Unlike other area restaurants operating on its level, Lola Bistro, on the North Side, stays out of the limelight. Tucked away off North Avenue, in West Allegheny, the eatery will celebrate its first anniversary at the end of the month.
"We're just a touch off the beaten path," says chef Michael Barnhouse. "But there is plenty of free parking."
The low profile is OK by Barnhouse.
"I kind of like the grassroots [idea of it], not really forcing myself on people," he explains.
The small space — formerly a coffee shop — is run by Barnhouse, his wife, Yelena, and one full-time employee.
The menu offers more than a dozen tantalizing options. Starters include: braised rabbit and bruschetta, latkes with housemade lox, and their own charcuterie.
There's also pelmeni — Siberian dumplings filled with lamb and beef that are Yelena's contribution to the starter menu. Made from her Russian family's recipe, they replaced pierogis because "everyone has pierogis," Yelena says.
She is also responsible for the desserts, including another favored recipe: the Russian honey cake.
When not contributing to the dishes, Yelena runs the front of the house, while Michael manages the food in back. The food is sourced as locally as possible.
The entrees range from staples such as fettuccini carbonara and lamb Bolognese to surprises such as the Indonesian seitan curry and hand-shaven noodles and pork.
"I try not to make things too fussy, have too many steps," Michael says.
Barnhouse, who grew up in St. Clairsville, Ohio, previously worked on the West Coast, and was a former executive chef for Wolfgang Puck. Since then, he moved to Pittsburgh to be closer to family.
With an eye toward the North Side's revitalization, he says he's feeling good about the spot and his restaurant's chances.
"I like the idea of it evolving naturally," he says.