All About Pierogi, Family and Tradition; Plus 12 Best Places For Pierogi In the U.S.

History

In Slovakia, they are known as pirohy. In Ukraine, they’re called varenyky. But to Poland, and most of the rest of the world, they’re pierogi.

The humble boiled dumplings are one of Poland’s most beloved dishes, as well as its culinary symbol across the world. Homesick Poles can find satisfying pierogi everywhere from Pittsburgh to New York City to Shanghai and London.

More than just a nostalgic dish, they’re a symbol of Polish pride wherever they surface. For example, when Polish immigrants in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries wanted to fundraise for the churches, they started selling pierogis, introducing the food to new fans. And in Canada, they’re so popular that a small village in Alberta boasts a 27-foot pierogi statue in honor of the food. (In the 90s, their mayor even tried to get the government to feature pierogi on their $2 coin.)

When I think about this dish, I think about home, tradition, and my mother. Surrounded by parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins (many born in Poland, including my mother) and living in close proximity in our close-knit neighborhood, I was blessed to experience the best in Polish cooking. Just thinking of my mother’s kitchen makes my mouth water and brings me back to a simpler time.

Who can forget her delicious golabki (cabbage rolls) – boiled cabbage stuffed with minced meat, rice, and chopped onions smothered in a rich tomato sauce for savory goodness.

To come home from school on a cold winter afternoon and to smell the bubbling aroma of a pot of bigos (hunter’s stew) on the stove is a memory embedded in my mind. Pork, sausage, shredded cabbage, sauerkraut, mushrooms, onions, and tomatoes all slow cooked made for the perfect weekday supper.


(Potato pancakes have been a staple dish in Eastern European cuisine for centuries,
dating back to at least the 17th century.
)

I can picture her now spending hours grating potatoes for her placki ziemniaczane (potato pancakes). They were such a favorite in our house and with our relatives that it was not unusual that each person would eat 8-10 pancakes slathered in sour cream. (My aunts and uncles must have had built in radar because they always showed up at our house when my mom was making potato pancakes.) They were mmm, mmm good. Crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.

And she would bake! Oh, how she could bake. I could fill pages with her wide array of baked goods but her makowiec (poppy seed roll) was to die for. Rolled dough filled with poppy seeds, walnuts and raisins, it always brings back sweet and delicious memories.

But what is indelibly marked in my mind is my mom kneading dough on a big wooden cutting board to make her heavenly pierogi. This was not for the faint hearted. Making pierogi by hand is a labor intensive process. It is an art and passion and usually reserved for Christmas, Easter, weddings, or birthdays.

Alas, my mother left no written recipe. Handfuls of this or that, and ultimately, taste and touch ensured her desired outcome.

Sadly, my mom has passed on and I’ve spent a significant time looking for mom’s pierogi. Of course that is not going to happen, but along the way I’ve indulged in some pretty fine pierogi and I’ve prepared my own personal list of the best pierogi I have ever eaten. But, first, let’s take a little dive into the history and phenomenon that is pierogi and then you can go eat.

Why Are Pierogi So Popular?

To many Poles, pierogi are remindful of childhood flavors and their family home. Everybody knows that kids usually love flour dishes. Poles love pierogi not only out of nostalgia for the past; they are archetypal comfort food: satiating and hearty. The Polish pierogi concept allows for endless opportunities to experiment with the stuffing. People love them because they can be eaten warm, baked, fried, boiled, and even cold. They taste great on the second day, grilled on a frying pan with some butter. They also freeze very well, so you do not have to eat everything at once.


Source:
veselka.com

What Are Pierogi?

Pierogi are filled dumplings made by wrapping unleavened dough around a savory or sweet filling and cooking it in boiling water. Additionally, many preparers pan fry them with butter and onions before serving.

Common types of fillings include the following:

  • Potato
  • Cheese
  • Potato and Cheese
  • Sauerkraut
  • Onion
  • Mushrooms
  • Beef
  • Spinach
  • Blueberries

Pierogi or Pierogies?

The word pierogies is popular in the U.S. and Canada because it underlines a “plurality” of this well-known Polish food. However, this is not correct since in fact the word pierogi is already plural in the Polish language. Its grammatical singular equivalent pierog is never used (pierogi are always served two or more).


(The “Compendium Ferculorum” is one of the earliest known Polish cookbooks,
offering insights into the culinary practices of the 18th century.)
Photo credit: Flavor of Poland FB Page

It’s Thought that Pierogi First Arrived in Poland in the 13th Century

The origins of pierogi are murky, though it is believed to have been prepared in Poland since the 13th century.

