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Pierogies: Options abound for a favorite comfort food

| Thursday, Nov. 25, 2010

As your turkey hangover starts to wear off some time on Friday, you might find yourself craving other comfort foods. Just in time, here's a roundup of where to get a Western Pennsylvania favorite, pierogies, and we're not talking about the ones that run around at PNC Park. While pierogies might never be considered "fine dining," some restaurants definitely have taken them to the next level. So take the out-of-town guests or those making a pilgrimage home for a taste of this Polish treat.

Renaissance Pittsburgh hotel

The Renaissance Pittsburgh hotel's kitchen puts its upscale signature spin on the traditional pierogie.

The Braised Short Rib Pierogie ($9) is made completely in-house from its covering of dough to its succulent meaty filling of shredded beef short ribs to the bedding of creamed leeks on which it sits and the finishing glaze of braised broth butter sauce.

Diners can enjoy it in either the hotel's main dining room -- Braddock's American Brasserie -- or in the more informal Braddock's Street Side Grill. Lunchtime diners, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., will find it among the grab-and-go selections that partners a pair of pierogies with a choice of salad or soup for $12.

Only those with a big appetite -- and an elastic waistband -- should order The Big Ugly ($13), also available at both restaurants.

"It's beyond me how somebody can eat the whole thing, But they do sell," says Dean Gress, executive chef at the Renaissance.

The open-faced grilled sandwich definitely is Reubenesque. It begins with two slices of marbled rye that are slathered with dressing and a handful of sauerkraut, followed by a slice of Gruyere cheese, a huge mound of pastrami, another slice of Gruyere cheese. Once the pastrami is heated and the cheese is nicely melted, the Big Ugly is topped with two large sauerkraut-filled pierogies.

Big enough for sharing, it's a tasty blend of moist pastrami, pleasantly gooey cheese, crunchy grilled bread and softly pliant pierogies with the crisp bite of sauerkraut.

Braddock's American Brasserie and Braddock's Street Side Grill, Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel, 107 Sixth St., Downtown. Brasseries hours: Lunch, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; dinner, 5-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 5-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Grill hours: noon-11 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-midnight Fridays and Saturdays; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sundays. Details: 412-992-2005 or .

— Alice T. Carter

Gooski's, Polish Hill

If it were on the bowery in New York City, Gooski's would be legendary. The Polish Hill bar hosts underground bands of every stripe, from punk to thrash metal to those less easily defined. The long, narrow space features black booths and a backroom with a pool table in addition to a dart board. Its shabby intimacy attracts blue-collar locals, artists, college students and assorted hipsters.

Their pierogies alone are worth the trip, however. Gooski's serves three flavors ($1.25 each): potato and sauerkraut, cottage cheese, and potato and cheese. These are not the slippery, butter-drenched crescents you'd normally associate with the Eastern European dumpling. Instead, the pierogies have the crispy consistency of french fries. They're dusted with chives and served with a dollop of sour cream. They have a fresh, comfort-food taste that lights a warm fire in your belly, instead of sitting there like spent plutonium rods. Enjoy them with a microbrew or specialty beer, which Gooski's carries in abundance.

Gooski's, 3117 Brereton St., Polish Hill. Kitchen hours: 4-11:45 p.m. daily. Details: 412-681-1658.

— William Loeffler

Union Grill, Oakland

Pierogies at the Union Grill in Oakland are served in a healthy manner, both in size and style.

The three potato-and-cheese bundles ($5.99) in an entree are enough to make up a satisfying lunch. But they are not smothered in artery-clogging butter, hence they are less damaging than many varieties of the Eastern European favorite.

Sure, there is some grease in the sauteed onions that top the pierogies and they are served with sour cream, which doesn't have carrot-like pureness. But, overall, the meal has a fresh look and taste.

They are made by Pierogies Plus in McKees Rocks, one of the top Polski pasta producers in the area, so there is no wonder they are good.

It is a little odd to settle down with something so traditional in college-and-youth-happy Oakland, but selection is what a restaurant is all about, right?

Union Grill, 413 Craig St., Oakland. Hours: 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; noon-10 p.m. Sundays. Details: 412-681-8620.

— Bob Karlovits

S&D Polish Deli, Strip District

With 13 flavors or combinations to choose from, S&D Polish Deli is the place to go for authentic Polish pierogies.

They're available for immediate consumption as part of a menu of Polish dishes in the casual eatery that operates at the back half of the Strip District business. All 13 varieties also are available in the freezer case ($6.50 for a dozen) in the front of the store. In addition to the usual potato, cheese and sauerkraut combinations, they can be found in combinations such as meat and spinach and mushroom and spinach and four fruit-filled options -- blueberry, cherry, strawberry and plum.

Owner Dorota Pyszkowska orders the pierogies from a Chicago company that imports its flour, farmers cheese and black mushrooms from Poland. The pierogies are like those Pyszkowska ate while growing up in Poland. They are smaller and have a thinner envelope of dough to which Pittsburghers might be accustomed. "My mother always said the smaller the pierogie, the better the cook," she says.

Potato and cheddar, Potato and farmers cheese, and sauerkraut and mushroom pierogies ($9 for 12 or $4 for four) always are hot, dressed in butter and waiting for eat-in or to-go customers, as are the fruit ones. If you'd rather have one of the other varieties, Pyszkowska advises that you call ahead so they're ready to eat when you get there.

You'll also find meat and mushroom-filled dumplings floating in bowls of beet-red borscht soup ($3.50).

S&D Polish Deli, 2204 Penn Ave., Strip District. Hours: 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays. Details: 412-281-2906 or .

