Location: 4200 Penn Ave., Bloomfield 412-682-5338
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sat. and Sun. brunch 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Fare: Sandwiches, salads and crepes
Atmosphere: Light, bright, contemporary café
As a general rule, we try to steer clear of cutesy applications of the local lingo known as Pittsburghese. Aside from the off-putting, oft-implied mockery of its native speakers, we've found that a lot of supposed Pittsburghese simply doesn't exist in the wild. For example, we've lived in East Liberty for nearly 10 years, and the only time we've ever heard anyone call it "'S'liberty" is when someone without any apparent accent tries to show their supposed familiarity.
On the other hand, "J'eat yet?" is less a Pittsburghism than a casual, economical social advance, its two syllables packed both with inquiry and the implicit suggestion of a spontaneous lunch date. In response, one could do much worse than to suggest J'eet, a sunny café which has staked out a popular presence in the former no-man's land across from the new Children's Hospital on Penn Avenue.
Outside, barstools pulled up to the take-out window on the sidewalk suggest that the simple act of buying coffee might lead to conversation and community. Inside, bamboo tables and a pretty, graphic mural communicate that this café is not just some hastily-thrown-together scheme for fleecing hospital employees of their lunch money. J'eet's menu, designed by chef Kevin Olmstead, may not stray far from the traditional coffeehouse confines of sandwiches and salads, but it is as thoughtful and appealing as its décor. An attractive outdoor deck, free wi-fi and hospital delivery round out J'eet's attractions.
J'eet's commitment to transcending menu clichés is most apparent in its wide variety of crepes, both savory and sweet. While some are patterned after sandwiches (Philly flank steak and cheese, ham or turkey and Swiss) and others after the simple, sweet snacks you can buy from sidewalk vendors in Paris (fruit preserves, butter and sugar), still others are something special, unusual, even. From a daily special of braised pulled pork to a regular offering of apples, brie and honey, J'eet's crepe selection provides far more than something to keep your mouth busy between sips of tea.
We were intrigued by how barbecued pork, seemingly best suited to a crusty bun or a taco, would fare in the tender wrapper of a crepe. Luckily, we were there on Friday, which is pulled-pork day. The meat was appropriately meaty, and not so tender as to be mushy, in a traditional barbecue sauce that offered just a hint of spice to offset its mild sweetness. The crepe itself was crisped on top, presumably under a broiler, enabling it to hold up admirably to its hearty filling. The same technique added heft to a companion's excellent steak-and-cheese crepe, as well.
The pierogie crepe was a relatively literal interpretation, with crepe standing in for pasta wrapper around a filling of fluffy mashed potatoes. We're more sanguine about the elevation of the pierogie to the sine qua non of local cuisine than we are about Pittsburghese, but it may be getting a bit played out. This combination of mashed potato, caramelized onions and sour cream was similar to what your local church lady will make come spring. And while we appreciated the chunky apple "sauce" (really more like a relish) as a concept, the reality was too much like an autumnal dessert, full of cinnamon and brown sugar, which didn't mesh well with the crepe.
Another foretaste of autumn came in a bowl: ham and bean soup. Unlike traditional versions of this soup, however, the broth was light and clear, an adaptation that made it -- full of flavorful chunks of ham and creamy beans -- suitable for summer.
Angelique was immediately attracted to a sandwich called "The de Medici," consisting of prosciutto, fig jam and bleu cheese on baguette. It came stuffed with large wads of surprisingly thick, cured Italian ham -- so much, in fact, that it completely overwhelmed the thin smear of fig jam and inadequate crumbles of cheese. Even after a radical prosciutto-ectomy, she could not salvage the balance of flavors in this sandwich.
However, dessert -- a crepe filled with lemon curd, berries and cream -- was a rousing success, the cream offering richness and body but otherwise letting the tart curd and a glorious handful of fresh strawberries, blackberries and blueberries soak our palates in the fleeting, fresh flavors of summer.
J'eet's menu is to be revamped soon, with more adventurous dishes added to the best of the current batch. Given our mostly positive meal, we look forward to seeing what J'eet's contemporary coffeehouse kitchen comes up with next.