Review: Zest Wishes Vegan Brunch

As everyone clamors around the cloth linen laden long table, you can hear the murmurs of excitement escape brightly: “is this your first one of Mya’s brunches?” “yes, but I’ve had her food before… amazing!” As the group settles in for brunch amidst the unique surroundings of Schwartz Living Market— complete with eco-friendly denim insulation, exposed brick walls, and hardwood floors— it becomes clear that this isn’t just a meal; this is an experience.

Chef Mya of Zest Wishes (who I’ve previously reviewed) not only commits herself to serving wholesome, healthful, organic, local, vegan, gluten free, GMO free, and overall JUNK free food, but she also challenges her brunchers to truly experience her food. This isn’t the place for fast food, hurried mouthfuls, or silent meals. Mya’s brunches are a three hour (or longer!) experience in mindful eating: grazing slowly through different courses, tasting each dish with the full appreciation of its flavors, learning along the way about food as a whole, and all the while engaging in rich conversation with diverse groups of people.

This brunch isn’t just about eating— it’s about connecting with food, connecting with people. Who else serves THAT up on the menu, huh?


Mya kicks off the brunch by demonstrating how to use the juicer along with a bevy of provided fruits and veggies in order to create our very own fresh juice blends. Yup, that’s right— this is an interactive experience! Laughs abound as we all take turns diving into the fresh produce, a mixture of tangerine slices, pineapple spears, and carrots. The resulting juice is a vibrant citrusy juice with just the teensiest hint of carrot; its the perfect wake up juice to liven us all up for the brunch ahead of us.

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‘Orange Glow’ juice blend: tangerine, pineapple, and carrot

Shortly after, Mya provides an array of goodies for a family-style caesar salad: romaine lettuce, pine nut ‘parmesan,’ blue corn tortilla bits, and a seaweed and avocado dressing. Mya explains that the seaweed gives the dressing a somewhat fishy flavor, and we all hurriedly line up with our salad plates. The seaweed gives the dressing a salty, fishy flavor, but the taste is beautifully contrasted with the richness and creaminess of the avocado. A hint of lemon provides a bright burst of a citrusy aftertaste to bring the whole dish together. And the pine nut ‘parmesan’? Delicious!

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Romaine lettuce served with a seaweed and avocado dressing topped with pine nut ‘parmesan’ and blue corn tortilla bits

Next, trays full of bowls of varying shapes and sizes are ushered out with a boldly-colored orange soup: carrot ginger soup. The soup is topped with a dollop of raw cashew ‘ricotta’ and hides a smattering of green peas. Before my spoon even hits my lips, the rave reviews are making their way around the table. This was, by far, the most raved about dish of the afternoon. Swirling the creamy, nutty, cheese-like flavor of the raw cashew ‘ricotta’ into the fresh, vibrant, bold flavor of the carrot-ginger soup makes for the perfect combination, and the crisp peas give the soup an added pop.

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Carrot ginger soup topped with raw cashew ‘ricotta’

Two dishes make their way out of Mya’s kitchen after the soup course: baked yukon potatoes drizzled with ‘cheddar’ sauce and shiitake musroom ‘bacon’ bits with black-eyed pea caviar mixed with bell peppers, jalapenos, lemon zest, red onion, cilantro, and garlic. These dishes feel like traditional appetizer-type food; even the pickiest carnivore wouldn’t be remiss to find these app-style dishes  laid out at a SuperBowl party. The ‘cheddar’ sauce covering the potatoes admittedly has a sort of greenish hue to it, but being an adventurous eater I scarfed one down without any hesitation. Yup, it tasted like cheddar! I’m not sure how Mya worked her magic on that ‘cheddar’ sauce, but she definitely hit the nail on the head! Yum!

Meanwhile, the black-eyed pea caviar was served chilled, much like a cold bean salad you’d see at a picnic or a party. Only Mya’s black-eyed pea caviar had a much richer test. The spicy bite of diced jalapeños was cut nicely with the lightness of the lemon zest and fresh cilantro, all intermingled with a host of savory flavors such as pepper, onion, and garlic. This dish was a cool, fresh treat.

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Baked yukon potatoes drizzled with ‘cheddar’ sause and shiitake mushroom ‘bacon’ bits; black-eyed pea caviar tossed with bell peppers, jalapeños, lemon zest, red onion, cilantro and garlic

Another two dishes emerge from Mya’s kitchen: hickory smoked barbecue parsnip ribs served aside a broccoli-carrot-celery slaw tossed in a creamy raw cashew apple cider dressing. Unfortunately, the parsnip ribs— which I was arguably most excited for— didn’t “wow” me as much as Mya’s other dishes. The tangy barbeque sauce was sweet and spicy in perfect amounts, but the parsnips had a tough texture to them that made them difficult to chew. The flavor, however, was scrumptious.

The slaw, on the other hand, was a divine addition to the brunch’s lineup. The crispness of the veggies was soaked in the nutty, rich, yet slightly tangy (due to the apple cider) dressing to create a perfect vegan slaw.

