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40 North Executive Chef Bethany Zozula prepares pierogi. (Esteban Marenco/post-Gazette)
Eastern European dumplings
Pittsburgh Dumpling Project Part 6
Pack, pinch n’at: The slow and steady transformation of the Pittsburgh pierogi
By Hal B. Klein
June 20, 2024

Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski’s journey to becoming Pittsburgh’s first-ever James Beard Award Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic finalists began with a shared passion for pierogi.

Lasky, a sixth-generation Pittsburgher, and Skowronski, a first-generation American born to Polish parents, channeled their love for Eastern Europe’s iconic dumpling into a scrappy pop-up series called “Pierogi Night” in 2012. Affectionately known as “Pierogies vs.,” the two chefs paired their take on pierogi with an ever-changing mix of international delights such as tacos, sushi and knish.

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Restaurants serving our favorite pierogi

How to make pierogi at home

The monthly events garnered a line-out-the-door following, leading to their Bloomfield restaurant, Apteka, opening in 2016.

Accolades followed, including a spot on the New York Times’ 2022 “America’s Best Restaurants” list. As Apteka’s menu evolved from a DIY operation to an incessantly prestigious exploration of micro-seasonal Western Pennsylvania produce, Lasky and Skowronski stayed true to their Eastern European roots — including celebration of the pierogi.

“On Thursdays we pinch pierogies. And then we eat pierogies. Nobody is ever tired of potato pierogi or a mushroom and sauerkraut pierogi. It holds a special space,” says Lasky.

Co-owners and co-chefs Tomasz Skowronski and Kate Lasky have given the pierogi a starring role at Apteka in Bloomfield. (Lucy Schaly/Post-Gazette)
‘Our city dish’

For Lasky, whose family has cherished the pierogi for generations, the dumpling is a way to connect to a place where their forebears departed more than a century ago.

"My parents and other family members still pronounce 'pierogi' with an accent. Nobody actually says it in real life the way they pronounce it. I think it's some kind of callback as a way to respect the heritage and where the family came from," she says.

In contrast, Skowronski spent heaps of time in Poland growing up, yet his grandparents prepared pierogi only occasionally, typically when wild blueberries were in season. His connection to the dumpling was rekindled when his father started making them in Pittsburgh.

“My dad’s pierogi were so much better than anything we could buy. It got me excited about Polish cuisine. It made me realize how undervalued it was,” Skowronski says. “At the same time, it was clear people didn't realize how cool Warsaw was, how artsy and edgy. So I started making pierogi as a way to showcase Polish culture.”

Lasky and Skowronski aren’t the only decorated Pittsburgh chefs who embrace pierogi.

Myoslava Taranova, left, Anna Bieberdorf, Micah Jasper, Nathalie Small, and Liv Visnic pinch pierogi at Apteka in Bloomfield. (Lucy Schaly/Post-Gazette)
A plate of Smazone Pierogi at Apteka in Bloomfield. (Lucy Schaly/Post-Gazette)

Bethany Zozula and Jamilka Borges have both earned a pair of Beard nominations and other accolades throughout their lauded careers in Pittsburgh.

At 40 North on the North Side, Zozula makes an airy, quintessential example of potato and cheese pierogi now on the road to becoming the most popular dish at the locally rooted restaurant. Borges draws flavors from her native Puerto Rico to offer a vivid plate of dumplings melding tartness, herbaceousness and warmth — while embracing the same comfort you’d feel from eating a classic pierogi — at her coastal-inspired restaurant, Lilith, in Shadyside.

Pittsburgh pierogi in 2024 are a cultural emblem, served from church basements, neighborhood taverns and some of the swishest restaurants in town. It’s quite an evolution for a dumpling that used to be derided as “hunky” food.

"Pierogies are our city dish,” says Lasky.

Mixing pierogi dough and boiling dumplings in the kitchen of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in 1973. (Heinz History Center)
The longest journey

As is the case with nearly all dumplings, the origin story of the pierogi is disputed. Some folklorists claim St. Hyacinth introduced the dumpling to Poland in the 13th century by way of Kyiv. Others credit trade along the Silk Road, perhaps from China or via the Middle East.

Italy-born Queen Bona Sforza is often given a hat-tip for bringing Italian stuffed pasta when she married the Polish King Sigismund I in 1517. Although she didn’t introduce dumplings to Poland, she does deserve credit for bringing asparagus, carrots and other vegetables to the country.

Dough for pierogi wrappers reflects the mishmash of culinary heritage. Some recipes call for a simple mixture of flour, water and, often, oil. Most pierogi dough, however, is enriched with eggs (similar to Northern Italian stuffed pastas such as ravioli) and even sour cream, an inclusion unique to Eastern European dumplings.

