“WHAT FOLLOWS is not a best-of list but a story of a place, told through a food. Some call it the Rust Belt, this constellation of deindustrialized cities and towns extending from western New York down through Pennsylvania and into West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois. To me, it’s the Pierogi Belt. And Pittsburgh is the buckle,” writes Beth Kracklauer in the Wall Street Journal.
“Some Pittsburghers will groan when they read this: A story about pierogies, really? We have ramen now! And fusion tacos! I’m genuinely pleased that our chefs are participating in a national conversation, and that the dining trends blowing up on Instagram are here, too. But I’m more interested in understanding, and tasting, what sets Pittsburgh apart. Knowing this place is no easy task, ” says Kracklauer who recently shared her best meal in town with NEXTpittsburgh.
She continues: “You can find many more pierogies to try—madcap versions with unlikely fillings, not to mention pierogi omelets, pierogi pizzas, pierogi hot dogs. I’ve narrowed my list to pierogies that matter—the ones that continue to sustain communities left behind in the new economy as well as those conceived by a new generation of chefs. Let the pierogi be your key to the city.”
Here are the five places she writes about in her tour with an excerpted comment on each:
- The upstart, Apteka: “Fermentation and smoke bring deep flavor to their dishes, including the two varieties of pierogies currently on offer: one filled with sauerkraut and mushroom; the other smoked potato, parsnip and turnip greens.”
- The bar set high, Butterjoint: But, oh, that pierogi. Filled with a delicate pouf of mashed potatoes and homemade farmer’s cheese, wrapped in a dough that resists the teeth just enough, it’s a beauty. Order it with all the trimmings: sauerkraut, sautéed greens and an arc of smoky kielbasa.
- The filling station, Pierogis Plus: if I had to choose a single filling, it would be the lekvar, a rich prune butter that somehow makes you hungrier the more of it you eat.
- The Stalwart: St. Mary the Dormition of the Birthgiver of God Ukrainian Orthodox Church: ”We go through 100 pounds of potatoes in a week, 250 around the holidays,” said Agnes Kozarovich, who’s been making pierogies here since the 1950s.
- The Life of the Party: Bloomfield Bridge Tavern: The pro move here: Polish Platter Red, a combo plate of a pierogi, kielbasa, golabki, (stuffed cabbage), haluski (fat noodles pan-fried with cabbage) and kluski (skinny noodles tossed with tangy cottage cheese)—plus a side order of more pierogies (potato-cheese, sauerkraut and cottage cheese).