Dining at Kaleidoscope Cafe is like stepping into a work of art. From the hand-painted mural on the building’s exterior to the originality displayed in each plate, the experience you will have at this central Lawrenceville restaurant is a true expression of artistic creativity.
The vibe is warm, casual, intimate and funky. And, it’s all crafted by chef and owner Dan Robinson, formerly of South Side’s Cafe Du Jour, who opened this place in 2010 along with his wife, Akirah, who serves as the marketing and community manager.
The menu at Kaleidoscope Cafe reflects the same artistic vibe with surprising dishes like deep-fried gnocchi and slow-roasted barbecue duck sandwiches. And many items are suitable for vegetarians and gluten-free folks.
Even the breadbasket here is nontraditional, filled with warm and slightly toasted pita bread triangles served with a housemade compound butter that changes frequently. The night I dinned, it was a whiskey, ginger butter, which would also make a killer addition to a roasted sweet potato.
I have to admit, I wasn’t in love with pita bread as the breadbasket. I prefer a more-traditional approach, with some artesian white or sourdough bread. But, I respect the different take on this common, complimentary starter.
Crusty bread would have also worked well, served with the sautee of chicken apple sausage small plate: chunks of chicken sausage and apples served with red onion and walnuts in a spicy maple-rum sauce topped with melted slices of creamy brie cheese and a drizzle of mixed-berry coulis. This starter has a perfect combination of sweet and spicy and is very seasonal, reminding me of the perfect fall day in a dish.
The highlight of the small-plates menu for me was the duck cannoli: roasted and pulled pieces of duck stuffed into a homemade cannoli shell, served with a white chocolate cardamom burre-blanc sauce with a pistachio dust. The duck is succulent and savory. The shell is crispy with a hit of cinnamon. The sauce is fragrant, sweet and surprisingly light. Though it may be aesthetically unappealing (variations of brown shades on a plate), it was one of my favorite dishes here. I can’t recommend it enough. Luckily, it’s one of Dan’s favorite dishes to prepare; he loves cooking with duck.
Pasta has its own featured section on the menu, including the most popular dish: The Cow Jumped Over the Blue Moon Pasta, which is fettuccini with sliced beef tossed in a gorgonzola cream sauce with sweet onion confit.
The deep-fried housemade potato gnocchi make an appearance nirvana-style, served in a bed of kafta (an Indian-spiced cashew-tomato sauce) topped with crumbled chorizo. Soyrizo is also available. The gnocchi is pillowy on the inside and crispy on the inside from frying. The sauce is thick and flavorful, and the chorizo added a nice spicy element.
They say everything is better deep-fried, right? The deep-fried gnocchi are also featured as a small plate served in a more traditional way, tossed in fresh herbs and Romano cheese and served with housemade marinara.
There are a handful of fresh salads, including the Farmhouse salad made of mixed greens, thinly sliced honey-roasted beets, pear slices, toasted walnuts, gorgonzola crumbles and housemade balsamic dressing.
For an entree, look no further than the Coconut Curry Polenta. This dish is exceptionally flavorful and nothing short of creative. A thick piece of creamy polenta loaf baked with flavors of coconut and curry is topped with pieces of hot sausage, delicate shrimp, pineapple chunks, diced tomatoes and a light sauce made from cardamom wine. The dish is finished with a drizzle of creamy chile aioli.
Again, showcasing sweet and spicy elements, this dish hit the mark for me because it consisted of things I love: polenta, shrimp, curry and coconut. If you are with me on these things, you won’t be disappointed.
For a meatier entree, a recommendation is Maple Barbecue Pork Tenderloin served with greens and black beans. The maple barbecue sauce added a nice flavor to the tender pork. This dish was satisfying, but not as outstanding as the polenta.
Kaleidoscope Cafe is off the beaten path from Butler Street. Though this place could easily be passed up, it shouldn’t be. Chef Dan is executing truly interesting food in a funky, cool space. And he has a new menu in the works, so be sure to check it out.
Sarah Sudar is one of the food-savvy ladies of eatPGH.com who contribute a weekly dining review to Trib Total Media.