The doughy, stuffed charms of pierogi have been largely confined to Eastern European bakeries and restaurants in the Avenues, like Cinderella Bakery and Russian Renaissance Restaurant, until a more recent movement over the past year or so. Now Californized versions of pierogi are showing up on unexpected menus, like the one at Absinthe, for example.
The hand-held Eastern European comfort food is essentially an unleavened dough pocket filled with potato and sauerkraut, meat, or cheese. It plays to all the same senses that other stuffed things do. (Think ravioli, empandas and turnovers.) And while some Eastern European staples can come across as esoteric, there's nothing alienating about a little dumpling, stuffed to the brim with various seasonal delights. Further endearing them to the masses, most of the chefs picking pierogi up across town are taking some liberties with the original form.
North Beach's new Bottle Cap has a plate of pierogi filled with mushrooms and carmody cheese that's surrounded in a dill broth. Absinthe rotates a particularly fluffy version filled with goat cheese and leeks onto its menu from time to time. And the folks of PierogiSF have been known to bring such creations as Indian butter chicken pierogies to their appearances at New Taste Marketplace.
Due to the large Polish influence in Pittsburgh, pierogi are also considered a native food there. So you could say it's only natural that the Pittsburgh-style sandwich bearers at Giordano Bros. are now offering pierogi at their newer, larger Mission location. There's more space in the kitchen at this outpost, so they've invited the ladies of Pachamama Cookery in to make the dough pockets fresh daily: organic renditions filled alternately with potato, sweet potato and serrano-cheese fillings.
Kenny Hockert built his Old World Food Truck pop-up around pierogi because he sees them as "the gateway drug" to other Jewish and Eastern European foods. In his mind, it all starts with the first doughy, crispy bite of his seasonally-filled pockets, then before you know it, you're lapping up borscht and blintzes without even knowing how to pronounce them.
This Wednesday, at his regular pop-up at La Victoria in the Mission, you'll find his version filled with sweet potato, yam and greens, and one with brisket, dried fruit and Middle Eastern spices. All of them come with homemade condiments: caraway-spiced sour cream and a sweet and spicy pepper jam made with cayenne and Hungarian paprika. Hockert's Jewish-style chicken soup will be there waiting in the wings, bobbing with chicken liver stuffed kreplach, to pull you in even deeper if you're willing.
How do you feel about these new-fangled piergoi? Are you a fan of the more traditional style or do you dig the California interpretations? Please do share your thoughts, and your favorite SF pierogi in the comments.