Free-Spirited Flavor

Article excerpt

Wandering tribes of gypsies don't have a particular cuisine of their own -- their cooking is influenced by whichever people they are living among. Pittsburghers can sample these worlds of different tastes at the South Side's Gypsy Cafe.

Originally, the restaurant, located on the ground floor of a 19th- century Reformed Presbyterian church, served Mediterranean cuisine. But co-owner Melanie Evankovich, who has Slovakian heritage, wanted to broaden the menu by including Eastern European dishes and food from other countries where gypsies roam, ranging from Ireland to India. Evankovich, who was drawn to the free-spirited quirkiness of gypsies, and executive chef Jim Dietz have adopted recipes from all those areas.

"We go where the gypsies go," says Dietz, who also is a co- owner. He and Evankovich, South Side residents, will be married Oct. 27 at the City Theatre, which is just a few steps away from the restaurant.

A strictly Mediterranean menu might delicious, Evankovich says, but "calling it 'gypsy' gives us a much broader palette."

Cossack-Style Chicken, a Russian recipe chosen for this week's Cooking Class, will be one of the features on Gypsy Cafe's new fall menu, which debuts Oct. 2. The menu rotates at least every season. That way, Dietz says, they have the freshest, in-season ingredients on hand.

Gypsy Cafe's fall menu will include a few customer favorites, including sweet potato and pumpkin gnocchi in sage brown butter sauce. The ever-changing dessert menu features homemade confections, such as Coca-Cola Cake and a Hungarian Tea Cake.

The restaurant is an intimate, quaint neighborhood eatery, which attracts many middle-aged, sophisticated theatergoers to its 46 seats. But the casual environment also makes the younger crowd comfortable, Evankovich says.

"The foodies find us comforting, but interesting," she says.

In the dining area -- which includes an elevated platform with a couch -- hang photographs of poppies and coneflowers; funky mirrors; religious icons; and sculptures of angels. Evankovich collects the religious icons that grace the dining room, which has shades of purple, mauve, red, gold and a bit of cream. …