Guest post: Vegan Pierogie Night in Pittsburgh!  »

Pittsburgh is a pierogi town. Pittsburghers seriously love sports, and not only are pierogies for sale at all sporting events, but at home Pirates games, people dressed as pierogies race each other around PNC Park. One might wonder whether pirates weren’t an exciting enough mascot; well, sure, but it’s Pittsburgh, dammit, and the people of Pittsburgh are proud of their Eastern European foodstuffs! Plus, the sandwich-with-french-fries-and-coleslaw-on-it costume is pretty confusing, and an Andy Warhol race just didn’t have the same mass appeal.

Sadly, though, most places stuff their pierogies full of non-vegan ingredients. We’re talking cheese, meat, lots of butter. Some places even put eggs in the dough. But hope is not lost for the vegan who wants to eat an enormous amount of authentic dough pockets stuffed with (preferably) greasy goodies like any real Pittsburgher!

Tomasz Skowronski has been holding Vegan Pierogie Night for over two years, using mostly word of mouth to spread the joy of vegan pierogies to Pittsburgh’s herbivores and omnivores alike. “People think that the pierogie recipe is some sacred thing, but that’s the biggest misstep,” he says. “A pierogie is just supposed to be chewy and simple. You don’t need sour cream or fake things. The less artificial stuff you put into it, the better.”

imageTomasz preps and serves.

This more-or-less monthly event has been a true labor of love for him. “At first, we pressed all the pierogies by hand. That’s possible to do, but eventually your hands just wither and you do a lot of crying, so now we use hand presses.” As the event grew in popularity, his partner Kate Lasky signed on to split the enormous amount of cooking and prep, while helpful friends volunteer the day of, frying and flipping and running around. “I think they just appreciate what we’ve got going on and they want to be involved in it,” says Kate. “And they don’t mind us bossing them around for three hours.”

imageKate works in the kitchen while Tomasz serves in front.

With fillings like potato and red bell pepper coulis with sauerkraut and mushroom, or spicy carrot with stewed cabbage and cooked Jonathan apples, it’s no surprise that the line for food goes out the door, but Tomasz and Kate are committed to keeping it all-you-can-eat. Vegan Pierogie Night is a social event, where you get some food, sit and eat and talk, then go get some more food and do it again, rather than a pop-up kitchen or food truck. And pierogies are not the only thing served; there is always a second, unrelated food. Past pierogie nights have paired the Pittsburgh classic with such unlikely plate-mates as tacos, falafel, Korean barbecue, pizza, sushi, and banh mi.

imagePierogies, dipping sauces, and tacos from the Pierogies vs. Tacos night held in December 2012.

Although Tomasz and Kate love to eat at many ethnic restaurants in Pittsburgh, they do feel the lack of strictly vegan places. “It’s so easy to buy vegan food for yourself at the grocery stores in the states now, so we’re kind of done with the whole ‘one vegan option’ thing,” says Tomasz. He and Kate have plans in the (slow) works to open up what sounds like would instantly be Pittsburgh’s most rad place if it ever came to be, which it totally should. “It’d be like, a Pan-Eastern European place that always plays Depeche Mode and has a late-night drunk menu. And a bar! With disco and darkwave.”


The next event happens on Saturday, March 23, from 6 to 9 p.m.  It’s at the Stephen Foster Community Center, 286 Main St., in the Lawrenceville neighborhood. This time around, it’s Pierogies vs. Sushi, and entry costs $10. Details on Facebook!

Melissa Balick is a blogger originally from Pennsylvania who now lives in San Francisco. She writes about vegan cooking, type 1 diabetes, and preserving marine biodiversity on her blog, Food and Loathing. You can also follow her on Twitter if you have a short attention span.


Help this pit bull and chihuahua dream team, please! JUST LOOK AT THAT PHOTO.  »

Reader Lis lives in the Pittsburgh area, and she has a friend who needs to home two dogs, a chihuahua and a pit bull! They are a bonded pair, so if you adopted them, you could get like an AWESOME family with NO work. It’s like you adopted a kid the day they before they left for Harvard on a full scholarship. Seriously, LIVING THE DREAM.

If you’re interested, or know anyone who might be, holler at Lis! Please note: You must be hella responsible and awesome and pay an adoption fee because these dogs are rad and you gotta want them. Plus, when they graduate, they’ll make you all sorts of money and keep you in the softest (faux) chinchilla fur. HERE’S THE INFO:

I am a vegan living in Pittsburgh area and have a friend who lives near me, currently in a predicament. She is in a financial crisis and must move, and cannot stay in an apartment with the number of animals she has, nor the pitbull she has. The issue is that there are two dogs, a pit and a chihuahua, who are a bonded female pair. They must go together, and are some characters! I fostered these two years back, and the problems always was, people either want one type of dog or the other, usually not both.

