Apteka - Vegan Eastern European Food (yes, Pittsburgh just got hipper)

Originally published December 26th, 2016.

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Contrary to popular belief, in the week since my return, I have done things other than sleep and and eat christmas cookies... 

I've also let people take me out to meals.  

I will give anything a chance... Well, that isn't true.  I have no plans to try pickles anytime soon. But, I will give far out things the benefit of the doubt.  Take crickets for example... actually not too shabby.  

So, while my family has turned up their noses to the idea of Apteka, the new "Vegan Eastern European" restaurant in Pittsburgh, I thought, what could be so bad?

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People make a big stink about vegan food.  Haters, your anger is misplaced.  It is self-righteous vegans you don't have a taste for.  Their food can actually be magnificent.

I was curious about Apteka because I studied for a semester in Prague. That semester was long enough for me to learn that meat and dairy are staples in the region. Vegan Eastern European food? How was Apteka going to pull this off?

The answer? Pretty well. 

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Lets start with the good: the food, the drinks, and the decor. 

The menu at Apteka is small and inexpensive.  The portions are decently sized, just smaller than a full entree.  Splitting 2-3 for a part of two is plenty - and the best way to sample everything.  

The focus (and hubbub) is about their pierogis, but the real star of the show are the tartines. So much so that the table next to us (who also ordered them) leaned over to say, "Aren't these so good?" The tartine toppings change daily, but is a vegan restaurant. I can't imagine they vary too much.  We had the opportunity to sample roasted fennel, sunflower, and mushrooms.

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The Kluski Slaskie (pictured above) is based off a family dish from one of the owners, and is pretty damn good. Of course, I can't not mention the Pierogis. They were good... really good. They get extra points for being that good and not containing any butter or cheese.  There was a wide spectrum of ingredients shoved into those tiny dough pockets.   

... that being said, I have lived in Pittsburgh my entire life.  I'm not a vegan, so, to me, pierogis mean butter and cheese.  I need my butter and cheese.

Also mentionable are the drinks and decor.  I have been to Apteka twice, and each time I've walked away thinking about the beverages.  Apteka has one of the best mixologists in Pittsburgh. Seriously, with a couple drinks from the Apteka bar, even my family might try Vegan food.

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Another thing Apteka has going for it is the design. The minimalist furnishings (the menu is literally written in charcoal on the wall) work for the space. Plus, let's get real. Half the reason everyone goes to Apteka is because of its fantastic white neon sign on Penn Ave. The decor is very trendy, very hip, and yet... very Pittsburgh. Very Bloomfield (or is it Garfield?)   

While I enjoyed parts of my meal (the tartines), everything tasted a little similar (potatoe). The tartines shined because the flavors were the most diverse out of everything we ate. 

Finally, I have to mention it: the seating style is abysmal.  The restaurant is "cafe style," meaning you order at the bar, wait for a table to open up, and then seat yourself. When we went, the place was only semi busy, and we were awkwardly competing with every other loitering patron for a table.  Everyone was hovering over/watching people finishing their meals. It was terrible. Things got personal, and we actually made an alliance with another couple to join forces if a table for 4 opened up.  On a busy night, I can imagine it is similar to the Hunger Games in Apteka.  We also had the last patrons dirty plates in front of us until our food came out of the kitchen.

To conclude, the bottomline about Apteka is that no matter what your experience ends up being, at the very least, it will be trendy, pretty, and instagramable.

Apteka is either for vegans, or its just ahead of its time. Luckily it has a prime location, stunning decor, and a fantastic drink menu - so people will continue to come flocking! 

That is all for now, folks. I must say - it feels great to be talking about Pittsburgh again. 

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HAPPY GALLIVANTING!