Whether you’re committed to an animal-free diet or eat omnivorously, chances are you’ve taken notice that vegetable-forward menus are becoming more mainstream. Even though a 2018 Gallup poll indicated that all-in-all American dietary preferences remain steady, with approximately 5 percent reporting they are vegetarian and 3 percent as vegan — similar numbers to a 1999 report — consumer tastes are changing.
A hunk of meat at the center of the plate doesn’t signify “this is the main course” in the way it used to in American restaurants. Vegetable-forward and 100 percent vegan restaurants are on the rise throughout the country; the lauded, high-end restaurant Eleven Madison Park in New York City even relaunched as an entirely meatless establishment earlier this year.
In Pittsburgh, this means an increasing number of restaurants are catering to vegetarian and vegan clientele on their menus, and conscientious Pittsburgh eaters overall are eating less meat. It’s not unusual, for example, to see diners of all stripes enjoying a meat-free dinner at the popular Apteka in Bloomfield.
Things used to be pretty bleak for meat-free eaters. “It was rough. Growing up here, it was hard to eat as a vegan. You were really looking for this path that wasn’t there for you,” says Kate Lasky, co-owner of Apteka.
Lasky used to look to The Quiet Storm, the beloved Bloomfield eatery that served vegetarian food from 2001 to 2013, for a place to gather with friends. Aside from a smattering of options throughout the region, there weren’t many other places to go; just a handful of Pittsburgh restaurants had even one vegan option on the menu.
Locally, things began to shift a few years ago. In 2016, a slate of vegan restaurants, including Apteka and B52, both honored soon after as Pittsburgh Magazine Best Restaurants, opened. The year prior, Leila Sleiman and Natalie Fristick founded Pittsburgh VegFest, an annual event that includes a food festival with approximately 50 vendors serving plant-based dishes, a marketplace full of animal-free products and activities such as yoga classes. It regularly draws more than 5,000 people, and many of the eateries featured below made their debut at a VegFest.
“Most vegan cooks [who open restaurants or other food businesses] are doing it because that’s what they want to eat. It’s what they’re passionate about,” says Omar Abuhejleh, owner of B52 and Allegro Hearth Bakery. “It’s often harder financially than running a non-vegan restaurant. It would be so much easier for me to buy butter than to make it. The only way it makes any sense is because it’s something you care about, that you get fulfillment from making the product.”
People choose to eat diets free of animal products for a variety of reasons. Environmental justice, particularly as the effects of our impact on the climate appear to be growing graver each year, guides some people’s decision to forgo eating animals. Many are driven by animal welfare and believe that all living creatures ought to be treated with the same dignity as humans. Some are motivated by real or perceived health benefits. Often, people eat vegan and vegetarian for religious or spiritual reasons. Generally speaking, many of these motivations overlap for meat-free eaters — for example, animals confined in horrific conditions in feedlots also emit a massive output of methane into the environment.
“In a world where there is so much harm and damage everywhere and every day, we try to minimize the damage that we do,” says Lasky.
Today, Pittsburgh’s vegetarian and vegan eateries are run by a diverse group of people and take many shapes, and this has the potential to make them exciting to eaters of all backgrounds. Some chefs look to their roots and build menus from cuisines that traditionally are plant-based. We are at the tip of a technological revolution in meat alternatives, and some restaurant operators are embracing that. There are chefs who embrace the hippie spirit of Moosewood-era cookbooks. And with the recent boom in Pittsburgh-area farming, there are better ingredients to work with, too, plus a wilderness full of food to forage and preserve.
While Pittsburgh has an ever-growing roster of restaurants that offer enticing vegan and vegetarian options, I’m focusing on entirely meat-free restaurants for this list. Nine of them are completely vegan, two make minor exceptions upon request and one is a vegetarian spot that uses some butter and cheese in certain dishes.
Reed & Co.
Reed & Co. is Pittsburgh’s of-the-moment vegan eatery, hip to all of the cold-pressed juices, nutrient-dense bowls and power-packed smoothies that health-conscious eaters are looking for right now. At the same time, chef Justin Crimone leans into the modern revolution in meat substitutes to craft indulgent dishes that could satisfy any eater’s craving for, say, a burger or crispy chicken sandwich.
