Every city has its food love affairs, that dish or snack that becomes so fused with the area’s identity, that it’s often used as a symbol of that place. Philly has cheesesteaks and pretzels, New York has bagels and pizza, Baltimore has crab cakes … you get the idea. Though the restaurant scene in Pittsburgh has exploded and changed over the past decade, the most comforting of Polish delicacies that’s laid claim to the city’s heart remains the same: pierogies.
Pittsburgh’s timeless romance with pierogies can of course be traced back to the city’s Polish heritage. Along with numerous other ethnicities that have shaped the city’s culture, Polish immigrants who flocked to Pittsburgh in the mid-1800s (many settled in the Polish Hill neighborhood) brought their foodways with them.
But, pierogies have transcended that category — after all, there are Polish neighborhoods in cities and towns all over the country where you can find traditional pierogies in little markets and cafes. But, in Pittsburgh, the pierogi has risen to the upper echelon of treasured foods, to the point where you’re hard-pressed to find a bar, restaurant or cafe that doesn’t have pierogies on the menu. Also, the amount of pierogi-themed arts and crafts made in Pittsburgh is truly staggering. Here are a few we couldn’t deny the pleasure of sharing with you:
View this post on Instagram
PIEROGI TOSS game. handmade – in house – ready to toss under the tree. perfect gift for your pierogi loving friend…or c'mon, let's be honest, just get it for yourself. made in pittsburgh – with our hands. #pierogi #pierogie #pirogi #pyrohi #piiieeeeerogiiiieees www.compressmerch.com . Pic @412matt
View this post on Instagram
Need a stocking stuffer with some extra Yinzer spirit? Regent Park Naturals' "Pierogi on a Rope" is the perfect way to wash off your black-and-gold face paint after a Stillers game, and makes a great accent piece for every Pittsburgh Potty. Head dahn to the market this Saturday to get your own piece of Pittsburgh, along with many more great soaps, bath bombs, and more!
There are pierogi road trips (and dozens of other listicle-style roundups of the city’s “best”), pierogi festivals, pierogi fundraising dinners, and, perhaps most thrillingly, the Great Pierogi Race, a mascot race between innings during Pittsburgh Pirates baseball games where seven contestants wearing giant pierogi costumes chase each other around the field.
If you enter “pierogies” into the search field at Yelp for Pittsburgh, there are dozens of results for pierogi-specific restaurants. There are no-frills, traditional spots, like S&D Polish Deli (where you can also shop for all kinds of Polish groceries), and Forgotten Taste, as well as more modern establishments, like Stuff’d Pierogi Bar and Cop Out Pierogies (who offers traditional, sweet and gluten-free versions). There are the umpteen, uncountable dive bars offering plates of pierogies, cementing the humble dumpling’s place in the canon of exceptional beer-friendly foods. Then, there are the hip, new-wave bars and restaurants with pierogies on the menu, like comfy gastropub Butterjoint and the much-lauded vegan Polish cocktail bar, Apteka
View this post on Instagram
Hej, dziś mamy pierogi z wiśniami (z własnego zbioru):) Yo- tonight at 6pm we’re selling pierogi full of the sour cherries we picked. This isn’t a dessert, this is a sweet entree, my friend. This won’t be the only time we have them, but you know, bird in hand n’at. C u soon! 👄 *update* sour cherry Pierogi will be available on Saturday & Sundays in August:)
What makes a great pierogi, you may ask? According to Joe Kiefer, the chef at Cinderlands Beer Co., a craft brewery and scratch kitchen in Lower Lawrenceville, it’s all about the dough.
“The texture and the width of the dough, you have to get that right,” he says. “[Before we opened] I spent a solid 24 hours researching different dough recipes online, reading the comments sections to get a good idea of what works and what doesn’t.”
After all of that research, Kiefer landed on his perfect dough recipe, which includes flour, water, eggs, olive oil and salt, and — the secret ingredient — sour cream. Once the dough is rolled out, filled and sealed, Kiefer steams them and drops them in an ice bath, then fries them just on one side in clarified butter.
Cinderland’s handmade pierogies are so popular that it’s one person’s part-time job to make them each week. Kiefer says that though Cinderlands is now well known for its pierogies, and other local dishes, like haluski and kielbasa and pork schnitzel, those dishes weren’t a part of the original menu design.
“I fought for putting pierogies on the menu when we first opened up, because we are in a pierogi city!” he says. “When we were opening this place, no one really knew who any of the employees were, so we had an uphill battle in a city with a growing restaurant scene. We wanted to make a name for ourselves by doing four or five classic Pittsburgh dishes with our own spin.”
Cinderlands has changed the flavor of its pierogies a few times in the year since it opened. The first was a riff on the traditional style, with roasted parsnip and fennel, goat cheese, house-made sauerkraut and fresh fennel fronds.
Other updates have included pierogies with Yukon gold potatoes, charred leek and Gruyere, grilled peach pierogies with goat cheese and herbs, and pierogies with an eggplant caponata-style filling.
“We’ve gotten tons of good feedback on our pierogies, and people seem to like seeing the flavors change,” says Cinderlands’ marketing manager, Joanna Warden. “Joe is good at picking flavors that are new, but not too bizarre.”
When asked about where to get the best old-school Polish pierogies, Kiefer answers without hesitation:
“Pierogies Plus!” he says. “It’s a bunch of old women making pierogies, day in and day out.”
At the end of the day, even Pittsburgh chefs are craving simple, grandma-style pierogies. What are your favorite pierogies in Pittsburgh (or elsewhere in PA)? Let us know!
- Photos: Cinderlands Beer Co.