The best pierogies in Pittsburgh were made by my grandma. I can still smell the butter and onions wafting through her kitchen in O’Hara Township as I rambled underfoot, scheming about how to hit the cookie jar before dinner.
Second place, of course, goes to someone else’s grandma (yours maybe?) in a church basement somewhere in Western PA. After that, the good news is this: Even if we take grandmas and churches out of the equation, there are still a bunch of great places to get this quintessential Pittsburgh food around town. Here are the best:
The folks at Apteka do the unthinkable on a daily basis — make heavy, hearty Eastern European food vegan — and do it so well that it’s better than the original. Apteka is easily among Pittsburgh’s best and most original restaurants. To survive a winter in Eastern Europe you have to pickle things to eat later. That’s the secret sauce for Apteka; they are master picklers. Their sauerkraut and mushroom and their smoked cabbage and potato pierogies are thinner and lighter than all the competitors. Which means … you can eat even more.
Cop Out Pierogies, Etna
Motto: “It’s not a party ’til the cops show up.” The mad scientist of Pittsburgh pierogies is a former policeman in Etna, who will put just about anything in a soft, doughy dumpling if it seems like it might be delicious. We’re glad to tell you it usually is.
Carl Funtal has tried some ridiculous things. Mac and cheese pierogies, he admitted, sound potentially terrible (pasta inside pasta?). But they’ve been a huge seller (though spaghetti pierogies were a disaster). Chicken parm and chicken marsala pierogies also worked out great. The standard potato and cheese are a big hit, but the non-traditional buffalo chicken is a favorite as well. Reuben pierogies are also bestsellers (and delicious). And don’t forget to finish your meal with the dessert “pie-rogies,” including Bavarian cream, salted caramel and apple maple walnut cheesecake.
Another of Pittsburgh’s best restaurants by any measure allocates valuable menu real estate to the humble pierogie. Butterjoint, the bar adjacent to the restaurant Legume, has a great and surprisingly cheap menu of scratch-made bar food, including outstanding pierogies. In this case, they adhere to the classic formula — potatoes and “grass-fed cottage cheese,” with caramelized onions and sour cream on the side. However, you also can veer from the tried-and-true to add an ingredient like spicy Napa kimchi, pickled beets or lamb merguez (or all three) to your accompany your pierogies.
S&D Polish Deli, Strip District
First off, it’s a mild disgrace that Pittsburgh only has one Polish restaurant, now that the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern is finished. Luckily, S&D doesn’t take their lack of competition as a reason to get lazy. They’ve got expert pierogies in all the classic varieties. Go for the kraut and mushroom or farmer’s cheese and potato pierogies, then stay for the Polish kitsch on sale in the adjacent store. Bonus: You can get all the Polish sausage your heart desires to go with it.
Gosia’s Pierogies, various places
If you encounter a pierogie in the wild, and it’s not from Pierogies Plus, it’s probably from Gosia’s. Though they’re made in Latrobe, they have a stand in Market Square during the warmer months and can be found at the East End Food Co-op. Gosia’s claims their “secret family recipe originated in Poland and handed down generation to generation,” which sounds legit (my grandmother wrote nothing down, and we had to reverse-engineer her recipe from memory). They make all the standards, plus prune, sweet potato, sweet cabbage and potatoes and feta.