It’s just the blend that owner Reed Putlitz is looking for.
“Everyone has their own way to look at food, and this is our specific way to look at it. It’s fast-casual and it’s vegan, but it’s also personal and forward-looking. We just kept adding and expanding. I couldn’t have imagined doing half the things we were doing when we first started,” Putlitz says.
Putlitz worked in the New York City fashion industry prior to moving to Pittsburgh with his wife, a Washington County native, in 2016. Looking for a change of pace and a more direct connection with people, he decided to open the plant-based eatery in Lawrenceville later that year.
Crimone, a longtime Pittsburgh chef who previously worked at the vegan restaurant Amazing Cafe, works his skills using a mix of in-house preparation and sourcing top-quality products. The results are mouthwatering. “It makes you forget that it’s vegan” is a little trite, right? But Reed & Co.’s breakfast wrap is as satisfying as any other breakfast wrap you can get in town. Crimone uses a “JUST” egg patty, made from mung beans, which tastes like a soft scramble. And the Impossible Meat chorizo is how this product should be used — it’s fine in a burger, but this sandwich really lets it shine with the spice blend. Violife cheddar, a coconut-oil-based product that melts like dairy cheese, red pepper sauce, greens and pickled onions round out the flavorful combo, which is served pressed-and-grilled in a flour tortilla wrap.
Crimone also offers heartier options, such as a full-flavored and very satisfying Chik’n katsu bowl. If you’re in search of a lighter pick-me-up, Reed & Co. whirls up its custom-build Goodnature X-1 juicer in the wee hours of the morning for a cold-press extraction of fruit and vegetables juices. The store’s tasty menu is rounded out with smoothies and delightful cold dishes such as gamja salad (smashed potatoes, green onion, baby corn, celery, wasabi mayo, garlic, carrot and pickled cucumber). Crimone says that next up in the ever-evolving offerings is what he hopes will be the best vegan pizza in Pittsburgh.
4113 Butler St., Lawrenceville, 412/605-0237, reedandcopgh.com
It may come as a surprise to most people, considering that Pittsburgh often is saddled with a meat-and-potatoes reputation, but this vegan establishment arguably is most representative of what is special about Pittsburgh cuisine right now. Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski opened Apteka in 2016, offering dishes such as the profoundly comforting kartofle z jogurtem migdałowym (boiled potatoes with lingonberry jam and nut-milk-based yogurt). They built a menu forged from Skowronski’s Polish roots — his parents moved to the United States when he was 3 — and Lasky’s sixth-generation Pittsburgh culinary lineage. Of course, the resulting menu tilts heavily toward items, including pierogi (the duo ran a pop-up, Pierogies vs., for six years prior to opening Apteka), that pay homage to that cuisine.
“In a way, having the restrictions of being a vegan restaurant and being an eastern- and central-European restaurant allows you to be creative. We’ve been able to delve into what is essential and what is interesting about this cuisine,” Lasky says of a menu built on flavors of smoke, fermentation, pickling, jams, fruit and roasting.
We recognized Apteka as Pittsburgh’s Magazine’s Best New Restaurant in 2016, and it has been a staple on our Best Restaurants list since it became eligible in 2017. While they continue to offer terrific versions of the dishes that got them there, what’s exciting is that Lasky and Skowronski are a lean-forward duo; their menu has evolved as they’ve developed deeper connections with Pittsburgh-area farmers such as Bitter Ends Farm Co., Who Cooks For You Farm, Clarion River Organics and be.wild.er Farm. On top of that, they hand-pick hundreds of pounds of fruit every year, and Skowronski’s parents add box upon box of foraged ingredients to the roster, too.
What you get at Apteka are dishes such as faszerowane pomidory (oxheart tomato stuffed with long rice, zucchini, onion and fermented tomato), rwaki (foraged chanterelle mushrooms, yellow wax beans, potato noodles, tomato and burnt cabbage broth) and delectable sunflower seed ice cream. These are dishes that speak to lovers of fantastic food, no matter their dietary perspective.