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Hickory smoked parsnip ribs marinated in a tangy barbecue sauce; broccoli-carrot-celery slaw tossed in a creamy raw cashew apple cider dressing

Now it’s time for another juice break! This time, it’s a green juice blend composed of kale, celery, parsley, apple, cucumber, lemon, and garlic. The resulting juice is anything but overly leafy or too green; the lemon, apple, and cucumber create a light, fresh, bright base that hides the leafy taste of the kale that many fear. The juice break also provides the perfect opportunity to mingle more with other brunch attendees, and I had the distinct pleasure of connecting with fellow blogger Gigi Balsamico (check out her vegan blog). At only 16 years old, her strength, wisdom, passion, and positivity belies her years, and she was just one of the many, many inspiring brunch-goers I had the chance to talk to during the meal.

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Vegan foodie and fellow blogger, Gigi Balsamico, giving the juicer a whirl to mix up a ‘Green Goodness’ juice blend

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Fresh kale, celery, parsley, apple, cucumber, lemon, and garlic ready for juicing

'Green Goodness' juice blend: kale, celery, parsley, cucumber, apple, lemon and garlic

‘Green Goodness’ juice blend: kale, celery, parsley, cucumber, apple, lemon and garlic

After our juice break, banana leaf-wrapped tamales piled high atop platters are passed around the table. The corn-buckwheat tamales were a total miss for me. The filling was dry, and the accompanying kiwi salsa verde was too spicy for most palates at the brunch. The cacao cashew mole, however, was quite tasty. Unfortunately I just wasn’t a fan of this dish overall, and it was the only one that went unfinished by me.

Banana leaf-wrapped corn-buckwheat tamale served with kiwi salsa verde and cacao cashew mole

Banana leaf-wrapped corn-buckwheat tamale served with kiwi salsa verde and cacao cashew mole

Our last two savory dishes emerge: a paella and a raw pat thai. The paella is colored bright yellow due to the hint of saffron accompanying the brown rice, and a mix of mushrooms, peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, and other spices envelop the rice as well. The result is a rich, hearty, very filling dish full of savory flavors. It was high on my list of favorites for the day!

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Brown rice saffron paella with cremini mushrooms, tri-color peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and onion

The other savory dish was a raw zucchini pat thai. Coated in a coconut almond cashew sauce, the raw pat thai had a creamy texture, which contrasted perfectly with the crisp addition of carrots, scallions, fungugeek, and mustard sprouts.  As a whole, the dish was both creamy and crunchy… pretty darn near perfect, in my opinion! Again, this dish was another one of my favorites of the afternoon.

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Raw zucchini pat thai with coconut almond cashew sauce, carrots, scallions, fungugeek, and mustard sprouts

Last, but definitely not least, we all anxiously awaited the arrival of possibly the most-desired dish on the menu: donuts! Not just any donuts, but black rice donuts with coconut oil, maple syrup, coconut dust, and coconut glaze. I had the brilliant idea of dipping my donut in a bit of Mya’s house blend chai tea with cinnamon, orange peel, fennel seed, tumeric, and cayenne. For whatever reason, the combination of the two just plain worked! Together, the donut had an almost licorice-like flavor, and the sweetness of the donut was enhanced exponentially. Regardless, these black rice donuts were a total hit. No processed and/or refined sugar necessary— just all natural goodness!

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Black rice donut made with coconut oil, maple syrup, coconut dust, and coconut glaze

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Black rice donut made with coconut oil, maple syrup, coconut dust, and coconut glaze

As we sat there huddled around the table dipping our donuts in our tea, a startling thought occurred to me: 3 pairs of mothers and daughters (including me with my own mom) were gathered around the edge of the table. While the conversation had flitted throughout the day from psychics to blogging to artificial sweeteners to body image, eventually Alyssa Schwartz, owner of Schwartz Living Market, is asked— just what is a living market? Her answer is perfect: “what do you want it to be?”

While she shares her vision of a community-crafted space, my mind starts to wander off a bit. And I think: this, this right here, is a living market. It’s natural, organic, evolving, and— yes— even living. It’s these generations connecting with each other, it’s these diverse people mingling, it’s this experience of something new. And, most importantly, it’s stopping to take the time to soak it all in. Because this brunch is more than a brunch; it’s an experience… of food, of family, and of fun.

Yes, this is Schwartz Living Market: a place to get that which cannot be gotten.

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Blogging buddies: yours truly Muddy Melissa (right) with teen vegan blogger Gigi Balsamico (left)

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Right to left: chef Mya Zeronis of Zest Wishes, yours truly Muddy Melissa, and vegan blogger Gigi Balsamico

Overall, Mya’s brunches are an experience not to be missed. Her gourmet vegan eats (which have been voted Best Brunch in Pittsburgh!) would satisfy anybody (even a non-vegan like myself!), and she really challenges you to look at food differently. Her use of food is creative, innovative, and— of course— delicious. There are absolutely not enough words in the dictionary to express how highly I urge you to attend one of her vegan brunches (or dinners) and, fortunately, very soon her food will be available five days a week at Schwartz Living Market (you can help support her venture here)! I can assure you, your belly will thank you for it!

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Hands down, the best group of vegan-eatin’ gals in the ‘Burgh

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