J.Jennifer Urich’s mission to improve the riverside food at Aspinwall Riverfront Park entered season three this past weekend. The owner of the Root and Heart Farm in Gibsonia started Farmer X Baker in 2019 as a bare-bones small crew and had planned to expand her vision to create a fleeting waterfront destination last year. The COVID-19 pandemic forced them to scale back their plans.
Urich says the pandemic is giving its employees an opportunity to deepen their work. She limited the establishment’s opening hours to breakfast and lunch service on weekends, and her team gathered to protect each other while she worked on shipping containers in the 160-square-meter renovated kitchen. “This was our place of therapy to leave our home. It was the only place we went that was away from our families back home. So it became our place to be free from fear and have fun together, cook and learn from each other, ”she says.
Urich says this year will mark a more significant evolution in how she would like to approach outdoor dining in Pittsburgh. “I want people to feel like they are being transported when they come here. Take a look at these surroundings, ”says Urich, pointing to the spacious marina and the rolling, grassy slopes of the 10-hectare park.
She attributes her outlook to a mixture of conscious planning and the ability to go with the flow. “You have to leave room for spontaneity. And to be open. Because for me the key to success is to listen to the guidance of others. I try to surround myself with people who are better than me at all sorts of things, ”she says.
Urich says she kept all of her team from last year and hired additional staff to introduce an expanded menu and hours of operation, including weekend dinners. For the past few years, Farmer X Baker has been open 12 hours a week. It’ll be 45 this year if things are in full swing.
Local ingredients and home-baked bread are the focus of the Farmer X Baker menu. Urich grows vegetables and edible flowers on her Gibsonia farm, and most of the other farmers she works with, including Tiny Seed Farm, Freedom Farms, and Dillner Family Farm, also live in the North Hills. “It is food that comforts you, food that makes you happy. I have great memories of eating with my family or friends, just food that is simple but as well prepared as using the best ingredients you can find, ”she says.
The crew’s chefs and bakers offer an easy-to-understand selection of vegetarian, high-season products such as salads, bagel sandwiches and quiche. This season’s opening menu includes dishes such as breakfast burrito with eggs, chickpeas, mashed sweet potatoes and pickled red onions, a bagel sandwich called Veggie Beast with fresh and pickled vegetables, roasted beet cream cheese, and an egg and vegan crepes with almond. Ricotta, mushrooms and spring greens. “I love working with all the chefs and drawing on their experiences and memories,” she says.
Look for a menu that continues to grow this season, including larger entrees, wood-fired pizza during evening services, and vegan oat milk-based ice cream developed in partnership with Millie’s.
In addition, Urich is overseeing the construction of a significantly expanded dining area with a 75-foot rail bar and a light roof for evening BYOB meeting points. And although Farmer X Baker is a fast-casual dining concept, Urich says that hospitality is at the fore of her thinking as she enters the new season. “I focus on my vision of hospitality as I think it should be. In many ways, I’ve been thinking about the pandemic. And now it’s time to apply it, ”she says.
285 River Avenue, Aspinwall, 412 / 721-2113, rootandheartfarm.com