APTEKA -- Vegan+Polish Joint in Pittsburgh
Hey there fellow eaters! As you may have noticed, I just returned from a trip to Thailand! I plan to write several posts about my travels and eats, but it may take me a couple of weeks to recover from the withdrawal of warm weather and spicy foods. Give me time people, I need to mourn!
No, I am quite excited to be back in the 'burgh because there is plenty of excellent food to aide me in this time of healing. What better to come back and eat than...PIEROGIES? They are the welcome wagon of Pittsburgh! There are many places that you can go to find these doughy pockets of potato, but I'm going to convince you why you should try the non-traditional, vegan pierogis of APTEKA.
**Disclaimer: I just want to let you know that the capitalization of APTEKA is not my doing. Whenever I read it in my head I scream it and I hope you will too, I imagine that was their intention. NOW LET'S TALK ABOUT APTEKA.
I first visited APTEKA with my mom in December and it was beautifully decorated for the holiday. Here you can see that they dissembled an actual fir tree and hung the branches from the exposed rafters. The addition of the twinkle lights made it feel like you were sitting in a real sugar plum forest! The restaurant isn't small, but it's tucked away on the quieter part of Penn Avenue, near the hospital. There aren't other restaurants and bars near APTEKA so you may not have noticed it before. Think of it as a special destination. There are different types of seating options: you can sit at the intimate 5/6 seater bar, you can cozy up at a small wooden table, or you can share one of the larger communal tables with your fellow cabbage enthusiasts - and if you're not one yet, you will be.
When you walk in, stop at the bar first, whether you plan to order a drink or not. This is where you will place your order, collect your number, and then you are free to choose your seat. I recommend that you DO order drinks because they are flippin' great and inexpensive. Pictured above on the left is gin, prosecco, pear nectar, and hops and the one on the right is becherovka (a Czech liquor), house tonic, and burnt lemon and it tastes like Christmas. My roommate likes the bourbon, poppyseed, and black balsam cocktail. She said that the poppyseed was actually a creamy milk and that she could drink black balsam all on it's own. I believe her. Also, most of the cocktails aren't more than $8 or $9 so you can order several throughout the evening and not break the bank.
Let's talk about what you're ordering to eat! Most of the dishes are meant for sharing and I recommend that you taste as much as possible.
You will definitely want to order some pierogies. They change the fillings daily so you never know what you'll get. We had mushroom + sauerkraut and dill + potato. They serve them with shredded beets and dill cucumbers to cleanse the palate between bites. I enjoyed these pierogies a lot, but I will say that I am, and will always be, partial to their Italian sister, ravioli. Tomato sauce and garlic run in my blood, but it won't stop me from appreciating APETKA's awesome vegan pierogies.
What is this dish you ask? It looks odd but it is INCREDIBLE. It will make you scream APTEKA every other bite. Props to the chef for taking one of the most feared vegetables and making it a delicacy. In my lifetime I think I have purchased cabbage three times at most. But I am believer now.
The cabbage catches all that beer broth goodness in the pockets of the leaves and stems. The delicate mushrooms pair well with the smoky crunch of the rye breadcrumbs. Lastly, the sweet butternut miso smear is a perfect compliment to the salty broth. Am I making any sense? If you don't believe me, go there now and order this dish.
Here's another dish that I recommend. These are soft potato dumplings, but the preparation changes every so often, so the current menu does not list this exact dish. The dumplings are sitting in a sweet carrot broth with sautéed oyster mushrooms, dill, and vegan sour cream dollops. By this point in our meal I wasn't as excited about eating more potato, but the components of this dish worked so well together. Next time I go I should just ask for a straw so I can drink the broth more easily, it's that good. This is a great dish for sharing, I think it would be too many dumplings for only one person to eat. But then again, you might be a dumpling fiend and I applaud you.
Lastly, I recommend that you order one of their salads. We had the Salatka 2 with dill vinaigrette, lemon balm, leek, potato, and cucumber. This was my second favorite dish after the cabbage. It is unbelievably refreshing and tangy! The vinaigrette and the lemon balm make for a creamy dressing. One bite of creamy potato and one bite of crunchy lettuce and cucumber and just keep alternating. You'll love it.
Let me know if you go to APTEKA and what you eat! Maybe I'll even bump into you there, because I can't stay away.