If you think the hardy, savory flavors of Eastern European cuisine can only be achieved with ingredients like meat and cheese, take a trip to Apteka in Bloomfield and prepare to be wowed by their completely vegan menu that totally gets to the heart of Eastern European food.
Apteka is a Booming Local Favorite
Open only for dinner, this place seemingly always has a line out the door. The menu is written on a floor-to-ceiling piece of paper hung on the wall by the entrance, and you order at the counter. Classics like borscht, pierogies, and stuffed cabbage fill the menu, as well as some intriguing sandwich and small plate options- and everything is vegan. There's even a bar with wine, cocktails, and several Pittsburgh breweries on tap- including Roundabout, Draai Laag (now known as Strange Roots), Helltown, and Voodoo to name a few.
We ordered borscht, pierogies, stuffed cabbage, and a few drinks and squeezed four people into a table for two on a busy Friday night (the only seat we could find). The food started coming out rather quickly, even before our cocktails were done.
The borscht was thin and juice-like, served in an adorable tea cup for drinking. It was sweet but rich for being a thin broth. Served with bread topped with a smokey red pepper and celeriac vegetable pate, it was a great start to the meal.
Soon our cocktails came- we tried the gin, chartreuse, and celery seed cocktail which had a lot of citrus notes and a really unique cocktail made with Draai Laag's Ragnarok. We couldn't pass this one up since Draai Laag (or Strange Roots as they are now known) is one of our favorite local breweries, and it was fun to see Apteka using Ragnarok in a cocktail!
But Seriously, Let's Talk About Those Pierogies
Next came our pierogies. If you do pierogies in Pittsburgh, you'd better do them right. Surprisingly to us, Apteka has some of the most interesting and delicious pierogies we've had in the city. The dough is crispy on the outside and there are two different fillings. One is a potato and bitter turnip green filling, while the other is a combination of woodsy mushrooms and tangy sauerkraut- our favorite!
The pierogies are normally served topped with a creamy vegan sauce made from nuts, but as I have a tree nut allergy they served us a honey mustard sauce instead. It is worth mentioning that several of the dishes on the menu contain this nut sauce, but they are all clearly marked on the menu as containing nuts and the restaurant seems extremely conscious of this allergen.
As amazing as the pierogies were, the most unexpectedly delicious dish of the night was the golabki, the stuffed cabbage. The cabbage was stuffed with smokey, earthy buckwheat that had an almost cinnamon sweetness, and the cabbage rested on a fragrant tomato sauce. Mushrooms gave an umami boost while some dilled fennel on the side provided some texture and freshness.
Our only complaint is that service seemed a bit disjointed, but that's pretty much to be expected given that you order at a counter and the place is so crowded. For those who want to avoid this, groups of six or larger can make an advanced reservation, which is highly recommended for seating purposes.
Not being vegans ourselves and generally being skeptical of vegan food in general, we were surprised with how Apteka succeeds at creating palate-pleasing flavor combinations in dishes that are typically not vegan. However, the food here isn't just good vegan food, it's good food.
When it comes down to it, this is all you really need to know.
Apteka is located at 4606 Penn Avenue in Bloomfield.
For more nearby restaurants and bars, why not check out Station, Tram's Kitchen, Spork Pittsburgh, Tessaro's, Azorean Cafe, or Mixtape Pittsburgh! Or, for another vegan restaurant in town, check out Onion Maiden!
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