Pittsburgh does not have an official food, but most of us would argue that it should be the pierogi. Though the roots of all categories of noodles reach into ancient China, this particular “stuffed noodle” seems to originate in 17th-century Poland, where there is even a patron saint of pierogis, Saint Hyacinth. However, if you are seated at the dinner table of someone with Hungarian heritage, they are a Hungarian food. Likewise, if you are at a Ukrainian, Slovak, or Belarusian table. Some Germans even stake a claim. If your hostess spells it with an “i,” or a “y,” or pronounces it with an “h” instead of a “g”, be wise to follow her lead.
Plump with potato and cheese, salty with sauerkraut, or lusciously sweet with lekvar filling (prune), we’re celebrating one of the world’s most beloved foods in September with the Pittsburgh Pierogi Festival. The festival started with 8 vendors in a riverfront park and quickly caught the attention of Pittsbughers as well as pierogi-lovers around the world. The Pittsburgh Pierogi Festival is listed by AAA and other notable rankers as a top food festival in the country. It has also caught the attention of the pierogi cognoscenti nationwide, with guests hailing from all 50 states and makers traveling in from Texas to Atlanta to participate.
In 2019, one of these visiting pierogistas was dubbed “the Pierogi Queen.” That would be Erika Pietryzak, who will be found again on September 9 at Kennywood, dressed in her signature red tee and a flower crown. Equal parts punk rocker and fashion model, Ericka will stride into the Pittsburgh Pierogi Festival with her equally cool team. They will set up shop for the day, frying each individual pierogi for every single guest. They usually have one of the longest lines at the festival, and for good reason. Pietrzyk Pierogi’s fillings range from traditional fare to unexpected combinations with some serious culinary chops. Her dough is uniquely delicate and light, but holds up to the generous fillings. Crisped in a skillet, textures and tastes provoke an almost religious experience.
TABLE tracked down Erika and her crew in Motor City as they start preparing for this year’s festival.
HOW DID PIETRZYK PIEROGI START?
Pietrzyk Pierogi started very organically. I was tending at a dive bar in Hamtramck (a once mostly Polish suburb of Detroit) and my regulars demanded I make food for them, so naturally I made pierogi because I have been making them my whole life. One week turned into a month, then years. I coincidentally was working for a milk manufacturer at the same time and spent my time there figuring out how to scale to larger production.
We became official in 2017 after I survived a domestic assault in 2016 and making pierogi for others helped me heal both mentally and physically. I found the passion and strength to be unafraid to go after what I wanted in life. We are an employee-focused company and are always working to build a prosperous environment for them so we can achieve more together and continue to give back to the community we exist within. We use fresh ingredients and still make all of our pierogi by hand with love just like my Babcia (grandmother) did. We stand behind our slogan, “Make Pierogi, Eat Love.”
How has your experience in Pittsburgh been?
It is our favorite festival to travel to! Pittsburgh as a city is always kind to us, both at the festival and when we run around town like only a rag tag crew from Detroit would. My Babcia graduated from East Liberty before moving up to Detroit so it has a sentimental place in my heart. Driving a trailer on the hills is both exciting and terrifying at the same time but the scenery is astounding. Pittsburgh Pickle Back may be my new favorite. Luckily my favorite pizza in Pittsburgh moved to Detroit but we may have a special Michigan and Trumbull collaboration pierogi for the festival (its hush hush still but send good vibes). All and all it’s a beautiful city with amazing people.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PIEROGI?
We have over 100 different pierogi, so I have to split my answer into seasonal categories. For winter: Classic Sauerkraut and Bacon. For spring: Strawberry Shortcake. For summer: Beet and Feta or our Pizza Pierogi. For Fall: Apple Pie Pierogi or Thanksgiving Dinner. Overall, though my go to is the Holy Gouda (smoked gouda, chives, bacon, potato, garlic, pepper).
What is your favorite part of making Pierogi?
The texture and feel of the dough would drive any ASMR fiend straight to heaven. But for me, the act of bringing people together is the thing. Watching my staff work symbiotically to make great pierogi and then serving them to the people and watching them smile while enjoying them is the best part. It reminds me of family parties from my childhood.
The crew at Pietrzyk will join over 24 pierogi makers and restaurants at the 2022 Pittsburgh Pierogi Festival, including: S&D Polish Deli, The Pittsburgh Pierogi Truck, Gosia’s Pierogis, Love Rocks Cafe, The Pierogi Lady, and many more.
THE PITTSBURGH PIEROGI FESTIVAL RETURNS TO KENNYWOOD ON SEPTEMBER 9, 2022, 4:30–9:00 P.M. FOR TICKETS CLICK HERE.
STORY BY CAROLE VALLE / PHOTOGRAPHY BY JEFF SWENSEN / STYLING BY NINA KATZ
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