Lasky and Skowronski recently renovated the restaurant’s dining room and garden. Many of their long-term preservation projects (in the form of tinctures and cordials) now are making their way into what is one of Pittsburgh’s most outstanding beverage programs, which also includes a deep selection of natural wine.
4606 Penn Ave., Bloomfield; aptekapgh.com
With ShadoBeni, Ulric Joseph digs into the roots of his native Trinidadian cuisine. Joseph, who’s eaten a vegetarian diet since 1995 and shifted to fully vegan two years ago, moved to Baltimore in his 20s and built a career as an artist, even winning the Best in Show prize at the 2019 Three Rivers Arts Festival’s Juried Visual Art Exhibition. But long commutes from teaching in Baltimore to his home in Pittsburgh had him thinking about changing his career.
“For me, it’s really and truly to do with sustainability. I just feel like we should eat less meat on the whole. I’m not saying everyone needs to be fully vegan but if we don’t change our ways now, it’s going to be problematic later on. I prefer when there aren’t too many steps between when food leaves the ground and it goes in the pot. It also makes me feel better to eat this way,” he says.
While on a family visit to Trinidad, his wife, Jennie Canning (who also is involved in the business and helps run the market stands), noticed Joseph’s passion for the island country’s cuisine, which has quite a few popular vegetarian dishes due to the foodways of a significant portion of its population being of Indian descent. Joseph knew that with a little practice he could adapt other Trinidadian dishes that typically aren’t meat-free. They launched ShadoBeni in 2019 as a pop-up at two Pittsburgh farmers markets and went full-time in 2020 when Joseph left his teaching position.
Doubles, Trinidad’s most famous dish, is a menu staple. The dish features bara, a turmeric-spiced fried flatbread topped with curried chickpeas and a variety of vivid chutney that range in flavor from bright and tangy tamarind to a fiery pepper sauce. Other dishes include pelau, a staple Trinidadian dish of rice, carrots and pigeon peas simmered in coconut milk and burnt sugar. Joseph serves his with savory curry-stew soya, which has a pleasing chewy mouthfeel to it. His peas and the rice are cooked to just the right toothsome texture; it’s all topped with creamy, vinegary slaw. It’s a satisfying one-dish meal that will keep you fueled for hours.
ShadoBeni will continue to pop up at the North Side, Bloomfield and Squirrel Hill markets for the remainder of the 2021 farm market season. By then, Joseph hopes to have his standalone restaurant on the North Side open. Expect a menu with rotating vegan sides that will allow guests to build a meal with rice, roti or dal puri, and dishes such as doubles on the weekends. Joseph will feature punches — nutritious, smoothie-like drinks made with power-packed ingredients such as oats, sea moss, flax and banana — and a drink made from unprocessed cocoa, one of Trinidad’s most important crops.
In April, Perry Parra launched his pop-up, Disfrutar, because he felt like the city lacked a robust selection of vegan options rooted in Mexican cuisine. Now, on any given weekend, you’ll see Parra around town serving tacos such as luscious jackfruit birria, al pastor made with pleasantly chewy soy curls marinated in guajillo chili and pineapple and sin-carne asada with luxurious soy beef marinated in orange juice, tamari, faux beef broth, jalapenos and cilantro — all served with homemade salsas.
“I just fell in love with my grandmother’s and mother’s cooking. And I learned to make vegan versions of what they would cook. I wanted to bring what I was cooking, what I grew up with, to Pittsburgh,” Parra says.
Parra grew up in Riverside, California, eating the home cooking of his parents, both of whom immigrated to the United States from Mexico. He spent his summers visiting his grandparents in Mexico, watching his grandmother cook.
Parra became a vegetarian when he was 15 and decided to switch to an entirely plant-based diet when he was 17. He says a stint in Austin prior to moving to Pittsburgh introduced him to the joys of Tex-Mex cuisine, too, and that influence is something he hopes to bring to his menu in the near future.
