When Kate Lasky and her partner Tomasz Skowronksi started a pop-up peddling their Central and Eastern European vegan recipes a few years ago, they quickly started drawing hundreds of customers each night. The feedback was so intense and positive that it wasn’t hard for Lasky and Skowronski to decide to convert their pop-up into Apteka, Bloomfield’s dinner-only vegan restaurant.
“What we’ve been surprised by is how much the restaurant continues to grow,” Lasky says.
Eastern European cuisine is famous for poultry, sausages, and smoked ham, with plenty of sour cream and cheese mixed in — not the most obvious starting point for an all-vegan menu. But Apteka became instantly popular anyway, pioneering its own twist on Central and Eastern European dining.
Today, the restaurant regularly has lines out the door as customers wait for their turn to order pierogies, borscht, or veggie schnitzel at the counter. As a Pittsburgh restaurant, of course, Apteka’s pierogies have to be a key draw. The restaurant has two varieties: one sauerkraut and mushroom, the other smoked cabbage and potato. Both are delicious.
It’s no surprise that in 2019, Pittsburghers chose Apteka as Pittsburgh’s best vegan or vegetarian restaurant for the second year in a row.
“We felt like we would be able to represent a lot of that through different ingredients and methods,” Lasky said. “We have a smoker here, we just smoke vegetables instead of meat. We do a lot of ferments and pickling, we make a yogurt out of cashew and almonds. We’re still able to pull in a lot of the ideas and experience from that region without necessarily incorporating meat into it, and it still can be authentic.”
Both of the restaurant’s owners grew up in households where Central and Eastern European dishes were prepared regularly. While Lasky’s family has lived in Pittsburgh for several generations, their cooking has always borne traces of their Croatian roots. And Skowronski is a first-generation Polish immigrant.
“We’re both from Pittsburgh and we’re really excited to do something here,” Lasky says. “We’re wholeheartedly trying to do this project really well, and that means utilizing this space as best as we can and really fleshing out our idea here.”