The first written pierogi recipe comes from the Compendium Ferculorum, a cookbook published in 1862. This was the first Polish cookbook, of the renowned cook Stanislaw Czerniecki. These historic pierogi were not filled with potatoes (which were not common in 17th century Poland) but with chopped veal kidneys, greens, and nutmeg. As with most first records, the dish was most certainly around for much longer before being officially documented. Many food historians believe that a form of dumpling was brought to Eastern Europe by the Mongols or Tatars.


(St. Hyacinth- the Patron Saint of Pierogi)
Image from: english.op.org

There Is a Patron Saint of Pierogi

There is a patron saint of pierogi! Saint Hyacinth is thought to have brought pierogi to Poland from what is modern day Ukraine. There is an old Polish saying “Swiety Jacku Z pierogami!” (“Saint Hyacinth and his pierogi!”). It’s a call for help in the midst of hopeless circumstances (but is also used as an exclamation during trivial or slightly annoying situations). It is believed that on July 13, 1238, in the town of Koscielec, a hailstorm broke out during his visit destroying all of the crops. Hyacinth told the people to pray and the following day the crops were miraculously restored. The people thanked Hyacinth by making him pierogi from the crops.


Photo credit:
visitkrakow.com

Poland Has Special Restaurants Just for Pierogi Called Pierogarnia 

When you visit Poland you will find many restaurants called Pierogarnia. These restaurants specialize in making pierogi with dozens of different fillings. Some of the most popular fillings are potatoes and cheese, cabbage and mushrooms, strawberries or blueberries, and a variety of meats. The options of fillings are endless.

Pierogi Festivals

In Poland, annual pierogi fests are held in Cracow (Festival Pierogi) and in Gdansk (Pierogi Fest). Probably the best known pierogi festival in the United States is held annually in downtown Whiting, Indiana. It is a 3-day affair held the last weekend in July and draws more than 300,000 people from across the nation and the world.

In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, there is a Great Pierogi Race held during every Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game. Following the end of the 5th inning, Pizza Penny, Bacon Burt, Cheese Chester, Jalapeno Hannah, Olive Onion, and Sauerkraut Saul (usually each race only has 4 pierogis) take the field to run a 260-yard race around the ballfield.

You might be asking, “How do you become a pierogi in a Pirates game?” For those interested, you must be 18 or older and be able to run 280 yards in 40 seconds or less while wearing the mascot suit. As part of the interview process you are required to perform a timed trial run. 


Source:
cleveland.com

What is the “Pierogi Pocket”?

There is an area of the United States known as the “Pierogi Pocket.” Two-thirds of the yearly U.S. pierogi consumption is in an area that includes New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Chicago, Detroit, and parts of New England.

Where Are the Best Pierogi Found?

The best pierogi I ever ate were made by my mom. I can still smell the butter and onions wafting through her kitchen as I rambled underfoot, scheming about how to hit the cookie jar before dinner.

Second place, of course goes to someone else’s mother or grandma (yours maybe?) working the dough in their kitchen or a church basement.

After that, the good news is this: even if we take moms, grandmas, and churches out of the equation there are still a bunch of great places to get this quintessential Polish food. Here are some of the all-time favorites.


Picture from:
Official Website

S & D Polish Deli

Expertly made pierogi in all the classic varieties. Come for the kraut and mushroom or farmer’s cheese and potato pierogi, then stay for the Polish kitsch on sale in the adjacent store.

Bonus: You can get all the Polish sausage your heart desires

S & D Polish Deli
2294 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
(412) 282-2906
https://www.sdpolishdeli.com/

Dorothy 6 Blast Furnace Cafe

Named after a late steel mill, it’s a bar with an industrial-strength vibe. Their pierogi are terrific. They look and feel traditional: the dough is on the light side, served with caramelized onions and herbed sour cream. But the fillings, including cheddar and spicy jalapeno, are rich and heavy.

Dorothy 6
224 East 8th Avenue
Homestead, PA 15120
(412) 464-9023
https://dorothy6restaurant.com/


Image from:
Official Website

Forgotten Taste Pierogi

Who would forget the taste of pierogi? Still, if you need a reminder, Forgotten Taste is here to help. Beautiful renditions of all the standards are here: Potato and Sauerkraut, Potato and Cheese etc. But there are some unique flavors as well, such as the house-made Hot Sausage pierogi and the Lekvar filled with sweet, old-fashioned prune butter.

