APTEKA MIGHT BE THE PERFECT PITTSBURGH RESTAURANT

At any given time, you could enter Apteka’s heavily curtained entry and you’d be met with soft, intimate lighting, larger-than-life vases of dried florals, flickering candles and an atmosphere that’s equal parts social and low-key. It’s pleasant — there’s no better way to describe it. By the time you throw in the well-edited vegan menu of old school Polish favorites prepared in a modern way, Apteka has likely already secured its spot as a new favorite in anyone’s eyes.

We’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and we always arrive at the same conclusion: Apteka might be the perfect Pittsburgh restaurant, right? This isn’t a label we throw around lightly, but time and time again, Apteka delivers on all fronts, whether you pop in for a quick happy hour or plan a full-blown, order-one-of-everything dinner with friends. Here are just a few of the standout points that we love most about the Penn Avenue eatery.

The design. From the neon sign out front to the sparse, light-filled interior, Apteka’s design is thoughtful from top to bottom. The Danish-style, light wood tables are perfect for intimate conversations, and the vases of florals that change from season to season bring an earthy element that warms up the whole space. For us, though, the piece de resistance is always the back garden: overgrown with plants and perfectly tucked away amidst the surrounding Bloomfield rowhouses, its a bit of a hidden gem that feels like a surprise each time we visit.

The food + drinks. Most Pittsburghers grew up eating pierogi, but in the same vein, most Pittsburghers have never had pierogi quite like these. Owners Kate Lasky and Thomasz Skowronski started their mega popular Pierogi Night pop-up series offering vegan cuisine inspired by traditional Polish and Central European cooking styles, and while these dishes are a world away from the cheesy, buttery pierogi many might be used to, they’re true to tradition and as authentic as it gets. Pairing your meal with a handcrafted cocktail from the stunning wood bar sets it over the edge: all of the drinks are made with housemade syrups and fresh herbs, and they’re based around Central and Eastern European spirits.

 

The music. Apteka’s music can change the whole vibe of the room, and often does — the team often transforms the room from dinner to late night service using only a gentle nudge from the DJ booth. Music choices are equal parts cool and weird, and you’ll likely pull up Shazaam to find out the name of a song to listen to later. On Sunday evenings, Apteka recruits local friends and DJs for Lonely No More, a night of music featuring a creative drink special for just $5.

The service. We’ll be the first to admit that counter service restaurants don’t always work, especially in a setting that’s a bit more upscale. At Apteka, though, it just works, and we prefer not to question it. The menu is handwritten on rolls of butcher and posted on the wall next to the counter, where you’ll order your food and drinks and seamlessly be directed off into either the bar area to wait with a cocktail or the dining room to snag a seat, which isn’t often difficult. During dinner service, when things get significantly more crowded, the staff locates tables for everyone in a way that feels like almost invisible service, no wait lists or reservations necessary.

  • The X factor. Finally, there’s that last little something that Apteka has that you can’t quite capture in words. It’s the way that this seemingly unassuming restaurant convinces the Pittsburgh masses to take a food that’s so familiar to the area, turns it on its head and still leaves guests satisfied; it’s the way that they don’t bend to the masses, serving dishes and cocktails with ingredients that might not sound appealing at first glance, but that wholeheartedly win you over by the end; it’s even the way that there’s often a wait, but things just seem to move a little easier and in a more enjoyable way than they might anywhere else.