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 décor 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.