A new wave of restaurants is making pierogi more exciting than ever
There are no shortage of pierogi in New York—Koliba in Astoria, Christina’s in Greenpoint, Polonca in Bay Ridge and Streecha Ukrainian Kitchen in the East Village, among the lot—but New York will gain a fresh addition in Brooklyn this weekend called Pierozek. Announced earlier this week in The New York Times, it’s rare to see such a homey dish grace its pages, but Pierozek’s opening marks a growing respect in the city for pierogi made by hand, rather than machine.
Radek Kucharski has been simmering on a business plan for his own pierogi spot for almost 20 years, finally gaining enough capital and finding the right space to open to the public. Kucharski, who grew up in Czestochowa, Poland, was inspired to bring the recipes from his homeland to Greenpoint, a neighborhood that’s fittingly often referred to as Little Poland.
The idea was to open a New York sister restaurant of PierozeQ, a pierogi shop that Kucharski grew up going to back home in Central Poland. Running the new space with his wife, Alexandra Siwiec, Pierozek will offer the moon-shaped dumpling-like delights, served in a pleasant atmosphere with light blue accents. To pay homage to their heritage, the duo worked at length to source items directly from Poland: sauerkraut for stuffings, flour for the dough and Eastern European handmade pottery, keeping the space evocative of its roots.
“The interior design of Pierozek is influenced by the Polish folk art movement of the 1960s and 1970s. You’ll see framed vintage textiles from Central Poland with Kashubian flower embroidery filling an entire plane,” he shares in an interview with Time Out New York.
Marzena Gesiarz and Zofia Kusmierska, pierogi makers at PierozeQ have been brought to New York to help consult on recipe development. “We don’t use machinery. Our pierogies are made fresh by hand, everyday. It’s a process done by at least six women,” he says. Prior to this, the duo opened Early, a nearby coffee shop that serves a variety of sandwiches—not just of Polish origins—but we’re especially partial to their Polish street food sandwich, the “Zappie.”
Manhattan Avenue already has several old-school pierogi spots that have been in the neighborhood long before it became trendy, along with some newer ones, like the beloved Polka Dot Cafe. When asked why 2019 felt like the perfect time for his own pierogi-centric concept, Kucharski said, “You do it whenever you’re ready—I don’t pay attention to the other businesses out there or the trend.”
Another newish pierogi spot is Pierogi Boys which was opened in Dekalb Market Hall back in 2017 by Polish partners Krzysztof Poluchowicz (previously a graphic designer at powerHOUSE Books) and Andrzej Kińczyk (formerly the General Manager at Foragers Market). “We started casually throwing these pierogi parties at our house, where everyone would put together the pierogi and drink wine… Friends started calling us the Pierogi Boys,” said Poluchowicz. “The opportunity presented itself in the market and we went for it.”
The recipes at Pierogi Boys remain traditional (they’re directly from ones that Kińczyk’s family used) but it has a modern focus on ingredients, working with vendors to provide sustainable and locally-sourced items. “Something that’s a game-changer is that instead of serving ground beef, we do it braised, the way that Andrzej’s family did,” Poluchowicz says. The presentation, with its playful green and orange branding (and cute tote bags), also feels entirely made for 2019 diners, even gaining a nod from Jimmy Kimmel. The Pierogi Boys just opened a second stand in the The Lodge at Bryant Park Winter Village and have plans to open their first brick-and-mortar later in 2020, located in Ridgewood.
Another venture, Baba’s Pierogies takes a more modern approach to its pierogi. Baba’s, which began as a catering service in Sunset Park in 2013, later opened as a full-service restaurant in Gowanus, with a new location added about a year ago, in Williamsburg’s North 3rd Market. “I always felt like that was the special part of the pierogi experience, watching my grandmother make them,” says co-owner Helena Fabiankovic of the restaurant’s name. “We were super excited about paying respect to this time-honored classic. I’m American-Slovak, and we both grew up in New York.” Baba’s has atypical pierogi fillings with flavors like jalapeños and mac ‘n cheese. There’s even a completely separate menu of pierogi that’s vegan. “We made a new dough and new fillings. It’s nice to be able to offer them to as many people as possible, whether they aren’t eating eggs and dairy for lifestyle reasons or whatever else,” she says.
Later this month, Veselka, another famed old-school spot for pierogi, will expand for the first-time ever, when it opens at the new Essex Market. It’s clear the interest in the Eastern European dish has gained new heights.
New Yorkers have been eating pierogi across the boroughs for decades. What’s new, according to Poluchowicz, is an appreciation for the craft. “They’re very labor intensive. When we use very good meat and flour and it all adds up, which means our cost is a bit more than at those old-school places,” he says. “When I’d tried them in those traditional places they always felt like a little bit of an afterthought. It was a requisite for them to include on the menu, but not the focus. Homemade pierogi are the best, always.”