Jessica Lewis is not a new face in Pittsburgh’s food scene. The chef made her way through Heinz Field catering, launched Carota Cafe in Smallman Galley, helped open both The Commoner and or, The Whale, and made a mark in Lawrenceville with Merchant Oyster Co. Now, she’s reigning over Oakland.
Spirits & Tales, Lewis’ latest venture, sits ten stories above the University of Pittsburgh campus inside The Oaklander, Pittsburgh’s newest destination hotel. But the spectacular view of Oakland is just part of the restaurant’s appeal. It's Lewis' diverse menu of fresh, well-composed American classics that truly sets Spirit & Tales apart.
Lewis designed her menu to focus on small plates modeled after French brasseries. Historically, these French breweries were known for being open all day and churning out an endless stream of food — a trick, as my server pointed out, that kept all-day drinkers on stools and off the floor.
In terms of decor, Spirits & Tales avoids some traditional brasserie characteristics, like white tablecloths and suited waiters, and trades them in for their modern counterparts. The dining room is dim, lit primarily with natural light from a span of windows flaunting the Oakland skyline. As part of the Marriott Autograph Collection, the restaurant decoration alludes to Pittsburgh’s industrial history. Deep blues and muted grays fill the room, studded with gold accents and glowing metal chandeliers.
The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and brunch on Sundays. I decided to “keep the food coming,” as my server suggested, jumping around the small plates with twice-baked ricotta, pork rillette, socca (chickpea flatbread), and a potato-apple fritter.
The socca arrived first, served with three sauces covering sweet, acidic, and savory. Then came the pork rillette, a pâté-like version of chilled, shredded pork paired with pickled vegetables, and the twice-baked ricotta, a fluffy, house-made cheese dripping with honey and lemon. Finally, our table was graced with the potato and apple cake (like a latke), dressed with a mash of salted cod and a sweet apricot and butternut squash jam-like spread.
Not a single word of the menu description did the plates justice. The flatbread was not bread at all, but a pull-apart crepe perfect for dipping. Both the pork and potato-cake were cleverly rounded, forming wonderful harmony between sweet, salt, and fat. Cloud-like ricotta had me floating away in bliss.
Dessert was an almond cake topped with thick honey caramel, shielded by shaved almonds, dripping with Grand Marnier, and dusted with orange zest. It was exquisite, enriched by the sweet nuttiness of the almonds.
With Spirit & Tales, Lewis succeeds once again by delivering polished, smartly composed dishes in an unforgettable setting.
Typically server aprons are a standard black, mid-thigh length picture of form before beauty, but the servers at Spirits & Tales are stylish, sporting three-tone, chic aprons.
2. Bar Program
Spirits & Tales’ bar program is fantastic, offering a long-list of cocktails, wine, and beer — something to satisfy everyone’s palate. (Pro tip: try the Butterfly Effect.)
To the side of the dining room, a glass-walled terrace is open for seating. As the weather gets warmer, this balcony is bound to be a coveted place for happy hour drinks over Oakland.