Parra moved to Pittsburgh in 2019 to pursue a career in nursing. When COVID-19 struck, however, he decided he’d rather wait for in-person classes and delayed enrolling in nursing school. During that time, he launched Disfrutar; although he’s still working full time at UPMC as an emergency room technician, he now envisions transitioning Disfrutar from pop-up to food truck in the next year. In the meantime, he’ll keep appearing around town with an expanding menu that will include tamales, tortas, pupusas and burritos.
Keep an eye on Parra’s Instagram to find out when and where you can try Disfrutar.
Brooks Criswell, Diana “Dingo” Ngo and Elyse Hoffman started Onion Maiden in 2015 as a way to offer easy-to-prepare, plant-based snacks such as veggie dogs at DIY punk shows throughout Pittsburgh. Animal rights and politics are connected philosophically to segments of hardcore and punk subcultures that believe all living things deserve respect; politically active bands such as Pittsburgh’s Anti-Flag carry the mantle for a movement that likely had its start in England in the 1980s. (Chefs such as Brooks Headly, of New York City’s supremely excellent vegan establishment Superiority Burger, first cut their teeth as musicians, too.)
“That’s the reason we went vegetarian in the first place. We were listening to bands talking about animal rights and animal politics. It comes out of a deep-seated respect for all living things. It’s punk bands talking about how a life is a life no matter what the life,” Criswell says.
Onion Maiden grew from punk rock show fuel to popular pop-ups, including a stint at Lili Cafe in Polish Hill. In March 2017, Criswell, Ngo and Hoffman opened a standalone location in Allentown.
Comfort food and nostalgia are the baselines for Onion Maiden’s menu, guided by a vegetable-forward philosophy rather than a meat-substitute base. Ngo is the executive chef; her parents used to own Chinese restaurants, and you can see influences of that in dishes such as General Ngo’s. On a menu full of crunchy, crumbly tater tot options, General Ngo’s, with tots topped with red cabbage, chili oil, soy caramel, bean sprouts and cilantro, stands out for its full-bodied flavor. Straight To Hell, a Vietnamese vermicelli noodle salad with tofu, mixed greens, sprouts, beet pickle, scallion oil, mixed herbs (cilantro, shiso, Thai basil and mint), lemongrass, peanuts and sweet citrus dressing, is a lighter option with just as much zing.
As of publication, Onion Maiden was gearing up to relaunch in-house dining. When it does, it’ll be with a new liquor license — but don’t overlook the craveable and colorful housemade horchatas.
639 E. Warrington Ave., Allentown, 412/586-7347, onionmaiden.com
B52 opened as part of Pittsburgh’s vegan wave of 2016. Much like Apteka, which also opened that year, B52 shined as an outstanding restaurant with a specific culinary perspective — one that happened to be vegan simply because that’s what the chef/owners of the restaurant wanted to offer. In this case, Omar Abuhejleh, who also owns Allegro Hearth bakery (see next page), wanted to tap into the foodways of his Palestinean roots; both of his parents were born and raised near Nablus in the West Bank. The cuisine of the Levant, which includes the gastronomic cultures of Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, is rich with food prepared from plant-based ingredients, with pulses such as chickpeas and lentils, seeds such as sesame and ancient grains such as emmer and kamut providing the base for many dishes.
Abuhejleh says opening a Pittsburgh restaurant that explored that culinary lineage was something he’d been thinking about for years as he explored more vegan cookery and the ideas behind it.
“What drives my philosophy about eating a plant-based diet is concern for animal welfare and concern for the environment. Those are the two main things. Once I started down this road, my desire to eat this way just kept shifting. It’s not a sacrifice in any way. It’s just what I like to eat. That’s what I’m doing now; I’m cooking the food I want to eat myself,” he says.
What you’ll find at B52 is smooth, creamy homemade hummus rich with tahini — it puts the stuff you’ll find on grocery store shelves to shame — and other mezze such as smoky, luscious baba ganoush and fried cauliflower in a lemony dill dip. There’s also a falafel wrap with crunchy yet soft falafel (arguably the best in town) accompanied by Mediterranean slaw, preserved lemon, pickles, pickled turnips, mixed greens, tahini and toum.