St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in the Strip District, shown in 2020, was Pittsburgh's first Polish parish. (Andrew Rush/Post-Gazette)

Pierogi arrived in the United States during the mass migration of Slavic laborers at the turn of the 20th century. Their popularity isn’t as widespread in the United States as dumplings from China or Italy. Rather, pierogi are beloved in cities such as Pittsburgh, Chicago and New York City, where those populations migrated in great numbers to form lasting communities.

Even so, it took over half a century for Eastern Europe's pierogi to receive similar attention to Italian dumplings in Pittsburgh, even though both groups arrived at similar times.

“Eastern bloc countries suffered from a lot of discrimination. Everything from our food to our academia was undervalued for a very long time. It's very similar to what you see with other global working class and labor foods,” Skowronski says.

The first Polish parish in Pittsburgh, St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, was established in 1875 at 15th Street and Penn Avenue in the Strip District. Its current location, a stunning church on 21st Street, was consecrated in 1892. St. John the Baptist Church on the South Side, founded in 1891 and expanded in 1917, is noted as the oldest Ukrainian church in Pittsburgh.

Photographs from the 1940s show Ukrainian women pinching dumplings in church basements — a tradition that continues today and remains the quintessential image of Pittsburgh’s pierogi heritage.

A group of women gather to pinch pierogi at St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church on the South Side in the 1970s. (Heinz History Center)

Yet a mention of pierogi in a Pittsburgh newspaper didn’t appear until March 8, 1951, in the Pittsburgh Press’ “The Food Question Box.”

Food writer Josephine Gibson responded to a reader's request for a recipe, offering a dough made with egg yolks, cold water and, curiously, a dash of cayenne. The following year, another reader inquired about a “Polish recipe called Pierogi,” noting its similarity to ravioli but with different fillings. These early recipes highlighted cheese and meat stuffings that were, indeed, quite similar to those of ravioli.

In June 1955, pierogi were gaining some recognition, with the Post-Gazette noting “Man Enters Contest with Hungarian Dish Known as Pierogi” in that year’s PG cookbook contest.

“‘Pierogi’ might sound Greek to you. But actually, it’s Hungarian. It’s the name of a filled noodle pocket book,” the article stated.

A June 16, 1955, article in Post-Gazette defined pierogi for readers unfamiliar with the Polish dumpling.

By the end of the decade, pierogi had become a common topic. Food columnists published numerous non-exoticized recipes, and city restaurants announced them on their menus, often seeking cooks skilled in making them.

Pierogi served from church basements and at bars and neighborhood restaurants in Pittsburgh are typically stuffed with mashed potatoes and a blend of cheeses, boiled and then pan-fried to a perfect golden brown, usually accompanied by buttery, sweet onions. They often feature as part of a “Polish platter,” nestled alongside halušky and kielbasa, sometimes sauerkraut.

However, Pittsburgh’s pierogi story isn’t stagnant.

Over the past three decades, the beloved dumplings have become staples at tailgates, holiday celebrations and sporting events. They embody a regional tradition inspired by local pierogi makers who innovate with a variety of fillings, from macaroni and cheese to Buffalo chicken. Increasingly, they are featured on the menus of upscale restaurants, even those not operated by individuals of Eastern European heritage, as homage to the rich culinary landscape of that region’s importance to our own contemporary foodways.

Liudmyla, a chef at Pierogies Plus, gently folds and closes potato and cheese pierogi before handing them off to be cooked. (Esteban Marenco/Post-Gazette)
Evolution at a gas station

The evolution of the pierogi into its modern form in Pittsburgh is a slow burn. It ignited in a converted gas station in McKees Rocks in 1991.

“I was tired of eating Italian, American, Chinese or the other restaurants my husband would take me to. I got home hungry, hungry for home food. So I started to make pierogi and stuffed cabbage at home,” says Helen Mannarino, owner of Pierogies Plus.

Mannarino, a native of Warsaw, Poland, immigrated to Pittsburgh in 1974 when she was 27. (Her mother and maternal grandparents had lived here on and off since the early 1900s.) She shared her dumplings with friends and neighbors, and quickly found she had a lot of company missing that taste of home.

Helen Mannarino, owner of Pierogies Plus in McKees Rocks, shows a dish of potato and cheese pierogi with onion. (Esteban Marenco/Post-Gazette)

A 1982 Pittsburgh Press series on immigration noted, “In 1890, with the expansion of the steel mills, railroads, coal mines, and pottery factories, hundreds of thousands of Slavs, including Poles, flocked to Western Pennsylvania.”

