We didn’t invent them and we’re hardly the only people who eat them, but few other foods have such an engrained, emotional connection with us Pittsburghers than simple pierogies.
A mere mention of the doughy dumplings conjures images of babushka’d bubbies cooking in the basements of onion-domed Orthodox churches, where recipes are passed between generations.
It does not, however, make you think of a pair of tattooed, 30-ish, ultra-progressive guys, rolling dumplings made from organic dough, cage-free eggs and local produce in the kitchen of a smoky dive bar, serving patrons who are bobbing their heads to the metal and punk bands that are regular bills. These guys occasionally sell pierogies via bicycle, too.
Old Pittsburgh, meet New Pittsburgh in the form of Jeff Newman and Thomas Guentner of Peddlin' Pierogies
. The pair ply their trade at Inn Termission Lounge on the South Side on Monday and Friday nights.
“These are not your grandma’s pierogies -- we make no apologies for that,” said Mr. Guentner, 33, of the South Side Slopes. “These are made with all local ingredients. We’re repackaging Pittsburgh for Pittsburgh.”
Quite literally. In their four varieties of pierogies – classic cheesy, hot jalapeno, kraut and Swiss and black bean and corn – they use: dough made with organic spelt flour from Clarion River Organics; potatoes from Jodikinos Farms in Clinton; cheeses from Nittany Valley Organics in Mill Hall; the North Side’s own BL sour cream; plus numerous other local purveyors’ products from the Pittsburgh Public Market.
They fry the pierogies in olive oil rather than butter, and a half-dozen will set you back a modest $5.
The two men first met in 2010 when Mr. Guentner was working for the Student Conservation Association and applied for an internship with Mr. Newman’s company, Steel City Soils
, which promotes urban farming and composting. Mr. Guentner didn’t get the job, but he and Mr. Newman (now 29, of Braddock Hills) became friends and eventually got around to scheming on another venture – a bicycle take on the food-truck trend.
“It was always going to be food and bicycles,” Mr. Newman said.
But what to – pun alert! – peddle on pedals?
“We both have Pittsburgh tattoos on our bodies. We both love Pittsburgh. And Pittsburgh loves Pittsburgh,” Mr. Newman said.
And what’s more Pittsburgh than a good pierogie?
With help from friends, they spent months working on recipes that incorporated both healthy and locavore principals, cooking first out of a temporary home in the kitchen at Ruggers Pub on the South Side. In early summer they hit streets of the South Side and the Strip District on a hard-to-miss old Ross bike, their culinary creations carried in a welded-together blue trailer adorned with a taxi light that says “PIEROGIES.”
One person who caught notice was Inn Termission manager Tony Rome. After some discussions with him, Mr. Guentner and Mr. Newman agreed to get the long-idled kitchen at the “Mish” – as it’s affectionately known by regulars – back into working order if they could sell their pierogies at the bar.
Now their pierogies are featured two nights a week at Inn Termission and occasionally appear on the menu at Ruggers. They hope to expand their production to sell at other venues and to add more adventurous combinations.
They’ve had to iron out some technicalities with the county Health Department to become a licensed mobile vendor, but plan to take to the streets again on the bike next year. They also make a vegetarian chili and are working with a local purveyor of egg noodles on another Pittsburgh/Eastern European favorite: halushki.
Meanwhile, how have these newfangled pierogies with the textured dough and no butter gone over?
Mr. Newman said that younger customers are embracing them, but older customers are a tougher sell – at least initially.
“We had a guy say, ‘By the time I got through the fourth pierogie, you changed my mind.' ”
He added that they’d like to learn more of the art of making the Old World dumplings from elder experts around the region.
“Pierogies are so traditional -- especially in our city’s culture which values that,” Mr. Newman said. “We want to keep that tradition alive.”
Peddlin’ Pierogies are available Monday and Friday nights at Inn Termission Lounge, 1908 E. Carson St., South Side. For more information visit http://peddlincompany.com/Second from top, Dan Gigler photo; others courtesy Peddlin' Pierogies