Apteka isn’t afraid to go against the grain. In a town that loves meat and exalts the pierogi, co-owners Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski opened a vegan eatery in Bloomfield that redefines Polish and Eastern European cuisine. After honing a food menu rich with smoked mushrooms and fermented veggies, Lasky and Skowronski are turning their attention toward a similarly unique bar.
The drink menu at Apteka beams with personality. From big bottles of Karlovačko (a Croatian pilsner) to cocktails made with pickled prune juice and black-pepper syrup, the bar program draws from the owners’ deep knowledge and love of traditional European flavors. For many guests, the least familiar (and most intriguing) piece of the bar will be the house-made nalewki.
Nalewki is a loose term for liqueurs and infused vodkas. The basic template is this: Start with grain alcohol or vodka, steep seasonal fruits or botanicals, and add sugar to taste. The results range from syrupy fruit cordials to bitter herbal infusions, and recipes are products of generations of tinkering and the bounty of backyard berry bushes and city-park plum trees. Whatever the technique, a bottle of homemade nalewki is tucked away in many Polish cabinets. “I like to say that the uncle or neighbor who homebrews here would be making nalewki in Poland,” explains Skowronski.
When I visited, Skowronski brought out old pickle jars and repurposed vodka bottles filled with dark, aromatic liquids. For years, he and Lasky have experimented with cordials made from fruit foraged in the Pittsburgh area. Some were tart and puckering; others recalled a dessert wine. Most are made from fruit that would be unpleasant or inedible on its own, like sour quince and Cornelian cherry.
All shared a deep, pure flavor, expressing the simple beauty of the fruit from which they were made. And that is the essence of Apteka: Combine traditional techniques and interesting ingredients to create a whole new way for Pittsburgh to eat and drink.
4606 Penn Ave., Bloomfield. 412-251-0189 or aptekapgh.com