Voices from Russia

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Pierogi Drama Engulfs PNC Park as Cheese Chester and Potato Pete Race Head-to-Head

00 Sauerkraut Sal. 25.10.13



Click on the URL below, it’ll take you to a page where there’s video that I couldn’t embed here.



After spending some time on the DL, Pittsburgh Pirates racing pierogi Cheese Chester was rather eager to return to the starting lineup at PNC Park. During Friday’s race, Chester even showed up at the finish line and attempted to attack his replacement, Potato Pete, with an aluminium crutch. On Saturday, Potato Pete again coasted to victory in the race, only to be confronted by Cheese Chester once more. The Pirate Parrot quickly intervened to calm things down, but it was clear Chester wanted just one thing… to defeat Potato Pete on the field. So, they devised a solution… the two pierogies would race at the end of Saturday’s Reds-Pirates matchup, and the winner would be allowed to race with the other the pierogies for the rest of the season. The loser would be out. Sure enough, after the Pirates recorded the final out of their 3-2 win, Pete and Chester made their way to the field for the ultimate race. Things couldn’t have been tenser. At the three-quarter mark along the track, Pete had a sizeable lead over the Comeback Pierogi of the Year and seemed sure to win. Pete was so sure of his victory that he even turned to taunt Cheese Chester. It was a tragic mistake. With that, Chester passed his nemesis and cruised through the finish line, earning his spot back in the Pirates Racing Pierogies lineup. After his battles with both injury and Potato Pete, you won’t find a happier pierogi anywhere.

30 August 2014

Dakota Gardner




Saturday, 5 April 2014

5 April 2014. Here’s an Old School po-Nashemu Smile… Barechested Guy Joins Pierogie Race in Pittsburgh

00 Sauerkraut Sal. 25.10.13



We all need a smile. Yes, the serious news IS important… and we’ll get back to it. However, we need to unwind and smile, too. Here’s to all youse Yinzers out there… especially, with a hat tip to the memory of the late Metropolitan Constantine Bugan, who never left the old nabe and never forgot where he came from (light a candle for Metropolitan Gus the next time that you’re at liturgy). Does he still pull pranks in eternity (he was famous for his mechanical mouse)? One hopes so…



Oliver Onion, 0-4 in pierogi races this season, didn’t finish last during Wednesday night’s sprint. The bowtie-and-glasses-clad pierogi crossed the finish line in right field a solid three seconds before Luke Emory Oyler. Police spokesman Sonya Toler said that Pittsburgh police charged the Chambersburg PA man with defiant trespass after he decided to enter the highly anticipated showdown that follows the fifth inning. At least five park staff members chased Mr Oyler, 29, as he ran shirtless across the outfield whilst the pierogies raced. He crossed the finish line and leaped over a railing, where park staff tackled him and the cops handcuffed him. Today, Mr Oyler didn’t respond to requests for comment. Cheese Chester clinched his first win of the season by edging out Sauerkraut Saul. During the other show at PNC Park on Wednesday night, the Pirates beat the Chicago Cubs 4-3 in 16 innings. The game, which carried into Thursday morning, lasted 5 hours, 55 minutes, making it the longest baseball game ever played in Pittsburgh.


Everything is still fine with the world. Metropolitan Gus would’ve loved this… it’s a hoot…


3 April 2014

Lexi Belculfine

Pittsburgh (PA) Post-Gazette


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Friday, 25 October 2013

Pierogi Fest Gives Pittsburgh Another Way to Say, “We Love You, Dumpling!”

00 Sauerkraut Sal. 25.10.13


Carl Funtal spent most of his adult life as a tough guy, protecting the public as a sergeant with the Shaler Township Police Department. Truth be told, he’s really kind of a softie. Despite his commanding appearance… at 6 feet 3 inches (1.905 metres) (6-4 (1.93 metres) in his motorcycle boots) and 275 pounds (125 kilos), he dwarfs most folks… the Pittsburgh native isn’t afraid to admit he likes to… cook. He’s particularly good at making the comfort food of his youth that speaks to his PolishRussianCzechAustrian heritage, and one that he’ll dish up this weekend at South Shore Riverfront Park during the city’s newest food fest… Pierogies.

