Upper Lawrenceville Thai restaurant Pusadee’s Garden pleased Pittsburgh diners until closing in 2017 for what they called “a major renovation.” Plans were in the works for a total revamp. Locals opined over how long they imagined the idyllic, though relatively DIY, spot would remain shuttered—and what exactly the renovations would look like. Publications pondered the same questions until a poster taped inside the restaurant’s front window read “Spring 2020.” The pandemic pushed that grand reopening even further from the original target (which was originally sometime in 2018). The restaurant is now open, and the wait was worth it.
Local firm mossArchitects oversaw the design of the all-new endeavor. At first, those who loved the charming (though cramped) aesthetic of Pusadee’s past were anxious about what would come from the firm’s elevated and elegant style—which was decidedly more modern. But the firm’s president, Andrew Moss and the restaurant’s owners (Watcheree Tongdee, Busaba Tongdee and Michael Johnson) met many times to formulate a vision that remained consistent with the restaurant’s culture and cuisine, while still being a drastic departure from earlier iterations.
“[This project] started with a small Thai restaurant that had been doing well and had been operating out of one building and their tiny little patio for at least a decade,” Moss tells CH. “The client was able to acquire the vacant land that was next to their building and, in addition to that, acquire a similar but abandoned historic row house building, which then gave them a combined property that had these two historic row house buildings with a large, vacant piece of land between the two of them. They came to us with with a goal to create a new restaurant for them that would really be focused on utilizing this vacant land as an opportunity to create a garden oasis, and an outdoor garden dining space for the restaurant.”
Pusadee’s had a patio space their diners adored, but they wanted to expand. Moss considered accommodating their request by clearing their second acquisition. “Honestly, at first, when we started studying it, we considered tearing down the the abandoned building that they had acquired, but there was something kind of magical about being able to have these two bookends, these two existing buildings and their inherent character that comes with them.”
Moss’ decision confirmed Pusadee’s layout. The two row houses would act as boundaries running perpendicular to the street. Two arcades—one for the kitchen and another to bridge the dining rooms—serve as connectors. The inner unfinished area would become a courtyard accessible through the front entrance or the bar, which is housed in a glass structure within. Not only did these decisions drastically increase the amount of table space on the patio, but it created a visual through line that spans the length of the property from all angles: one can see the kitchen from the front entrance, one dining room from the other and so forth.
“We knew that there was an opportunity here to raise the bar and really create something special and something different. The client wanted to do that both from a design point of view, but also with their menu. They’ve really upped the game on their menu and it’s a much more traditional and authentic Thai menu than what they had before,” Moss explains.
Now the menu is occupied by items like nam prik ong and nam prik noom, grilled Humbolt giant squid steaks, pork belly Hung Lay, panang curry, northern Thai style sausage and the ilk. Our favorite, the delicate and delicious pumpkin curry (with roasted kabocha, cauliflower, eggplant, tofu, brussel sprouts and mushrooms), warms without overpowering. It’d suit a summer dinner in the courtyard—with landscape elements designed by Ground Stories and styled by Toadflax—quite well; so too would any of the charcoal-grilled selections. (Pusadee’s owners also operate a casual, cash-only Thai joint, Noodlehead, where diners can order $9 noodle dishes to enjoy there or to-go.)
Moss feels his firm successfully found a way “to create an authentic Thai environment mixed with Pittsburgh. Those two intermingle, and have the character and feel of being in Bangkok or being in Thailand somewhere, but obviously not there; you’re here in Pittsburgh and having that connection. They didn’t, by any means, ask for (and certainly we didn’t go for) something that was a little bit kitschy or too over the top. There was no trying to pretend it was something that wasn’t. We always were trying to be authentic, authentic with the place and the design that we were creating.”
Right now, the team at Pusadee’s Garden is ramping up for the summer season, when their patio space will be fully operational and available to book for drinks or dinner. In the interim, the courtyard acts as an architectural treat as exquisite as the meals made and served just beyond its glass walls.
Images courtesy of mossArchitects, by Anthony Musmanno