Philly’s pierogi capital

Green Rock Tav­ern pre­pares for Pierogi Week in Port Rich­mond where the dump­ling reigns su­preme at sev­er­al es­tab­lish­ments.

By Christopher Seamans

Green Rock Tav­ern’s pop­u­lar Pierogi Week cel­eb­ra­tion is right around the corner, but the res­id­ents of Port Rich­mond are crazy about the humble little dump­ling 365 days a year. Wheth­er the fillings are tra­di­tion­al or un­ex­pec­ted, they just can’t get enough of them. The cheesesteak may be the champ in the rest of Phil­adelphia, but around these parts, the pierogi reigns su­preme.

These six loc­al busi­nesses demon­strate why Port Rich­mond is the pierogi cap­it­al of Phil­adelphia:

Green Rock Tav­ern, 2546 E Le­high Ave. — You can get a plate of piero­gis 11 months out of the year at sis­ter and broth­er Nicole and Jam­ie Ma­hon’s bar. The oth­er month, they’re mak­ing and stock­pil­ing piero­gis for their pop­u­lar Pierogi Week event, now in its ninth year. That whole month’s worth of piero­gis go in just one week — some­times at the rate of one plate a minute!

While they of­fer tra­di­tion­al styles of piero­gis, they spe­cial­ize in more play­ful, sea­son­ally themed vari­et­ies, from Thanks­giv­ing piero­gis that jam all the ele­ments of every­one’s fa­vor­ite hol­i­day din­ner in­to a dump­ling, to the sum­mer­time Coney Is­land hot dog pierogi.

“The hot dog and the sauerkraut are in­side of it,” Jam­ie Ma­hon said, “and they’re plated on top of French fries and the whole thing’s hit with a Coney Is­land sauce.”

Where does he get his ideas?

“I don’t know, some­times a re­cipe just jumps out at you,” Ma­hon ex­plained. “I come up with these things and then I Google to see if there’s a re­cipe out there for it, and there’s not, so it’s totally un­charted ter­rit­ory, which is fun. I grew up in the punk rock com­munity and it made me think out of the box. Not hav­ing a culin­ary de­gree helps, be­lieve it or not.”

After pierogi week, Green Rock will gear up for a new brunch that will in­clude bab­ka French toast and bab­ka pea­nut but­ter and jelly in ad­di­tion to — you guessed it — piero­gis.

“We’re go­ing to be do­ing saus­age egg and cheese pierogi plated on top of potato pan­cakes,” Ma­hon said, “also a potato and cheese pierogi and a crab potato pan­cake I have a menu for.”

A spe­cif­ic date hasn’t been set just yet, but it should be by the end of spring.

Pierogi Week runs from Monday, Feb. 27 to Sunday, March 5. Doors open at 5 p.m. $12 in­cludes beer and a plate of pierogi.

Din­ner House, 2706 E Al­legheny Ave. — At Tom Balka’s res­taur­ant, tra­di­tion­al home-cooked Pol­ish fare is the or­der of the day — their menu is even prin­ted in Pol­ish and Eng­lish.

Balka said that they pride them­selves on af­ford­ab­il­ity.

Their homemade piero­gis in­clude meat, mush­room, sauerkraut and mush­room, spin­ach, and potato and cheese.

“Potato and cheese are the most pop­u­lar,” Balka said. “My fa­vor­ite is the sauerkraut and mush­room. They come with sour cream. I think that’s the best way.

Some of them come with fried onions, but some­times they’re best plain.”

The Din­ner House’s piero­gis are avail­able dine-in or take-out.

Donna’s Bar, 2732 E Al­legheny Ave. — In ad­di­tion to stand­ard vari­et­ies of piero­gis like potato and cheese, potato, cheese, sauerkraut, and meat, Donna’s bar of­fers the de­cidedly non­tra­di­tion­al, but pop­u­lar cheesesteak pierogi. It really doesn’t get any more Phil­adelphia than that.

What makes the piero­gis at this little bar spe­cial?