These two femme fatales are vegan. Nina was an abused pitbull who is scared of her own shadow, and Dutch is the chihuahua who came along and decided she would take Nina under her wing, and thus is fiercely protective of her pittie. The 8-pound gargoyle and the 55-pound helpless princess of the castle. They are darling. We will transport them for the right home ANYWHERE. I put a picture in here just so you can see their true love.


Road Trip: Quiet Storm in Pittsburgh!  »

As much as it’s possible for a person to appreciate her circumstances, I appreciate how good a vegan has it in San Francisco. All we’re missing, aside from the utopia of course, is a place to get a good tofu scramble. This city is utterly devoid of good tofu scrambles.

Strangely enough, the best tofu scrambles I’ve ever had were cooked in Davis, Calif. and Pittsburgh, Penn. OK, not so strangely to find good vegan food in Davis, but what is delicious vegan breakfast doing in Pittsburgh? Well! It is waiting for you to order it at the Quiet Storm.

They serve a daily breakfast that Joel is partial to, the Nothin’ Fancy, a good amount of tofu, potatoes and toast that is very good. They say their secret is to bake the scramble, but I believe that is a lie; the secret is also in the seasonings, because you could bake a thousand tofu scrambles from a thousand Bay Area restaurants, and none would taste as good as the one from Quiet Storm.

Even better, on weekends you can have a “country” breakfast burrito featuring this amazing tofu, plus the potatoes, little mushrooms and vegan sausage. The tortilla all this goodness is wrapped up in is made warm and crispy, and then topped with onion “jam.” Whatever onion jam is, who cares, just eat it, it is delicious.

I tell you, I have never eaten a better tofu-based breakfast outside of my own kitchen. OK, I’ve never eaten a better tofu-based breakfast, period, as I do not generally go to such trouble for one little breakfast. Besides, like I said, there are secrets to making this scramble that I haven’t cracked; replicating it would be impossible.

Let’s go to the close-up:

As for matters non-scrambled, their vegan cheesecake is very good, texturally perfect if a bit lacking in tartness.  Do not, absolutely do not ask for “vegan cream cheese” to put on your toast, though; from what I could surmise, it’s cold whipped tofu, probably silken, and that’s it. Imagine taking a bite of that on your hot and toasty bagel. Are you shuddering? I shuddered. It was disgusting. This is entirely avoidable, of course, when you order your breakfast in a tortilla instead.

If you are ever in Pittsburgh, go eat at Quiet Storm. I have it on a native’s authority that they make good lunches and dinners, too, so there’s that. You should really go to breakfast, though, and Pittsburgh is supposed to be one of those big Sunday brunch cities, and Quiet Storm does that up right, too, so I’m told. Someday soon maybe one restaurant in our so-called vegan-friendly city will take a lesson from this little cafe across the country and make an edible tofu scramble, and I won’t have to keep pining for this one breakfast burrito I had this one time.

[all photos—and breakfasts!—courtesy Joel]


Road Trip: CoCo’s Cupcake Cafe in Pittsburgh!  »

Update, June 27, 2010: Coco’s has closed.

Because it’s National Cupcake Day (and Thursday is National Roast Suckling Pig Day, ugh, let us not take this ridiculousness too seriously), here is a second cupcake review.  CoCo’s Cupcakes Cafe is Pittsburgh’s “first cupcake bakery,” having opened one week earlier than Dozen Cupcakes in December of 2006. Like Dozen, CoCo’s uses local sources for things like coffee and chocolate, and is located in one of the schmancier of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods: CoCo’s is in Shadyside, near a yoga studio and a Whole Foods. Adorably, CoCo’s makes neighborhood-themed cupcakes, such as this vegan margarita South Side cupcake: It certainly is pretty, isn’t it?

CoCo’s offers at least one vegan cupcake every day; when we went, they had gingerbread and red velvet. The red velvet is their daily vegan cupcake, and has what is described as vanilla frosting and a few delicate red sugar sprinkles. It was very good-looking as well, and the frosting was piled incredibly high. Although I am not the sort to just bite into a cupcake like it’s a piece of sushi (I prefer cupcake deconstruction), I had to see if I could fit the whole thing in my mouth (THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID); it worked, but I ended up with frosting in my nose, and it lacked the feeling of supreme accomplishment I had expected to feel.

Right, fine, but what about the cupcake? Well, the cake was pretty good; too dense, but definitely worth finishing, and the flavor was nice. The frosting was texturally pleasing, and there certainly was enough of it to make me, a preferrer of frosting, satisfied with the ratio of it to cake; however, the taste wasn’t there. It was as if the person making it had forgotten to include the vanilla, because it just didn’t taste like anything. It was not a buttercream, that’s for sure.

Don’t get me wrong, I ate the whole thing! I kept waiting for it to taste better, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. Luckily, we still had the special gingerbread cupcakes for dessert, so CoCo’s still had time to redeem its vegan baking skills. There’s always hope.

