Around 8:30 a.m., B52 Cafe, Lawrenceville’s newest vegan cafe, was still relatively empty.
I began the excursion with a half pot of their green tea, brewed fresh and served in a stainless steel pot. The tea was quite bitter, so I asked for honey — forgetting that it is an animal byproduct — but they reminded me nicely that the cafe is entirely vegan.
Cleverly named as an abbreviation for its location at 5202 Butler St., B52 opened its doors just this past January. Owned by Omar Abuhejleh — who also owns Allegro Hearth Bakery in Squirrel Hill — the cafe offers vegan cuisine to the heart of Lawrenceville.
B52 is not the only cafe in Lawrenceville that provides vegan options: The Zenith is a vegetarian cafe that has some vegan choices, too. But while many other Pittsburgh restaurants and cafes offer both vegetarian and vegan options, B52 boasts a strictly vegan menu, joining the ranks of other vegan-conscious establishments like Red Oak Cafe in Oakland and Eden in Shadyside.
The small cafe — fitting about 25 patrons — offers a fusion of American and Middle Eastern vegan food, including house-baked goods and a full service espresso bar.
The first thing I noticed in the cafe was the exposed brick and tin-tiled ceilings. The walls’ muted colors and dividers between tables give the space a relaxing breakfast diner atmosphere.
I ordered the buckwheat pancakes, made with fermented sifted wheat, rye and flaxseed, a seed cultivated from a blue-flowered herbaceous plant that often serves as a replacement for eggs. My meal came with the option to add bananas or apples — I selected the latter for a small fee. The pancakes were a different texture — and a stronger wheat flavor thanks to the sifted wheat and flaxseed — than the traditional pancakes most non-vegan patrons are used to, but you wouldn’t know it if you ate it blindfolded.
The pancakes came with margarine and syrup, which, combined with the apples, helped mask the pancakes’ unconventional taste.
By the time I was finished eating about half an hour later, the small restaurant was filled with other breakfast-goers. B52 serves breakfast and lunch during the week and brunch on weekends. It is open every day except Monday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekends. Breakfast is served each day until 11 a.m., and brunch is served Sundays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
For a vegan restaurant, the options are not as limited as one might think. From the tofu scramble to the seitan sausage, there are an abundance of choices for those living the vegan lifestyle. Lunch brings a few more options, including a variety of entrees, sandwiches, salads, soups and sides.
B52 also offers a number of different drinks, including a few I had never heard of before. If you’re looking for something different, try their Nitro cold brew, a nitrogen-brewed coffee, which I grabbed on the way out. The best way to describe this beverage is as a coffee-flavored carbonated beverage or soda. It has a very strong taste, but I toned it down with a bit of the natural sugar from the coffee bar and some almond milk.
The staff was friendly and attentive, the food was out in a timely fashion and I didn’t find myself excessively waiting at any point. They were helpful when it came to my questions about some of the foods I didn’t recognize and seemed perfectly understanding when reminding me that B52 does not serve any animal byproducts.
B52 is not exclusively appealing to vegans and vegetarians — even without a few faux-meat menu items like the seitan shawarma, the cafe would still be able to provide a tasty meal for any patron.