When Chef Jamilka Borges of Wild Child isn't cooking, she's eating her way through the city she loves.
Jamilka Borges was never supposed to end up in Pittsburgh. About 14 years ago, her boyfriend in Puerto Rico moved to Pittsburgh for college. When they both graduated they decided they had to live in the same city. So she ended up in Pittsburgh. A month later, he moved back to Puerto Rico. She stayed.
And now, as the chef and owner of one of the city’s best restaurants, Wild Child, Chef Jamilka has come to love the town she so often thought of as unusual. “What I love about Pittsburgh is this: it can be cold and dreary, but when there is a nice day, everyone takes advantage of it,” she said.
So we asked her what she would do if she had the day off, unlimited stomach space, no traffic, and if the weather was just right. This is Chef Jamilka Borges’ Perfect Food Day.
“The first thing that I do when I wake up is coffee. There’s a neighborhood spot called Caffè d’Amore just down the street, where I say hi to all of the neighbors, and depending on my mood, I’ll usually get a cortado. But they make this Ancho Chile Mocha, which I only allow myself once a month or something. It’s spicy, and delicious, and a treat for when I need a little extra love and care.”
“My favorite place for breakfast is downtown, and while that’s usually a 10 minute drive, there’s no traffic on this perfect day, right?”
“The Speckled Egg is owned by two of my really good friends—we went to culinary school together, and in my opinion, they have the best breakfast sandwich in town, with homemade bread, fresh eggs and sausage, it’s delicious.”
“But one more thing I love about them is they make a Puerto Rican style hot sauce called Pique. It’s on tables everywhere in Puerto Rico and when I first saw it here I was amazed. It just takes me back home every time I have it. Some people complain because they’re like ‘that’s not really hot sauce,’ and I just sit there and think, well not in Pittsburgh, but in another country, it is.”
“After breakfast, I’d meet up with some friends and go to The Andy Warhol Museum. It’s a really sentimental place for me because when I first visited Pittsburgh, this was one of the places I went. They have ongoing exhibitions, right now there is one called Welcome to America, which is about artists' different takes on politics and the climate right now. And walking on the third floor and seeing Warhol’s collection and his drawings and sketches is nice.”
“But my favorite spot has to be one of the installations he did with silver, aluminum balloons. Especially if you go there and there’s no one around, you can just spend an alarming amount of time just looking at these balloons that look just like clouds.”
“After the museum, I’d go to the Warren, which has the best cocktails in the city. The owner, Spencer, was from what I remember, the guy who brought craft cocktails into town fifteen years ago or more. He’s really creative, but the place is fun and not pretentious. I love to go here and just let the bartenders make something for me.”
“Farmer x Baker, as the name suggests, is run by a farmer, who is also an incredible baker. They are on this shipping container by the Allegheny River and her menu is just straight to the point: really good bagels, fresh bread, veggies from her farm. She covers everything with flowers and herbs and it looks really beautiful. I normally get the Spicy Chicky Sandwich—it’s made with cauliflower and all of these spices—and a lemonade and sit and eat it by the river.”
“After lunch, there’s this park nearby called Riverview Park, where I love to hang out with friends. But first, we need something to drink, so I’m headed to Goodlander. He does batch cocktails and you can get a whole growler (or a mini-growler). I like their Mojitos—it’s great to just bring some to the park, hang out with friends and people watch.”
“I’m a big fan of multiple dinners, so since I’m not going to get full, I’m headed to three places that are super close to each other. The first is Morcilla, a Spanish Restaurant run by Justin Severino who is a great friend and an amazing chef. The menu just uses a lot of produce from local farmers, and does it in a traditional way, but with a push. They also serve Cochinito, which is a little piglet for four people. You have to order it in advance but that is the best. You get some friends, some sauces and sides, and it’s like a party.”
“Right next door is Poulet Bleu, which is a French concept with an open kitchen, and my favorite thing to order there is the Skate with brown butter and capers. It’s an awesome place for dessert—they do a traditional chocolate souffle that has six or seven fixings, and the wine list is great, too—they always pour me just what I want.”
“To end this meal extravaganza, I’d head to Piccolo Forno, just a block away. It’s run by a great Italian family and is just a great meeting place—you start out with two people and end up at a table for six, every time. The mother makes all of the pasta in-house in the morning, and so my favorite dish, I think in all of Pittsburgh, is their lasagna. I just love the story of it, that she still hand makes the pasta, and it’s just so comforting and well executed.”
“If we want to continue partying, there’s this place called Spirit. They have really great DJs and dancing and it’s always a lot of fun. All of the bars here close at 2 AM, which I’m not used to. In Puerto Rico, things don’t have closing times. It doesn’t matter to me anymore because I go to bed earlier now, but it’s still interesting for me to think about.”