The gingerbread cake was equally dense, though with a more complex flavor, and really resembled actual gingerbread more than any delicate cupcake. The frosting, again, was disappointing flavorless, and again they don’t advertise it as a buttercream, so I’m still confused — what is it supposed to taste like? What is a thick vanilla frosting that is not a buttercream? Is it a shortening-only frosting? A shortening-only frosting would give great hold and allow for amazing staying power when a frosting has to battle both cold and heat, but it would also have to derive its taste from its other ingredients, as shortening has no flavor. If this is the case—and of course this is conjecture based on my own baking knowledge—then CoCo’s should really look into adding a lot more vanilla extract, because frosting that tastes like “sweet” is kind of a waste of space.

If I were in need of a cupcake in Pittsburgh again and unable or unwilling to make them myself (pardon the egoism, but I can bake better vegan cupcakes than these places), I would go to CoCo’s again, if only for the variety. Maybe their other vegan cupcakes have more flavorful frostings — we did get two cupcakes with the same disappointing flavor — and maybe next time they’ll have improved their technique. You never know! Besides, CoCo’s doesn’t have too many improvements to make to achieving a vegan cupcake worth our accolades. Furthermore the pickings are a bit slim in Pittsburgh (you can always complain about your surroundings! Once I went to a restaurant in Southeast Texas where the only vegan item on the menu was “two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for $1.50,” and I complained because the peanut butter was creamy and the wheat bread had whey so I had to get white. Always! Complain!), so as usual, vegans will have to learn to do it at home, or take what’s available on the outside. At CoCo’s, happily, what’s available is pretty all right. Not the best, but I bet with some helpful community feedback, they’ll get there.

[margarita and gingerbread photos via Cupcakefetish; red velvet photo by Joel]

Road Trip: Dozen Bakeshop in Pittsburgh!  »

This Vegansaur visited a new city recently: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, ancestral home of accredited Vegansaurus photographer Joel. While we were there, it snowed several times, and we saw a few enormously fat squirrels scale crabapple trees so spindly they should’ve fallen over with the winter bulk of its furry assailants, and yet it stood strong. We also spent time with a small and talkative (babble-ative?) baby, were fed many wonderful multicourse vegan suppers cooked by Joel’s mother, including the best pie crust I have ever eaten (seriously! And it is work, too, to get it so delicate)—but my primary goal was, obviously, to take an eating tour of vegan Pittsburgh. Who doesn’t love an eating tour?

We stumbled on Dozen Bakeshop because one of its two locations happened to be along our Thanksgiving walk route. It was closed at the time—for the best!—but promised to be open the next day, so cupcakes for breakfast it would be.

Dozen currently features three cruelty-free cupcakes: vanilla on Tuesdays, peppermint on Fridays, and “Mostess” on Saturdays. Mondays are “mystery” days, so they might offer a vegan cupcake then too, I can’t say. We went on a Friday, so we got peppermint cupcakes. They also had a ginger molasses cookie, and that was the extent of their vegan goods that morning. If we’d gone on a weekend morning we might’ve tried their vegan cinnamon roll, but our weekend mornings were already spoken for, so it wasn’t to be.

The cookie was fine, if a little too sweet; the ginger pieces were good, the molasses flavor was present without being too strong. The cupcake on the other hand was tragic. The cake was a rock; not a flavorless rock, but chewy and hard and totally unfortunate. The frosting divided us. Joel thought it was too sweet, while I thought it was one of the best frostings I’d ever eaten. It was incredibly thick and rich, buttery underneath the peppermint, and because the cake was so bad I wound up eating it bite by tiny bite with a spoon. Delicious. Still, not a reason to buy an entire cupcake, seeing as how the cake part went wasted.

The bakery is very nice inside—we went to the Lawrenceville location—and the staff were friendly and helpful, and they have free refills on house coffee, which is a huge step ahead in customer appreciation in comparison to every bakery/coffee house/cafe I have ever patronized EVER at home here in San Francisco, where you have to pay over 50 percent of the price of your first cup of coffee for every refill, despite most coming from the same push-lid carafe that keeps the stupid coffee hot-to-room-temperature for four-to-five hours before staff refreshes it. Point to Dozen Bakeshop for recognizing that despite serving savory baked goods and having free wifi, no one is going to hang around a bakery all day, so there’s very little risk of losing money on moochers staying for the coffee refills. Not that, you know, a business is in dire risk of losing hundreds of dollars a day in revenue giving out under a dollar in filtered hot water.

OK, the summary: For a vegan cookie and coffee (note: ask for milk substitute, they don’t put anything out there for you), Dozen is a nice place to go. For vegan cupcakes, it is a waste of time; I can make better cupcakes at home and if you can’t, come to me. The end.

[photo by Joel]

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