— Alice T. Carter

Rosie's Pierogies, Pittsburgh Mills, Frazer

Walk into the kitchen of Rosie's Pierogies at Pittsburgh Mills, and you'll see the woman who inspired the restaurant's name and every stuffed semi-circle dumpling that's made there. Rose Renock Scrips, 88, still hand-pinches her share of pierogies, because that's the way's it's always been done.

The spry senior citizen is the mother of Bob Renock, who owns the restaurant with wife Debbie. The selection has grown from four filling choices to 27 since the restaurant opened six years ago along Route 286 in Holiday Park. They relocated to Pittsburgh Mills three years ago. They use 300 to 400 pounds of potatoes a week and more during holidays. Items are made fresh all day long.

If you can't find a pierogie you like at Rosie's, then you're most likely never going to find one. In addition to the standard choices such as potato and cheddar (the top seller); and sauerkraut, you'll find lekvar (prune), spinach and feta, and roasted red pepper, to name a few. Prices range from $7.49 to $9.29 per dozen.

The Renock's created the "Renogie," which is a breaded and deep-fried pierogie. Select from mushroom and onion; potato and cheddar; bacon, potato and cheddar; and jalapeno, potato and cheddar. They are $9.49 per dozen. A pierogie pizza consists of a 9-inch shell topped with mashed potatoes, sauteed onions, and cheddar cheese for $7.49.

"We make all our own dough and fresh fillings. I think it's kind of a lost art. So many people come by and say our pierogies taste like grandma's." Debbie Renock says.

Rosie's Pierogies, 2015 Pittsburgh Mills Blvd., Suite 107, Frazer. Hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays, noon-4 p.m. Sundays. Details: 724-275-7700 or .

— Joanne Klimovich Harrop

Church Brew Works, Lawrenceville

Patrons at the Church Brew Works love the restaurant's traditional, potato-and-cheese pierogies, which are a staple on the appetizer menu. Yet, no matter how exotic or daring the ingredients might be, the nontraditional pierogies get even more orders from hungry and often brave customers, executive chef Jason Marrone says.

One case in point: rattlesnake and cactus pierogies. Seriously. This Southwestern-style delicacy comes every year in early November for the Church Brew Works' anniversary celebration. Customers love the taste of the tough rattlesnake meat (which, by the way, tastes like ... chicken). The rattlesnake and cactus pierogies came just after roasted turkey, bacon and cheddar pierogies, and the serpentine pierogies are the top pierogie sellers, Marrone says.

The nontraditional pierogie offering changes every week. Some of the past specialties include pumpkin pierogies in sage brown butter; pierogies with smoked salmon, feta cheese and asparagus; supreme pizza pierogies with mozzarella cheese, sausage, green peppers and onions; lobster pierogies with caramelized onions and fennel; crocodile and plantain pierogies; and more.

"We've probably tried everything in pierogies that you can think of," Marrone says.

The Church Brew Works, 3525 Liberty Ave., Lawrenceville. Hours: 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11:30 a.m.-midnight Fridays and Saturdays; noon-9 p.m. Sundays. Details: 412-688-8200 or .

— Kellie Gormly

Penn Brewery Restaurant, North Side

German food might be the foundation of the menu at the Penn Brewery Restaurant on the North Side, but chef Greg Schrett's made-from-scratch pierogies are going to attract a lot of attention. He keeps two kinds of pierogies on the menu year-round and supplements them with "seasonal" kinds every month.

The pasta recipe is his grandmother's, which sometimes is modified slightly. In October, he added just of touch sugar to the dumpling for pumpkin pie pierogies, which had spiced pumpkin inside and whipped cream topped with pecans on top.

The traditional mashed potato with cheese pierogies topped with sauteed onions always are on the luncheon menu, $7.95. So, too, are the Buffalo Chicken pierogies, with ground roast chicken and Frank's Hot Sauce on the inside and served with blue cheese and sour cream sauce, an appetizer for $6.95.

November's specialty pierogies are turkey with gravy, served on spoonfuls of stuffing and mashed potato, $11.95. There will be beer-battered fish pierogies with French fries for Lent, with a price to be determined.

Penn Brewery Restaurant, 800 Vinial St., North Side. Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-midnight Fridays and Saturdays. 412-237-9400. .

— Mark Kanny

Starlite Lounge, Blawnox

Selling pierogies to Pittsburghers shouldn't be this easy. Why go out and pay for something that grandma makes for free• Or the church down the street makes for very, very cheap?

Well, it helps when your pierogies are famous. The Starlite Lounge in Blawnox makes its Homemade Potato & Cheese Pierogies ($6.95 for three) from an old family recipe, and they fit right into a menu filled with familiar, filling fare. Because of "overwhelming demand," Starlite's website implores customers to order pierogies ahead of time by phone.

Ever since Guy Fieri, the Food Network star of "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" showed up, Starlite's pierogies have drawn pilgrims from all over Western Pennsylvania and beyond.

The pierogies are enormous. An order of three eats like a meal, or two (or three), so sharing probably is a good idea.

They're made from manager Lora Mazeski's grandmother's recipe. During the impromptu cooking demo on "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives," Fieri innocently asks whether they use half a cup of butter.

"Half a pound of butter," corrects Mazeski.

They're big and soft and perfectly browned along the edges, and served with butter and onions. Yes, you might need a nap afterward.

Starlite Lounge: 364 Freeport Road, Blawnox. Kitchen hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays, 4-10 p.m. Saturdays, 4-9 p.m. Sundays. Details: 412-828-9842 or .

— Michael Machosky

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