Eat: Falafel and mujadara at B52

As I looked back over the restaurants that opened last year, I was surprised by how few were splashy, fine dining affairs. Instead, the list was populated by casual eateries poised to become go-to neighborhood hangouts. This week, B52 will join that group, offering up unique (and much-needed) vegan fare in an affordable, accessible package.

B52 is the latest project from Omar Abuhejleh, owner of Squirrel Hill’s Allegro Hearth Bakery. The concept is deeply personal, inspired by Abuhejleh’s upbringing, travels through the Middle East and his own turn to a nearly vegan lifestyle. After racking his brain for a name to describe the unique Middle-Eastern-American-fusion menu, Abuhejleh landed on B52. It’s not that he’s a massive fan of bombers or new wave: B52 is located at the corner of Butler and 52nd in Lawrenceville.

Starting tomorrow, B52 will be open seven days a week, serving up breakfast and lunch on weekdays and brunch on the weekends. (Abuhejleh plans to add dinner service in a few weeks.) Though the entire menu is vegan, don’t expect them to lean on garden salads and frozen veggie burgers. Everything at B52 will be made from scratch, from seitan sausage with fennel to cashew cheese.

Breakfast options include pancakes made with fermented buckwheat and a spicy tofu scramble, all complemented by Commonplace coffee and espresso. For lunch, grab a plate of mujadara (a traditional lentil and rice dish) or try a sampler of Middle Eastern snacks. Though B52 is BYOB, you can wash down your meal with a variety of beverages on draft, including house made sodas, ginger beer and nitro cold brew coffee. B52 also boasts a grab-and-go section filled with sandwiches and sauces as well as a serious chocolate program. And with the strong baking background of the B52 team, you can be sure there will be great lavash and pita to scoop everything up.

Despite the focus on scratch cooking and the attention to sourcing (much of the produce is organic and Abuhejleh plans to buy locally whenever possible), the prices are surprisingly low: most items are less than ten bucks. “I really want this to be something that isn’t a special occasion,” explains Abuhejleh. “We want to be a regular part of someone’s routine.”

Check out B52 on Facebook for more information.

Drink: Pour over coffee at The Commonplace at the Mexican War Streets

The North Side has been hurting for a good coffee shop. When I visited Commonplace Coffee’s new location in the Mexican War Streets, Frank Battista (“insert barista pun here,” he quipped, beating me to the groaner) ticked off a laundry list of coffeehouses that had closed throughout the North Side’s many neighborhoods. The storefront where we stood was, in fact, two coffee shops before Commonplace moved in.

Battista, who runs the newest branch of the local coffee roaster and retailer, dreamt of opening a shop in the Mexican War Streets since moving there seven years ago. Buying a house, however, came first, and that dream landed on the backburner. A longtime employee of Commonplace Coffee, Battista found the stars aligning for him last year when a North Side landlord approached Commonplace about opening a shop in his building. Build-out began, and a Commonplace branch at the corner of Jacksonia and Buena Vista softly opened in early December.

Like Commonplace’s other locations, the new shop is as much about building community as it is about brewing a great cup of coffee. To that end, the shop’s grand opening is not a flashy promotion or ribbon cutting—it’s a good old-fashioned neighborhood potluck. Stop by this Saturday with a dish to share and get a free cappuccino or cortado in exchange. And in case you are one of the customers who has been anxiously anticipating a cold drink (don’t you know it’s January??), Battista assured me that their ice machine will be up and running by Saturday.

Do: Find bargain lunches at Oakland Restaurant Week

You probably know that this week marks the beginning of Pittsburgh Restaurant Week, the biannual blowout that offers killer deals on prix fixe menus around the city. (We feature the week, along with nine other can’t-miss happenings, in our January event guide.) You may not know, however, that immediately following is Oakland Restaurant Week, six days of opportunities to grab a cheap lunch in one of Pittsburgh’s coolest neighborhoods.

Oakland Restaurant Week is a project of the Oakland Business Improvement District, an economic development agency that works to make Oakland a clean, attractive and vibrant commercial district. During Oakland Restaurant Week, which runs from January 18th to the 23rd, nearly two dozen of the neighborhood’s eateries will be offering lunches for just six bucks.

Participants range from the health-focused Red Oak Café to somewhat less healthy favorites like Pamela’s Diner and Primanti’s. This year, Oakland Restaurant Week has partnered with Sustainable Pittsburgh to offer Meatless Monday, an environmentally friendly lunch option on January 18th.

For more information and a full list of participating restaurants, check out OBID’s website.

Drew Cranisky is a writer, bartender and recent graduate of Chatham University's Food Studies program. He enjoys cats, pinball and fancy burgers.