Where Our Dining Critic is Eating Now
This week's dining brought bagel sandwiches, farmers market treats and a meal around a revolving round table.
Lola’s Eatery: Bagel Breakfast Sandwich
I visited Lola’s Eatery, Zoe Rieder and Max Becerra’s Lower Lawrenceville establishment, shortly after it opened in late 2019 but hadn’t been back since that initial visit. The daytime, counter-service restaurant is only open on Friday, Saturday and Sundays, and, even though it’s at a prominent crossroads at the junction of Penn Avenue, Butler Street and 34th Street, it’s tucked into the Engine House 25 Wines building, making it little too easy to overlook. I’m sure glad I went back, because it was a real treat dipping into their menu.
The restaurant’s bagels, which hit all the right marks to strike the right balance between chewiness and density, are outstanding. The go-to move here is to order a bagel sandwich. There’s some flexibility in how to build it (and you can also assemble sandwiches with croissants and English muffins, but these bagels demand attention), and I found a nice elemental balance in mine with a dippy egg, American cheese, bacon, Sriracha aioli, pickled onions and arugula; next time, I might add an additional egg to round it out. The accompanying hash browns were pretty tasty, too. Also on the menu right now is a limited-edition sandwich called “The American.” This stepped-up egg sandwich had a nice pop of sweetness from the apple fritter; it’s worth getting if you’re going for more than one sandwich. There are daily scratch-made pastry offerings — I thought the donuts were quite good, and I’m looking forward to trying more of the sweets. But for now, wow, those bagels. I’m going back for more of those soon.
3337 Penn Ave., Lawrenceville; lolaseatery.com
Bloomfield Saturday Market: One Visit, Many Meals
I’m so thrilled that the region’s farmers markets are sprouting back into action. Early season markets were scrappy, bare-bones operations when I first moved to Pittsburgh nearly 11 years ago. Farmers have since expanded their growing capacities with greenhouses, hoop houses and other extended season growing strategies to bring a late-spring bounty of greens and root vegetables such as radishes and turnips to market. On top of that, the region’s markets are attracting a growing number of prepared food vendors offering excellent products to bolster your post-market spread. Right now, the Bloomfield Saturday Market is my go-to. Last week, I stocked up with enough locally grown and prepared food to serve as the base for a few days worth of meals.
I had a lunch of homemade bread (there are a variety of excellent bread options such as Crust Worthy and Mediterra Bakehouse at the market if baking bread slipped out of your life once the stay-at-home order ended) with FetFisk trout spread and young onions from Tiny Seed Farm (pictured above), a salad that included spring greens and turnips from Be.Wild.Er Farm and a sunshine-yolked egg from Old Time Farm. I also tucked into a stir fry with Tiny Seed sprouting cauliflower, the greens from the Be.Wild.Er turnips and Fallen Aspen Farm ground pork, which I dressed with Onion Maiden’s honey-mustard dip.
Sakura: Return to the Round Table
My dear pal Bruce’s family was visiting from Los Angeles last week. Their visit provided the perfect prompt to get the crew back to doing something we love more than just about anything else — sharing food and company around a revolving tabletop at one of our favorite Squirrel Hill restaurants. In this case, we chose Sakura, one of Pittsburgh Magazine’s 2021 Best Restaurants, because it had just reopened its dining room early that week. Also, Bruce thought his mom and co-owner Fenping Geng would get along swimmingly (they did).
We ended up with quite a spread of our favorite dishes — hand-shaved noodles with egg and tomato; a whole fish topped with matchstick vegetables and bean sprouts served in spicy, sesame-oil-laden sauce; cumin beef; da pan ji (大盘鸡, also known as big plate chicken); and, beautiful yet straightforward bok choy. A dish I hadn’t tried before — lamb pao mo (羊肉泡饃; listed on the menu as lamb pancake soup) — was a revelation and sure to be added to my regular rotation at Sakura. It’s served with a housemade scallion flatbread that softens as you dip torn-up pieces into the unctuous lamb broth, and it’s so good that it’s worth trying even as we move into hot-weather eating.
But the real highlight was celebrating with friends. Aside from Bruce’s parents, our crew shared numerous outdoor meals over the past year-plus. But all of us, fully vaccinated, back at one of our favorite spots, passing dishes back and forth hot from the kitchen … now that’s something I’m glad to have back again.
5882 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412/422-7188, sakura-pgh.com