As a kid growing up in Brookline, Mr Funtal watched as his mother, Laura, rolled out and then cut big hunks of soft dough into circles she stuffed with mashed potatoes and cheese. He doesn’t recall helping too often, but somehow, maybe through osmosis, he learned. By the time he married and started raising children, he’d garnered such a reputation for his exquisite potato dumplings amongst family and friends (the dumplings often were included on the party spreads he catered during off-duty hours) that one day, someone told him he should be making them professionally. “And I said, ‘You’re crazy! No!'” Then again, maybe making a few batches here and there and selling them as a fundraiser might be a fun way to help cover the cost of his daughters’ dance lessons. “When your kids are in activities, you’re always selling something,” he says, “so I thought, ‘Why not?'”

Last year, that paternal labour of love evolved into Cop Out Pierogies, a small storefront on Butler Street in Etna (412 973-0068). For 6.75 USD (214 Roubles. 7 CAD. 7 AUD. 5 Euros. 4.20 UK Pounds), you can buy a cop’s dozen (14) traditional potato-and-cheese pierogies, or you can spend a little more for one of the specialty flavours, which run the gamut from Buffalo Chicken to Spring Roll to Cheeseburger to sweet Lekvar, a thick Eastern European jam made from prunes. Or, maybe, you’d like to try the more seasonal Pilgrim Pierogie, a plump conglomeration of turkey, potato, corn, and fresh cranberries. He’ll have an ample supply of those Thanksgiving-style dumplings, too, at Saturday’s first-ever Pittsburgh Pierogi Festival. He said, “It’s like a ship in a bottle. You don’t know how it all gets in there”.

Better Late Than Never

The brainchild of Riverlife Pittsburgh and the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the free fest will feature nearly a dozen pierogie vendors and/or restaurants along with live entertainment and children’s activities. There also will be a pop-up pierogie market selling everything from pierogie T-shirts and onesies to jewellery, crocheted ornaments, and all sorts of other swag; and attendees can snap photos with the likes of Sauerkraut Saul and Cheese Chester. The latter logged the most wins this year at PNC Park (22) running the Pirates’ signature 280-yard (256-metre) Pierogi Race at home games. The fest runs from 12.00 to 17.00 EDT, rain or shine. All proceeds will benefit the recently completed South Shore Riverfront Park (riverlifepgh.org), the 13 million USD (412 million Roubles. 13.54 million CAD. 13.52 million AUD. 9.4 million Euros. 8 million UK Pounds), 3.4-acre (1.4-hectare) park in front of Hofbrauhaus Pittsburgh that’ll host the event. The park extends the SouthSide Works retail complex down to the Monongahela River. Activities will take place near the terraced 1,000-seat outdoor amphitheatre.

Stephan Bontrager, Riverlife’s director of communications, said, “It’s a wonderful space that’s just begging for an event like this”. Over the summer, with folks at the URA and Revive Marketing Group, he came up with the idea as a way to promote the park. “It’ll be a nice fall day, with crisp air, and the comfort food of pierogies in all different forms” (and different spellings). He’s not kidding. In addition to Mr Funtal, scheduled vendors include the Polish Pierogi Truck, which will serve at least three varieties; S&D Polish Deli in the Strip District; Kevin Sousa of Salt of the Earth, who’ll trot out a family recipe; and Marty’s Market, who’ll offer a sweet-potato pierogie.

If you’re from Pittsburgh, where pierogies are among the city’s most celebrated foods, no doubt you’re saying… “It’s about time!” After all, we have festivals for just about every other ethnic edible imaginable on any given weekend throughout the area. You’d be right. Mr Bontrager said, “Coming here 12 years ago from Denver, I’m fascinated with the pierogie culture in Pittsburgh. It’s such a cool regional food thing. I know many Rust Belt cities that can call claim to it, but this city has a solid stake in that horse race… it’s one of those Pittsburgh pride things”. All signs point to the inaugural event being a runaway hit. Already, close to 500 people have RSVP’d on the festival’s Facebook page, which led organisers to expect upwards of 1,000 or more. Mr Bontrager said, “The response has been incredible. The wonderful thing is, the park can accommodate everyone comfortably, whether you’re arriving by bike, boat, or car”.

A Pittsburgh Thing

Traditionalists might consider Mr Funtal’s new-fangled flavours sacrilege, and it’s hard to blame them. Generations of Pittsburghers have grown up on pierogies lovingly hand-rolled, filled, and folded by church ladies at parishes such as St Mary Ukrainian Orthodox Church in McKees Rocks, Ss Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church in Ambridge, and St George Ukrainian Catholic Church in Brighton Heights. Many more pray at the altar of Pierogies Plus, the down-to-earth McKees Rocks shop in a not-so-converted gas station that’s been cranking out the tasty dough pockets in the Polish tradition for more than 20 years. A media darling, the Island Avenue store has been on The Food Network and in national magazines such as Saveur, which in 2011 included it on its annual list of 100 great food finds. Gosia’s Pierogies in Latrobe, which uses a “secret” recipe handed down from the owner’s grandmother in Poland, also has a devout following, as does Szmidt’s Old World Deli in Greenfield (and soon to be in Garfield) and S & D Polish Deli in the Strip District, where 15 varieties are made with Polish flour. However, the times, they are a-changin’.