The same series also highlighted “The Ukrainians,” stating, “The Ukrainians arrived here in two groups: one came at the turn of the century seeking a more comfortable lifestyle; the other arrived at the end of World War II, seeking freedom from political oppression.”

Mannarino says it wasn’t long before people asked to buy her pierogi. The problem was that she had no place to prepare them for retail sale.

The gas station her husband owned needed a lot of work to get the decaying pumps shipshape, so they converted the place into a small commercial kitchen to sell pierogi. They traveled for two years to auctions to buy the needed equipment.

“Little by little, we collected,” Mannarino says.

Helen Mannarino stands outside Pierogies Plus, a former gas station, in McKees Rocks in 2000. (Post-Gazette)

She opened just two days a week with one volunteer helper and a menu of four classic pierogi: potato and cheese, sauerkraut, cottage cheese and meat.

Then, the universality of dumplings, the celebration of stuffing small bites of joy into a chewy dough, rang true.

“Can you make sauerkraut and kielbasa? Sure. Can you make potato and bacon? Of course. One Italian lady asked if I could make spinach and ricotta. Sure, of course. We can make anything,” Mannarino says. “We cater to our customers. We have a special order menu. Give us two days, and we'll make it.”

Now, an international staff of 19 prepares as many as 500 dozen pierogi a week, all made by hand in a bustling space she upgraded and expanded in 2006. A staff member begins peeling potatoes — up to 400 pounds per day during the busy seasons — at midnight.

"All day, pinching, pinching pierogi,” Mannarino says. “The popularity of the pierogi feels good, of course. But what feels the best is being instrumental in helping the women who immigrated here. Many of them still don't speak English. I'm able to give them a job where they can make a living. I'm sure there are other people making good pierogies.”

Buffalo chicken dumplings finished with butter and onions at Cop Out Pierogies in Etna. (Hal B. Klein/Post-Gazette)
Good Pittsburgh pierogi

Among those others is Carl Funtal. The retired Shaler police officer started making pierogi for his daughters’ fundraisers when he was on the force and later decided to turn it into a full-tilt business. Funtal took the development of Pittsburgh pierogi to the next level when he opened Cop Out Pierogies in Etna in 2012.

“Unlike my last job, where you can only go so far on merit, being the best at what you do means something in food. I could take you golfing or kiss someone's ass, but if my stuff ain't good they're not coming back,” he says.

Funtal’s family background is Polish, Czech, Slovak and Russian. His spin on the dumpling is far from the traditional flavors they brought during decades of Eastern European immigration.

Potato and cheese might be Cop Out Pierogies’ biggest single seller, but the combined force of flavors like Buffalo chicken, Reuben, watermelon-tequila and habanero barbecue sauce chicken eclipse the standard by a long shot.

“If we don't have that watermelon-tequila or the peach pulled pork by the beginning of May, we're in trouble. Same with the Pilgrim [Thanksgiving in a dumpling] for the beginning of September,” he says.

Carl Funtal, chef and owner of Cop Out Pierogies, inspects a refrigerator of dumplings. (Hal B. Klein/Post-Gazette)

Funtal says he’s always been an outside-the-box thinker. Expansion from conventional to crowd-pleasing came naturally to him, even if his experiments don’t always work. Macaroni and cheese in a pierogi? Absolutely. Spaghetti in a pierogi? Not so much. He's learned to roll his dough — he prefers a blend of flour, eggs, sour cream and butter — to various thicknesses to accommodate specific fillings.

Hospitality is at the forefront at Cop Out, where pierogi come 14 to a dozen, and just about any filling on the menu can be served hot in the small dining room. On Fridays and Saturdays, especially when Pittsburgh sports teams are playing at home, more than 40% of his business is from out of state and even internationally, from as far afield as Switzerland, Singapore and Australia.

“It's no great mental feat or anything. I don't look at it like it's anything special. But it's kind of cool to see that flavors and ideas I had are appearing elsewhere,” he says, noting that he crafted a “Black & Gold” pierogi three years prior to Mrs. T’s, the ubiquitous Eastern Pennsylvania frozen pierogi brand (and sponsor of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ iconic Great Pittsburgh Pierogy Race).

Potato and chive pierogi at 40 North on the North Shore. (Esteban Marenco/Post-Gazette)
Rooted, refined

Around the same time Funtal was developing his distinct line of pierogi fillings, a new generation of Pittsburgh chefs was evolving at some of the city’s finest restaurants. They didn’t know it then, but a decade later they would help lead a new wave of Pittsburgh pierogi.

