White plastic chairs and tables with plastic-coated tablecloths are set out on the grassy lawn of the restaurant's side yard. It's secluded from busy Butler Street by a high fence bordered by a garden run slightly wild.

When dusk falls, the garden is illuminated by torches and strings of tiny white lights.

For 15 years, this upscale but casual Lawrenceville restaurant has been serving the foods of the Philippines to area diners. When owner and manager Tony Tongdev bought the restaurant, he added Thai cuisine to the mix.

Cuisine: Modern Thai and Filipino cuisine

Notes: Reservations accepted and recommended. Reservations accepted for garden tables. Dining continues outdoors until the end of September or as long as the weather stays above 70 degrees. BYOB, with no corkage fee.

Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays

Location: 5321 Butler St., Lawrenceville

Details: 412-781-8724

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