On the flip side, B52 shines as a power-packed breakfast restaurant. The pancakes, made with flax and buckwheat, are spongier than a conventional pancake; well-fermented, they also feel noble to eat, like you’re getting some nutrition with your carbohydrates. Be sure to try the yogurt made from cashew milk, which is topped with nourishing ingredients such as oats, banana and goji.
All of this comes alongside an excellent cafe with the loveliest lattes and strong coffee, takeaway items such as preserved lemon, zhug and red lentil soup and pastries from Allegro Hearth.
5202 Butler St., Upper Lawrenceville, 412/408-3988, b52pgh.com
Allegro Hearth Bakery
Converting a 19-year-old production bakery to offer a 100 percent vegan selection is a steep challenge in terms of both production challenges and customer expectations, but that’s just what Omar Abuhejleh decided to do with Allegro Hearth Bakery last year. Abuhejleh purchased the bakery in 2004, which is right around the time he decided to eat a vegetarian diet; he was vegan at home but says he found himself eating a fair bit of butter, eggs and sometimes cheese at the bakery to make sure things tasted as they should. Still, the idea of converting to a full vegan selection always gnawed at him a bit. He got the prompt he needed when restaurant closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic cost Allegro more than half of its wholesale business; he says the loss of business gave him the flexibility — even the need — to make some changes.
“I was living with that contradiction in my life for years. And I couldn’t justify it anymore. If I was going to reinvent the place, I figured now is the time to do it all vegan. I couldn’t get excited about doing things otherwise. It had to be vegan,” he says.
Many baked goods traditionally rely on eggs and dairy for their structure and flavor. For example, butter’s plasticity and sweet tang is what makes the laminated pastries such as croissants so appealing. Abuhejleh says it took about 75 iterations of experimenting to formulate a butter made from fermented sunflower seeds and fermented oak milk, emulsified with coconut oil and sunflower oil, to get the right mouthfeel, flavor and viscosity to bake with. Although he says the process continues, Allegro Hearth’s butter-free croissant is tender-crisp and flaky, with the rich, comforting flavor you might find in all but the most delicate croissants.
Long fermentation — Allegro Hearth’s challah is a four-day-long process, for example — helps everything the bakery offers, including its outstanding sourdough boule. Recently, Abuhejleh added a line of terrific sandwiches and a handful of other grab-and-go items to expand the bakery’s vegan offerings.
2034 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill, 412/422-5623, allegropgh.com
Asanté Bierria’s mission is to evangelize wholesome, healthy food to everyone in Pittsburgh, with an extra focus on helping people in low-income and minority communities shift their dietary perspective to nutrient-dense cuisine.
Bierria says he’s had a love affair with food since he was a kid, inspired by how food created community and joy in the people surrounding him. After working on the front-of-house side of the hospitality industry at some of Pittsburgh’s most essential nightlife destinations (such as Firehouse Lounge and Shadow Lounge), he started preparing and offering nutritious food through a word-of-mouth business. Five years ago, along with business partner Ashley Tunney, he officially launched Pure Grub.
“I want to bring healthy goodness whenever I can. I love flavor. I love how food can bring people together,” Bierria says. “It’s about common sense eating. What are you really eating? How is this benefiting you?”
Everything Pure Grub sells is vegan, gluten-free and organic, and Bierria prefers to highlight natural ingredients rather than use machine-crafted mock meats. To do that, he draws on his West Indian, Cuban and southern American background for much of his offerings. For example, he might offer a menu of vegetable stir-fry with mango jerk sauce and Jollof rice with Hoppin’ John. On the first Thursday of every month, he offers “Journey to the Soul” at Tupelo Honey Teas where he serves vegan versions of dishes such as jambalaya and ye’abesha gomen that highlights the impact of the spice and slave trade on modern American. However, Bierria doesn’t set hard geographical limits to inform what he’s serving, believing that there is an entire world of plant-based cuisine to explore — so he’ll utilize wholesome and delicious vegetables such as Japanese sweet potatoes and even trendy (though rooted in indigenous Central American cuisine) items such as chia as part of his output.