“My heart and soul!” said Soph­ie Za­lewski with a smile. “I don’t think that my piero­gis are any bet­ter than any­body else’s, but I’m as­sum­ing they’re pretty good if people keep com­ing back for them.”

Cheesesteak piero­gis were ad­ded to the menu about a year ago, and while they have be­come a fa­vor­ite, the potato and cheese are the most pop­u­lar.

Ex­cept when Christ­mas­time rolls around.

Za­lewski said, “I make sauerkraut and mush­room ones, too, but only around Christ­mas. I don’t even put them on the menu. They just call me up and say, ‘Soph­ie, can I have the spe­cial ones that you al­ways make?’ They already know about it. Around Christ­mas­time, I do go through a lot of piero­gis.”

You can pur­chase piero­gis cooked in the bar’s kit­chen or frozen to take home and pre­pare your­self.

Krak­us Mar­ket, 3150 Rich­mond St. — Krak­us stocks kiel­basa, hand-rolled piero­gis, Pol­ish pastries, and im­por­ted gro­cer­ies. They carry 12 to 15 styles, in­clud­ing more tra­di­tion­al vari­et­ies like sauerkraut, potato, and potato and cheese as well as a whole range of fruit piero­gis, in­clud­ing prune, apple, straw­berry, and blue­berry.

Man­ager Sylvia Gardy­asz said, “It’s a fam­ily busi­ness, and we’ve been do­ing mainly my grand­fath­er and fath­er’s re­cipes with our food. Wheth­er it’s piero­gis or stuffed cab­bage or kiel­basa. We keep to the tra­di­tion­al Pol­ish re­cipe. They came over from Po­land in the ’60s and it’s a pretty au­then­t­ic re­cipe so we keep it that way and they’re very pop­u­lar, es­pe­cially around the hol­i­days.”

The best way to cook them var­ies, ac­cord­ing to Gardy­asz. The fruit ones are bet­ter boiled, while the oth­ers are bet­ter lightly pan fried, with onions.

Potato and cheese are the most pop­u­lar, al­though around East­er, the fruit piero­gis be­come pop­u­lar as desserts. “I know blue­ber­ries are a big fan fa­vor­ite. They like the blue­berry ones.”

Krak­us sells piero­gis to take home and pre­pare or to eat in their din­ing area.

Swiacki Meats, 3623 Sal­mon St. — This butcher shop won best pierogi from Phil­adelphia Magazine, a fact that Cathy Swiacki is proud of.

“It’s not a com­mer­cial pierogi,” she said. “They’re hand-rolled. The fillings are out­stand­ing.”

Swiacki sells more tra­di­tion­al pierogi styles, al­though she has branched out to in­clude vari­et­ies. “Our big pierogi for Lent is crab and buf­falo shrimp,” she said. “Now, the cheesesteak pierogi was the big pierogi but now it’s the crab and the shrimp, be­cause it’s Lent.”

Her fa­vor­ite is the sweet potato. “It’s fab­ulous,” she said. “It’s a little on the sweet side, but it’s good, it’s healthy, it’s just a great pierogi.”

Swiacki’s piero­gis come already boiled so that they can eas­ily be fried in a pan with a little bit of but­ter. “You don’t even thaw them,” she ex­plained. “You leave them frozen. It’s like five minutes to each side and your pierogi’s ready.”

Syren­ka Lunch­eon­ette, 3173 Rich­mond St. — Known al­most as well for its ’70s d&ea­cute;cor as its menu, this cafet­er­ia-style res­taur­ant spe­cial­izes in tra­di­tion­al Pol­ish cuisine and is es­pe­cially busy at lunch.

Syren­ka of­fers home-made potato, cheese, potato and cheese, meat, and sauerkraut piero­gis, and you can either eat them at the res­taur­ant or take them home to cook your­self.

She de­clined to say which type is her fa­vor­ite, but said that the cus­tom­ers prefer the potato and cheese, by far.

What’s the best way to cook their piero­gis? Boiled or fried?

Krystyna Flor­czak said, “However people like them!” She ex­plained that most people have them boiled, but they’re will­ing to fry them, as well.

The best way to serve them, she ex­plained, is topped with fried onions and with sour cream on the side.