The New Wave

If a survey of the Pittsburgh restaurant scene is any indication, you no longer have to be of Slavic origin to make a good dumpling. Nor do you have to stick to the traditional fillings of potato-and-cheddar or cottage cheese. Pierogies are a popular ingredient among a growing number of Pittsburgh chefs, who use them to spice up everything from hamburgers to steaks to the dessert menu. For instance, recently, Church Brew Works had both rattlesnake and alligator pierogies on its menu and Eleven tops its prime beef rib-eye with a dumpling stuffed with pastrami. Braddock’s offers pierogies ranging from Braised Short Rib to Buffalo Chicken to Chocolate and Peanut Butter. At Franktuary, you can get your dog “Pittsburgh” style, or, get it topped with a smooshed pierogie and slaw, and a fried pierogie is a topping option at Burghers in Harmony. Knossos Gyros in Dormont has (what else!) pierogies filled with lamb carved off the cone and tzatziki sauce. Moreover, at Rowdy’s BBQ and Fatheads, they’re deep-fried to a golden brown as an appetizer. The list goes on and on.

Besides all that, pierogies have joined Pittsburgh’s expanding food-truck scene via Polish Pierogi’s Pittsburgh Pierogi Truck. Before they ceased operation late this summer, the duo behind Peddlin’ Pierogies sold gourmet pierogies made with organic spelt flour from the back of a bicycle, as well as at Inn Termission Lounge on the South Side. Their non-traditional flavours included Buffalo Blue Cheese and Curry-Sweet Potato. Speaking of preparations and flavours your Polish babcia might never have considered, Downtown‘s Sinful Sweets occasionally includes a chocolate-dipped pierogie on its menu. In addition, Mr Funtal, who’ll open a small sit-down space in front of his commercial pierogie kitchen in about a month, offers more than 10 different Pie-Rogies, or dessert pierogies. This time of year, Pumpkin Spice and Apple Maple Walnut Cheese Cake are amongst the more popular varieties, but he also sells piles of Banana Split and Freaking Fudge pierogies. His wife, Beth, who works part time in store with their 16-year-old daughter, Sydney, said that kids love their PB&J dumplings, saying, “They can’t get enough of them”.

Already, despite being something of a newbie, Cop Out Pierogies has proven it’s got some chops… not only does it supply more than a half-dozen restaurants, including Atria’s, with pierogies, but it also grabbed the No 2 spot this June on Pittsburgh Magazine‘s 2013 Best Restaurant Reader’s Poll, when it was in business for only nine months. Now, Mr Funtal makes between 300 and 500 dozen a week with help from his family when he’s not busy keeping Shaler safe. He mixes, rolls, and cuts the 30-pound (13.5-kilo) chunks of dough into circles whilst his wife and daughter fill the dumplings. He plans to do an open house on 23 November. He credits much of his success to his dough, which includes sour cream and is cut by hand using a metal milkshake cup. The result is a pierogie that’s not quite like a snowflake, but obviously not one of those mass produced, 12-to-a-pound (450 grammes) pierogies, either. He said, “People like that. A consistent taste, but slightly different texture with each bite”.

However, Pittsburgh’s love and never-ending appetite for the dumplings plays a big part, too. He said, “They give comfort”. Pierogie-making has become his passion. He loves the challenge of coming up with the next winning flavour combination (to date, his only failure was one filled with spaghetti) and also gets so much pleasure out of interacting with satisfied customers. He said, “Nothing makes me happier than when an 80-year-old comes in here, and she comes back and tells me they taste just like Mom’s. I can’t wait until the Pierogi Festival”, especially the naming of the people’s choice pierogies. “I’m very competitive, so it’s going to be fun”.

For more information about the Pittsburgh Pierogi Festival, you can check out the fest’s Facebook page or follow it on Twitter @pghpierogifest. It’s this Saturday, 26 October, from 12.00-17.00 EDT at the South Side River Front Park (near Hofbrauhaus). Click here for the event link on Facebook.

24 October 2013

Gretchen McKay

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


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