The best pierogies in Pittsburgh were done by my grandma. I can still smell the butter and onions wafting through their kitchen as I wandered underfoot, wondering how to hit the cookie jar before dinner.
Second place, of course, goes to someone else’s grandma (maybe yours?) Who works the dough in a basement of a church in western Pennsylvania.
After that, the good news is, even if we take grannies and churches out of the equation, there are still tons of great places to get that typical Pittsburgh food in town. Formerly shunned by restaurants, it is now a staple for those looking to add some local flair to their menu.
Here are the best:
The people at Apteka do the unthinkable every day – make heavy, hearty Eastern European food vegan – and do it well. Apteka is easily one of the best and most original restaurants in Pittsburgh. To survive a winter in Eastern Europe, you have to pick things in to eat later, and that’s the secret sauce for Apteka. You are Master Pickler. The sauerkraut and mushroom pierogies, which are served with double fat cream, roast cabbage and beet horseradish, as well as the potato and spinach pierogies are also thinner and lighter than the competition. Which means … you can eat more of it.
Cop Out Pierogies, Etna
The mad scientist from Pittsburgh Pierogies is a former Etna cop who puts just about anything in a soft, doughy dumpling when it looks like it’s delicious. Usually it is like that.
Carl Funtal tried some ridiculous things on Cop Out. Mac and cheese pierogies, he admitted, may sound awful (pasta in pasta?). But they were a big seller (spaghetti pierogies were a disaster, however). Chicken parm and chicken marsala pierogies also turned out to be great. They also make buffalo chicken and pepperoni pizza pierogies. Reuben Pierogies are also bestsellers. The new flavors include shrimp, grits & bacon pierogies as well as watermelon, tequila and habanero pierogies. And don’t forget to end your meal with the pie rogies dessert, including Bavarian cream, salted caramel, and lemon cheesecake.
Pierogies Plus, McKees Rocks
The standard by which all other pierogies are judged – and the supplier to most bars and restaurants (like Gooski’s in Polish Hill and Hop Farm Brewing in Lawrenceville) that don’t make their own – is Pierogies Plus. It should be said that making pierogies is difficult and takes forever – but this crew of seasoned Polish grannies who work at a former gas station in the Rocks brought it up to the precision on the assembly line. They make them thick and hearty – sauerkraut and potatoes, cottage cheese and chives and hot sausage are the classics. They also added mini pierogies for a more bite-sized approach.
Another of the best restaurants in Pittsburgh assigns the humble pierogie valuable menu real estate in every way. Butterjoint, the bar next to Pie for Breakfast, has a great and surprisingly affordable selection of homemade bar food, including great pierogies. In this case, the chefs stick to the classic formula – potatoes and homemade farm cheese with caramelized onions and sour cream on the side. You can buy a dozen takeaway for $ 18.
S&D Polish Deli, Strip District
First off, it’s a slight shame Pittsburgh only has one Polish restaurant now that the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern is done. Fortunately, those who do S&D don’t see their lack of competition as a reason to get lazy. They have expertly made pierogies in all of the classic varieties. Go for the cabbage and mushroom or farmer’s cheese and potato pierogies and then stay for the Polish kitsch that’s for sale in the adjoining shop (I got a jersey from the Polish national football team there once). Bonus: you can get any Polish sausage your heart desires.
Church Brew Works, Lawrenceville
After the beer and the atmosphere of the former St. John the Baptist Church itself, food can be a distant third when it comes to reasons to visit the Church Brew Works. But just as the owners anticipated the craft beer revolution, they started making “untraditional pierogies” when this was a borderline insane idea. They once had ingredients from rattlesnake and seared cactus to spicy pulled pork in pierogies (!). Now they seem to have withdrawn a little – their current menu only includes traditional pierogies, potatoes and cheese with sautéed onions, melted butter and sour cream.
Gosia’s pierogies, different places
If you come across a pierogie in the wild that is not from Pierogies Plus, it is likely from Gosia. Although they are at home in Latrobe, they have long had a stand in the market square in the warmer months and can also be found at the East End Food Co-op. Gosia’s claims that her “secret family recipe” came from Poland and [was] Passed on from generation to generation, ”which sounds legitimate (my grandmother didn’t write anything down and we had to reverse engineer her recipe from memory). They make all the standards, plus cheddar cheese and jalapeño, sweet potato, sweet cabbage and potatoes and feta. They also ship pierogies by the dozen in refrigerators straight to your home.
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