“All of these people who had been gestating at some of the bigger restaurants in the city are now doing food that's of the city. To see pierogi being celebrated and embraced as Pittsburgh food, even at fancier spots, is an amazing thing,” says Lasky of Apteka.

Bethany Zozula grew up eating pierogi as a special treat. They weren’t anything special — ordered from Mrs. T’s by her grandparents and uncles — but she sure did love them.

Potato and chive pierogi are ready to be boiled at 40 North. (Esteban Marenco/Post-Gazette)
Chef Bethany Zozula cooks potato and chive perogies at 40 North. (Esteban Marenco/Post-Gazette

“We used to have family reunions and it was a joke that everyone would guess how many I would eat because I’d eat as many as I possibly could,” Zozula says.

She added them to the menu of Whitfield at Ace Hotel, a contemporary restaurant that paid homage to Western Pennsylvania foodways. Her idea was to keep the dumpling rooted in tradition, but prepare it in a more refined way.

She baked potatoes crusted with salt to draw out moisture and immediately cracked them when they came out of the oven to let steam escape. She mixed the potatoes with quark, a tangy fresh cheese made by Amish farmers, creme fraiche and chives.

“Making it takes time and it’s repetitive,” she says. “But, it’s a fun time, because you can spend time talking to everyone.”

Ace Hotel closed in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. When Zozula signed on as executive chef of 40 North at Alphabet City in 2021, she’d make her pierogi as an occasional special.

A plate of Smazone Pierogi at Apteka include gently cooked cabbage, dried herb with horseradish, double fat, mushroom crumble and kohlrabi salad. (Lucy Schaly/Post-Gazette)

Now, they are a regular item on the menu, rivaling another ultra-satisfying starch and cheese combination, khachapuri, in popularity.

Jamilka Borges didn’t eat pierogi until she came to Pittsburgh. The Puerto Rico native received a crash course in the dumpling when she worked in the kitchen of Legume. The celebrated restaurant’s attached bar, Butterjoint, was a pioneer in offering an elevated Pittsburgh pierogi.

She first prepared a version at Spoon, the now-closed East Liberty restaurant where she established her culinary voice. When Borges and co-chef/co-owner Dianne DeStefano opened their contemporary-chic Lilith in Shadyside last year, a pierogi felt like an obvious choice to add to the initial menu.

“Diane and I wanted to do something that was very rooted in Pittsburgh. But, I wanted to bring it with something that was also rooted in the Caribbean,” says Borges.

Her supple dough is made from a classic flour, sour cream, egg and oil blend. The fillings and sauces, however, are Caribbean.

Yucca pierogi at Lilith in Shadyside come topped with salsa verde, salsa criolla and fresh herbs. (Hal B. Klein/Post-Gazette)

Yucca, a potato-like root indigenous to South America, serves as the starch base for the filling. Borges tops her dumplings with zesty salsa verde, vibrant salsa criolla, a mix of peppy herbs and tangy crema agria (sour cream). Plated, it’s a rainbow. Eaten, it’s unmistakably pierogi, yet distinctly personal.

“It fits everything about what we want to do here. I don't think we're ever going to be able to take it off the menu,” Borges says.

Hal B. Klein: hklein@post-gazette.com

Where to get pierogi in Pittsburgh

Pierogi weaves its way onto menus everywhere, from neighborhood taverns and dive bars to James Beard Award-nominated restaurants. Potato and cheese is the most popular filling by a wide margin, but you’ll also find versions with farmers' or cottage cheese and spinach, and some with a kick from jalapeño. A few spots offer more whimsical selections (I’m looking at you, watermelon-tequila barbecue chicken) and many pierogi makers offer a deeper cut of stuffings sold frozen for takeaway.

Pierogies Plus

Over the past 30-plus years, Warsaw, Poland-born Helen Mannarino has turned her McKees Rocks storefront into the central hub for Pittsburgh pierogi. They come with a variety of fillings, most of them classic. Pierogies Plus is primarily a takeout spot, though a few outdoor tables are available for guests to savor hot, buttery pierogi topped with sautéed onions. Mannarino offers an extraordinary diversity of ingredients via special order, which requires 48 hours' notice. You’ll find Pierogies Plus dumplings at bars and restaurants such as Gooski’s in Polish Hill and Knossos Gyros in Dormont.