Pure Grub is now a staple at Pittsburgh farmers markets: Mondays in East Liberty, Tuesdays in Lawrenceville, Fridays on the North Side and rotating Sundays in Squirrel Hill. On Thursdays (except for the monthly Tupelo Honey barbeque), he’s at Trace Brewing in Bloomfield.
Imagine visiting your quirkiest relative’s dinner party. Enter through an antique store and take a seat at one of the tables with a layer of plastic protecting colorful tablecloths. Knick-knacks surround you with a post-punk/new-wave/alt-90s soundtrack with bands such as Public Enemy Ltd. and They Might Be Giants on the speakers. Everything coming from the kitchen is vegan (though they do have some cheese in the back of the fridge just in case somebody wants it). Here you are at The Zenith, Pittsburgh’s oldest vegetarian restaurant.
Mary Kay Morrow and David Goldstein opened the South Side space as an art gallery and antique store in 1991. Fellow antique store operator Robert Trakofler suggested Morrow add coffee and snacks to earn extra income; Trakofler and Elaine Smith later expanded the menu when they purchased the business in 2002. Trakofler says they are guided by two primary principles: animal rights and environmental justice.
“There’s enormous waste involved in giant factory farms and meat-processing plants. It’s so bad for the environment. Minimal waste is the theme for the restaurant and the antique store. If we don’t sell something as-is, I’ll take it to my workshop and turn it into something else. Everything has a beauty to it,” he says.
He and Smith are committed to supporting locally owned food purveyors, shopping in the Strip District and working with growers such as Frankferd Farms for their ingredients. It’s a scratch kitchen — even the seitan is housemade — and the menu of a couple of entrees, a few sandwiches and some sides changes weekly depending on what looks good while they are shopping. That means there might be a curried chickpea stew one week and sesame tofu stir-fry a few weeks later. One staple that you’ll always find is the utterly flavorsome peanut noodles salad; the dish has roots in Thai cuisine but varieties of it have long been a staple in American vegan and vegetarian kitchens.
Sunday brings a festive brunch buffet — it’s a time to celebrate the restaurant’s staple dishes and serves to use any ingredients that the restaurant didn’t sell during the week. The zero-waste policy continues after brunch; they donate food, if there is anything substantial left, and all the trimmings and scraps go to a worm farm for composting.
86 S. 26th St., South Side, 412/481-4833, zenithpgh.com
Manjunath Sherigar opened Udipi Cafe in Monroeville in 1996 after noticing there were no nearby restaurants serving a menu of 100 percent vegetarian cuisine. He says that worshipers at the nearby Sri Venkateswara Temple, one of the oldest traditional Hindu temples in the United States, as well as workers in Pittsburgh’s budding information technology sector were looking for somewhere to eat. While Udipi continues to cater primarily to those clients, remaining under-the-radar to many non-vegetarian Pittsburgh eaters, it’s grown in popularity thanks to Sherigar’s enticing menu.
“This cuisine is not easy to do right. I had a lot of experience cooking vegetarian food. I grind and blend my own spice mixes. Each dish I make has its own unique flavor. So I came here to do that,” Sherigar says.
Sherigar started cooking in vegetarian restaurants in Mumbai in 1982 and later cooked in restaurants in New York City. He specializes in the Tuluva-Mangalorean and Andhra cuisines of southern India, known for their emphasis on pulses, grains and vegetables and their lack of meat and fish (ghee and some dairy-based cheese is used, but the cuisine otherwise is plant-based). He even named the restaurant Udipi as homage to the small city of Udupi in Karnataka, a region known for its temples and flavor-packed vegetarian cuisine.
