Strawberry and goat cheese salad at New Cafe

A strong case could be made that, here in 2015, Pittsburgh’s enthusiasm for food has never been greater. New restaurants and food businesses seem to pop up every day, and the language of farm-to-table, small-batch and a dozen other buzzwords has become commonplace. Even so, there are still plenty of bad, boring dishes to be found around town. So it’s especially exciting to see thoughtful food popping up beyond the usual trendy suspects. The latest? Jambo Grill, a new restaurant in the works at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.

“We want to make you rethink what zoo food is,” explained General Manager Steve Schurr. After years of slinging typical park fare—tossing bought-in prepared foods into a deep fryer—management realized it was time for a change. Schurr and his team, which includes Executive Chef Jess Rattanni, began working on the concept for Jambo Grill last spring. Rather than overhauling the whole menu, they smartly reimagined the accessible, kid-friendly food they were already serving. “But it won’t be coming out of boxes,” said Rattanni. “This is food made by chefs.”

That means that Jambo Grill will still serve sandwiches, but the bread will now be baked in house. And there will still be pizza, only now it will be made with hand-stretched dough and feature rotating local toppings, like mushrooms from Wild Purveyors and herbs from the zoo’s on-site garden. The new menu will accommodate a variety of diets with items like a quinoa and amaranth veggie burger and gluten-free buns and pizza crusts. And though parks and zoos often jack up prices, entrees here will be ultra-affordable, coming in at less than 10 bucks a pop.

Jambo Grill (“jambo” is an exuberant welcome in Swahili) will be the zoo’s largest restaurant, seating nearly 300 people. Half of those seats will be in the airy, rustic dining room, which will feature accents like tapestries brought in from Africa. The rest of the seating will overlook the African Savanna, meaning you can eat your seasonal salad while watching giraffes and zebras lope across the plains.

Though there are plenty of other changes happening at the zoo, the excitement about Jambo Grill was strong the day I visited. “The Pittsburgh market has definitely grown up,” added Schurr. “This is perfect timing.” And after years of chicken fingers and fries, Jambo Grill is sure to be exuberantly welcomed at its Memorial Day opening.

In other news …

Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream needs a pasteurizer, and you can help them get it here. The equipment will allow Chad and Lauren Townsend to continue to make their excellent ice creams and sorbets.

Black Forge Coffee House, a coffee shop and community space planned for the up-and-coming Allentown neighborhood, needs your dollars as well.

Thai Touch Kitchen, a casual Thai restaurant serving up traditional noodle dishes and curries, is now open in Mt. Lebanon.

On April 29th, the DePaul School for Hearing and Speech is hosting Mustaches and Microbrews, a fundraiser featuring music, craft beer and all manner of ‘staches. Get tickets here.

Drew Cranisky is a writer, bartender and recent graduate of Chatham University's Food Studies program. He enjoys cats, pinball and fancy burgers.