Forgotten Taste Pierogi
11978 US-19
Wexford, PA 15090
(724) 940-2277
https://forgottentaste.com/


Photo credit:
Official Website

Prosperity Social Club

My favorite here is the loaded potato pierogi, pan fried and baked with cheddar cheese, bacon, frizzled onions, then served with a drizzle of bacon aioli. Of course the regular potato pierogi with ricotta cheese, sour cream, and caramelized onions is also delicious.

Prospect Social Club
1109 Starkweather Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 937 1938
https://www.prosperitysocialclub.com/

Pierogies of Cleveland Market

34 different pierogi varieties, many with more adventurous fillings including yam and walnut goat cheese & mushroom, sloppy Joe, and chicken paprikash. They also offer “pierogi of the month.”

Pierogies of Cleveland Market
6869 Pearl Road
Middleburg Heights, OH 44130
(440) 842-3017
https://www.poconlinestore.com/


Image from:
yelp.com

The Little Polish Diner

The Little Polish Diner is a well known spot in Parma, OH, and the greater Cleveland area. In my opinion, it serves up one of the best traditional pierogi. The pierogi here are exactly what you think of when you think of homemade pierogi. The potato and cheese-filled pierogi is especially flavorful and delicious.

Little Polish Diner
5722 Ridge Road
Parma, OH 44129
(440) 842-8212
No website

Pierozek

Located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (aka “little Poland”), this restaurant specializes in authentic handmade pierogi. They serve 13 classic pierogi, some with a modern twist. Their pork shoulder meat pierogi is without equal.

Potato & Cheese, Sauerkraut & Mushroom, and Spinach pierogi are as close to my mother’s than any other pierogi I’ve ever had.

Pierozek
592 Manhattan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11222
(718) 576-3866
https://www.pierozekbrooklyn.com/


Image from:
yelp.com

Polish & Slavic Center

Head here for no-frills, very affordable, Polish classics in a cafeteria-like setting filled with locals.

The pierogi are available in varieties like potato and cheese or cabbage and mushrooms, and they come boiled and topped with sauteed onions and bacon crumbles.

Polish & Slavic Center
176 Java Street
Brooklyn, NY 11222
(718) 389-0705
https://polishslaviccenter.us/


Picture from:
Official Website

Christina’s

This is a welcoming place with exposed brick, wooden tables, and tile floors. The pierogi are excellent, whether golden and pan-fried or steamed. Opt for the latter to really taste the peppery potato and not-to-dense meat fillings.

Christina’s
863 Manhattan Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11222
(718) 383-4382
https://greenpointchristinasrestaurant.com/


Photo credit: Official Website

Piast Meat & Provisions

Founded over 30 years ago, this family-owned market has some of the best pierogi in New Jersey. Choose from potato & cheese, sauerkraut & mushroom, sweet cabbage, meat, blueberry pierogi, and more. You can’t go wrong with any choice.

The dough is mixed and kneaded daily and the stuffings are incredibly fresh.

Piast Meats & Provisions
800 River Drive
Garfield, NJ 07026
(973) 340-4722
https://www.piast.com/

Pierogies House

This small, Morristown, NJ, cafe serves up exemplary traditional pierogi (and countless with modern twists) in a comfortable setting. My personal favorite, lentils and mushrooms (never had lentils in a pierogi before), is a tasty delight. Other highlights include spinach & feta, and jalapeno, bacon & cheddar. They even have vegan renditions.

Pierogies House
145 Morris Street
Morristown, NJ 07960
(973) 432-8270
https://www.pierogieshouse.com

The Polish Pickle Deli

This is an old-fashion Polish deli offering pierogi, kielbasa, homemade sauerkraut, homemade stuffed cabbage, fresh rye bread, desserts, and more.

Their pierogi will bring you back to your childhood; they are beautiful pillows of goodness. I can never get enough of their potato & kielbasa pierogi, or their cabbage & bacon.

If you are near Somerset County, NJ, this spot is worth a detour; trust me you will not be disappointed.

The Polish Pickle Deli
221 North 10th Avenue
Manville, NJ 08835
(908) 243-0099
https://thepolishpickle.weebly.com/

There you have it, my pierogi story. One that is filled with family, tradition, and love. Taking a little poetaic license with the famous Ben Franklin quote about beer, Pierogi wants us to be happy.