Udipi’s most popular dish is dosa, prepared with a batter of fermented rice and lentils. The enticingly funky griddled crepe often is stuffed with ingredients such as potatoes and onions; it’s served with sambhar, a lentil and vegetable soup that is one of Sherigar’s favorite items. The deluxe thali, a selection of small servings of white rice, chapati, yogurt, pickle, papad, dal, sambar, rasam, kootu, poriyal and payasam, is a smart place to start for guests who are visiting Udipi for the first time; poori, a deep-fried puffy bread made from whole wheat, is another must-get. The restaurant’s menu is rounded out with popular Indian dishes such as crispy pea-and-potato packed samosas and a few northern Indian vegetarian dishes such as vegetable korma and palak paneer.
4141 Old William Penn Highway, Monroeville, 412/373-5581
The owner of Viridis, who prefers not to be named, is another member of Pittsburgh’s vegan class of 2016, having launched Relish, a bakery specializing in donuts and comfort food, that year. She followed that up with crumb, first as a placeholder at Smallman Galley to finish out another tenant’s lease and then as a late-night option at Gluten Free Goat. Last October, she opened Viridis in the former Amazing Cafe space on the South Side.
She is guided by the principle that people eat plant-based diets for various reasons. To that end, she’s built a small menu — usually about 10 items ranging from a selection of sandwiches to pastries — at the daytime cafe designed to be accessible in terms of dietary restrictions, financial obligations and even familiarity.
“I’ve always loved doing things that people are more open to trying, donuts, breakfast sandwiches, things that people recognize the name of even if it isn’t made with meat or dairy. I want to make sure the flavors aren’t too complicated. A lot of my customers don’t want food that’s over the top,” she says.
Even with that framework, she is serving some seriously craveable food. Her egg sandwich — tofu egg patty, salad greens, roasted red onion and gochujang honee aioli (using a vegan honey substitute made from apple juice, chamomile and simple syrup) served in a toasted “everything” seasoned bun is a complete package. The ample serving of greens and sweetly caramelized onion gives balance to the tofu egg patty, and the honee adds spicy, sweet fruitiness. A football-sized breakfast burrito stuffed with loads of tofu egg, cheddar, crispy hash browns, tomato, spring mix, avocado, everything blend, aioli and Cholula hot sauce is equally satisfying. And her donuts, with a glazed and crisp exterior giving way to an airy interior, are gems.
1506 E. Carson St., South Side, 412/929-0245, viridispgh.com
Tupelo Honey Teas
Danielle Spinola started selling custom tea blends in the Strip District in 2007 and later in Allison Park, but it wasn’t until she opened her Millvale cafe in 2016 that she decided to add a light menu to complement her offerings. Spinola started eating a nearly all-vegan diet 10 years ago — she makes an exception for honey from apoidea apiary and Russellton Bee Works, two Pittsburgh-area, women-owned apiaries she feels align with her ethics — in support of animal welfare, environmental justice and overall better health. Her Millvale space is a cozy alternative for those looking to connect with themselves or others over something other than, say, a beer and a hamburger.
“Plant-based is good for your health, of course. But when you dive into the humanity of eating vegan, there’s a lot there. The thing about eating almost entirely vegan for me is that my quest to eat that way and live in that lifestyle is that it really connects me more to humanity, more to everything that’s happening around the world. Everything you do has an impact,” Spinola says.
Bri Scala runs the Tupelo Honey Teas kitchen, offering an ever-changing output of food that you’d want to consume with a cup of tea. Scala’s menu, completely vegan aside from a honey-sweetened elderberry elixir that’s served for six months each year, leans toward cafe-style food such as sandwiches with a bit of twist on veganizing home-cooked-style food. Summer is more produce heavy, with fresh vegetables taking center stage. In the fall, you’ll find soups and stews. And, though most everything is traditionally plant-based, winter might bring a comfort food dish such as a hamburger-helper-style entree prepared with mock meat. Tupelo Honey Teas also partners with other locally owned small businesses such as Pure Grub.
The 10-seat cafe, which offers more than 100 varieties of tea and is attached to the Millvale Community Library, will reopen for on-premise consumption this month.
211 Grant Ave., Millvale, 412/821-0832, tupelohoneyteas.com
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