Hours: Mon.-Sat. 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
Prices: Pastries $1-4, sandwiches $5-9
Fare: European deli and bakery
Atmosphere: French patisserie/boulangerie
Smoking: None permitted
If food packaging, to you, means a potato peel, and prepared food means just-baked bread, if you swear by the freshness and quality of the locally made and locally grown, then you know that the Strip District is Pittsburghs ultimate supermarket. Although part of its charm, of course, is that it offers the antithesis of the typical American experience of one-stop shopping in a megamarket. Instead, the Strip replicates the time-consuming but sociable European shopping experience of visiting various specialty purveyors, all in proximity to one another.
All thats been missing was a little place to sit down, drop your bags and enjoy a plate of the Strips fresh harvest before going home. But now, theres Café Richard, a small storefront beneath a metal canopy, offering an array of artisan breads, French pastries, fine cheeses and refined delicatessen fare. The few tables up front augmented by sidewalk seating have the authentic feel of a bright, cozy, Parisian café.
With a lot to sample, a good way to start is to stop in before shopping to fortify yourself. Pastries that taste as lovely as they look are at the counter right by the front door, facilitating grab-and-go. While that might work fine for the flaky, airy and buttery chocolate croissants filled, not just dotted, with the good, dark stuff you might want to have a seat for one of the individual-serving quiches. Roasted vegetables studded one little pie, but Jason predictably chose the ham and gruyere. The crust was light, defying sogginess, and the flavors well balanced, but the real coup was the moist, delicate egg that held the chunks of ham. While most quiche tends toward either wetness or omelet-like sturdiness, Richards managed to serve up fluffy, eggy perfection.
After we walked off breakfast, taking in some of the Strips other wares, we returned for a proper lunch. Part of Richards charm is that it is both sophisticated and utterly lacking in pretension. While the ingredients and preparations are of uniformly high quality, you wont need a French dictionary to navigate the sandwich menu, lettered on a big chalkboard in traditional deli style. It includes mostly straightforward renditions of classically American assemblies, like roast beef and cheddar, alongside European sandwiches that highlight Richards excellent breads.
Jasons pan bagnat was essentially a salade Niçoise on a baguette: tuna, olives, onions, capers, anchovy, hard-boiled egg, microgreens and butter lettuce, together creating a rich profusion of flavors. If it tended a little to the sour and salty side of things, the whole was tasty and truly unusual.
Also saltier than wed prefer were the soba from a small selection of prepared salads in the deli case. The cold buckwheat noodles were also zingy with garlic and onion, and, with a lower sodium content, would have made a simple, refreshing, yet hearty lunch for those who prefer to eat with utensils.
Angelique is fine with finger food, especially on a summer Saturday with only her family as witnesses; she figures thats what napkins are for. And she used plenty of them eating a cheese and tomato sandwich overflowing with summers bounty: juicy red-ripe tomatoes; firm, creamy mozzarella; fresh basil leaves; and basil pesto for good measure, all on a crusty ciabattina. The pesto was on the oily side, probably to give it the character of a sandwich spread, not a salad dressing. That was her only quibble, and a small one at that, with an otherwise exemplary sandwich.
Though wed sampled Richards pastries before our lunch, that had been hours ago, and we needed to replenish our strength after carrying all the heavy bags of groceries wed accumulated through the Strip. So we followed our sandwiches with a little chocolate cake. The shape of an overturned bucket, dry and dense with bittersweet flavor, it was a chocolate-lovers chocolate treat, the essence of cocoa.
Grocery-shopping in the Strip was always more colorful than at the local supermarket. Now, fit in a stop at Café Richard, and your weekly Strip trip is no longer just an errand; its an event.
Jason: 3 stars
Angelique: 3.5 stars