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THE SECRET INGREDIENT IN THE EGGPLANT-PARM SANDWICH WAS RICOTTA

SPIRITUAL FOOD {BY ASHLEY MURRAY} Just off busy Fifth Avenue, in Shadyside, there is a small hidden paradise. Ivy, fig and cedars of Lebanon grow on one side of a garden; millet, cinnamon, olive trees and a tunnel of grape vines thrive across a miniature Jordan River. This is the Biblical Botanical Garden at Rodef Shalom, where plants with significance in the ancient Near East are curated by Rabbi Walter Jacob — a man who is a wealth of information. (He and his wife have visited more than 900 U.S. gardens, which resulted in the book Gardens of North America and Hawaii: A Traveler’s Guide.)

A CLASSIER

PIZZERIA {BY ANGELIQUE BAMBERG + JASON ROTH}

{PHOTOS BY HEATHER MULL}

Pork chops Calabrese

{PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY}

Each sign in the garden indicates the plant’s significance in the Bible.

“Some things are going to look better if you came back in 200 years,” he says, tapping his hand on the trunks of the cedars, which are in their infancy at only 50 years old. Each plant in the garden is accompanied by a reference to where and how it is mentioned in the Bible. The garden is shaped like Israel, with water features representing the Galilee and Dead seas, desert springs and the Jordan River. The current exhibit features two garden iterations of visions of paradise: the Christian, with boxwood, roses, fruit trees and a grassy bed, and Muslim, with palms, almonds, mosaics and water. A past exhibit featured a Babylonian beer garden. Many things grown there are edible because, well, as Rabbi Jacob explains, “The Bible was not interested in describing horticulture. [The vegetation] was seen as a divine gift [with] practical uses.” AMURRAY@PGHCITYPAPER.COM

Open until Sept. 15. Sun.-Fri. 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; Wed. 7 p.m.-9 p.m.; Sat. noon-1 p.m. Free. www.biblicalgardenpittsburgh.org

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VIVA BRICK OVEN is located near the border of Warrendale and Cranberry, and also straddles the fine line between pizzeria and “nice” restaurant, which is to say, one with table service and a more than passing commitment to ambience. Aviva looks like a strip mall from the outside, but it’s actually one building divided into three distinct but interconnected sections: a takeout counter, which also houses the open kitchen; a bar and lounge; and a sit-down dining room, each with its own entrance. The ambience resides in the bar and dining room and consists of butter-yellow walls, espresso-dark furnishings, natural stone and tasteful, if generic, artwork. Aviva is the kind of suburban bistro you might walk into in flip-flops, then order a glass of good red wine. Also, the brick oven in the name is for real. In fact, there are two of them, anchoring the takeout and dining rooms and underscoring Aviva’s upscale-pizzeria vibe. Since the menu is par for the pizzeria course — pepperoni rolls and stuffed banana peppers, Italian hoagies and a handful of pas-

PITTSBURGH CITY PAPER 07.29/08.05.2015

tas alongside the pizza — we were relying on those brick ovens to set Aviva apart. Certainly, the kitchen doesn’t just fall back on rote preparations. Beans and greens, for instance, was made not with timeless escarole, but with current kale. It worked for a couple reasons: First, while escarole can melt into a brothy preparation,

AVIVA BRICK OVEN

16099 Perry Highway, Warrendale. 724-799-8849 HOURS: Mon.-Thu. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri. 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sat. 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sun. noon-9 p.m. PRICES: $6-19 LIQUOR: Full bar

CP APPROVED the kale, though wilted, retained its structure in a dish that was moist but not soupy. Second, the flavors were bold. Banana peppers and red-pepper flakes combined to give this beans and greens more than a little kick, which the robust kale could handle. Stuffed banana peppers were more traditional, but a quick finish in the brick oven

lent some browning to the melted mozzarella. The simple, straightforward tomato sauce took on a darker color as well, absorbing flavors from the peppers and meat. The menu notes the dish as a spicy one, but we found that, as always, it depended on the individual pepper, with Jason getting a fiery one and Angelique, one more mild. Eggplant parmesan can be a bit of an enigma: Unlike most vegetarian versions of well-known dishes, it’s firmly canonical, yet it rarely does much to distinguish itself. The best versions are crisp, not soggy, and get along unobtrusively with the sauce and cheese. Aviva’s eggplant-parm sandwich was almost shockingly good, and the secret ingredient is ricotta: The kitchen wraps the eggplant around it and then proceeds as usual with sauce, melted mozzarella and a nicely toasted roll that’s not too tall or bready. In most bites the ricotta didn’t stand out as a component, but it added creaminess to the crisp crust and a certain savor to the eggplant itself. Ricotta also worked its mojo on the housemade gnocchi, which were bigger

Profile for Pittsburgh City Paper

July 29, 2015  

Pittsburgh City Paper Volume 25 Issue 30

July 29, 2015  

Pittsburgh City Paper Volume 25 Issue 30