There are times when living in Pittsburgh that I really wish there existed a Cuban restaurant. Although there is a Cuban chain eatery, it’s located in Oakland, home to three of the city’s universities, so its menu caters more to the college demographic (i.e. nothing upscale or refined, more just sandwiches galore, Cuban style). There is a West Indies restaurant too, but it’s located in East Liberty making it somewhat out of the way for me to get to. Not to mention I’m still harboring a mild grudge towards it since the one time we went they were out of rum cake. (How a West Indies dining venue can be out of a staple whose main ingredient is rum is just beyond me.) So that’s where Kaya comes in, one of the offspring of the Big Burrito restaurant group. Although there are some in Pittsburgh who take to heart Kaya’s branding of itself as an authentic Caribbean eatery (it’s not really in my opinion, especially when an Irishman we know claimed it to be authentic Cuban fare-that it definitely is not), it’s still good food in a funky and alive setting with definite Caribbean vibes to it. Although we have eaten at Kaya numerous times for dinner, we never did for brunch and you know me, brunch and moi, we make the perfect pair.
Kaya is not a large establishment and does not have nearly enough tables and chairs for how popular a spot it is. While there is seating at the bar there is only a sliver of a walkway separating the bar and the tables, so relaxed and quiet the interior at Kaya is not. It does have very “hip” décor, although none of which I’d label as distinctly Caribbean. It’s more Crate and Barrel meets Miami Beach nightclub.
I’ve been of legal drinking age for just about seven years now and one cocktail I had never tried is a Bloody Mary. I wish I had kept with that tradition. I decided to order the Vampiro ($6.50) which to me tasted like a Bloody Mary, albeit with a different name and sans celery garnish. Although the waitress informed me that it had two fruit juices in it, the bloody (or vampiro ingredients if you will) canceled out anything sweet about the drink. It was like drinking V8 juice with alcohol. I hate waste but this was one drink I did not half of, let alone finish. If you’re not a Bloody Mary fan, don’t even contemplate ordering this.
For our starter we decided to split an order of the Corn and Lentil beignets ($7) that came with a green curry sauce. These were delicious. Although when one hears the name beignet and thoughts of the sinful offerings found at New Orleans’ Cafe du Monde come to mind, these were obviously of the savory variety. However, they were equally as good and most notably, less damaging to one’s physique. It’s a dish I wouldn’t have thought to pair these two ingredients, yet what a wonderful pairing they made.
I went with the Eggs Benedict ($12) although it was hardly typical. Instead of the poached eggs atop an English muffin it was served on cornbread and your hollandaise sauce was actually chili lime. Diners could select their choice of meats, the options being smoked salmon, roasted pork or soy sausage. I chose with the roasted pork as it seemed incredibly Cuban. It came with roasted pineapple and potato hash. While I liked it, I will admit that the thick cornbread somewhat dampened my love of the dish. I’m definitely a fan of straying from the norm in cooking but some dishes like Eggs Benedict I’d prefer to keep more original (i.e. English muffin).
D selected the Huevos Rancheros ($10) for his main course. It featured two eggs your way, black beans, salsa verde, grilled tortilla, grilled pineapple, potato hash and your choice of bacon, chorizo or soy sausage. He definitely seemed to prefer his more than I did mine.
We split dessert, opting to keep it on the lighter side by going with the housemade sorbet selections. Unfortunately I’ve forgotten two of the flavors (your order comes with three scoops) but one was grapefruit which was quite tart.
I love Kaya but will admit I was slightly disappointed with my first brunch experience there. However, I think it had more to do with my immense dislike of my cocktail selection and my entree selection. They make a “wicked” Cuban sandwich and both that and a Cuban breakfast sandwich are on the brunch menu, so you can guess which I’ll try for next time.