342 Island Ave., McKees Rocks; pierogiesplus.com

A plate of Smazone pierogi at Apteka in Bloomfield. (Lucy Schaly/Post-Gazette)


There are always multiple pierogi options at Apteka, Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski’s highly lauded Bloomfield restaurant. The establishment is 100% vegan, allowing the duo to showcase richness via plant fats from ingredients such as Pennsylvania-grown sunflowers and whipped cashew butter, as well as the potent flavors of dried herbs and smoke. Lasky and Skowronski’s micro-seasonal, Western Pennsylvania-rooted menu is reflected in the pierogi stuffings. Lasky and Skowronski are multiple James Beard Award nominees, and the duo became first Pittsburgh chefs to be recognized as Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic finalists in 2023.

4606 Penn Ave., Bloomfield; aptekapgh.com

At Cop Out Pierogies in Etna, the dumplings come 14 to a dozen. (Hal B. Klein/Post-Gazette)

Cop Out Pierogies

Cop Out Pierogies in Etna marries traditional cookery with a distinctly Pittsburgh flair. Carl Funtal prepares a wide-ranging exploration of fillings from classics such as potato and cheese and lekvar to wilder takes like the watermelon-tequila-habanero and shrimp and chicken Parmesan. The portions are massive — Funtal’s definition of a dozen is 14 — and the service is hospitality-forward. A perfect example of that hospitality is the menu; you can have just about any variety heated and served in the small, charming dining room. There are plenty of gluten-free pierogi options too.

350 Butler St., Etna; copoutpierogies.com

Potato and chive pierogi at 40 North Bar & Restaurant on the North Side. (Esteban Marenco/Post-Gazette)

40 North at Alphabet City

Gloriously elegant pierogi are on the menu at 40 North on the North Side. Executive chef Bethany Zozula, a James Beard Award semifinalist, and her team take care every step of the way. The dough is pleasantly chewy, lightened by an airy potato core enhanced with Amish-made quark cheese. The skins are crisped to chestnut-brown and paired with deeply caramelized onions, while a dollop of crème fraiche adds a refreshing tartness.

40 W. North Ave., North Side; 40northpgh.com

Gosia's Pierogies served at the Market Square farmers market Downtown. (Hal B. Klein/Post-Gazette )

Gosia’s Pierogies

Jan and Terry Rawecki first served pierogi at the Ligonier farmers market in 2001. Jan, a native of Poland, named the business after her sister, Gosia, on a whim. The now-iconic stand still vends weekly in Ligonier, and also has a stand at the Market Square farmers market Downtown on Thursdays. The deaf-owned business offers perfectly crisped potato and cheese pierogi with a bouncy skin and rich center, all topped with diced onions cooked to a sweet bronze. You also can order them frozen at area markets and grocery stores or for direct pickup at the warehouse.


An order of BBQ pork pierogi dressed with butter and onion served at Forgotten Taste Pierogies. (Hal B. Klein/Post-Gazette)

Forgotten Taste Pierogies

The Polish-owned business has spun an array of scratch-made pierogi in the Pittsburgh suburbs for over a decade. Its Wexford location is the hub (a second spot in Moon is takeout only), where a deep selection of traditional, seasonal and whimsical flavors are stuffed inside lustrous, velvety wrappers. The dumplings are served boiled and topped with buttery onions.

910 Beaver Grade Road, Moon; 11978 U.S. Hwy. 19, Wexford; forgottentaste.com


You’ll find the most visually stunning pierogi plate in Pittsburgh at Lilith in Shadyside. Executive chef/co-owner Jamilka Borges draws influences from her Puerto Rican heritage to craft a sophisticated dumpling stuffed with yuca, a starchy tuber. The vivid colors on the plate go well beyond aesthetic satisfaction, adding harmonious notes of tartness, herbaceousness, warmth and tang.

238 Spahr St., Shadyside; lilithpgh.com

Yukon Gold pierogi with melted leeks, onions sour cream and crispy sauerkraut at EYV Restaurant on the North Side. (Hal B. Klein/Post-Gazette)


Michael Godlewski's EYV is a celebration of vegetables. His progressive, forward-thinking menu at the Deutschtown restaurant is one of the most of-the-moment in town. Godlewski gets there by being rooted in respect for classic dishes, including his homage to pierogi. The plating of the dish is refined, with laces of onion-infused sour cream framing precision-browned dumplings topped with a web of dehydrated sauerkraut. The technique, however, is timeless: House-made dough enriched with eggs and sour cream offers a yielding tug, and the creamy Yukon Gold potato filling resembles the best holiday mashed potatoes.

424 E. Ohio St., Deutschtown; eyvrestaurant.com


The evolution of the pierogi at Butterjoint is one of Pittsburgh’s ultimate bar food stories. The beloved establishment began in 2012 as the casual sister space to Trevett and Sarah Hooper’s groundbreaking Legume restaurant, and the scratch-made dumplings quickly became one of the main draws, along with a celebrated hamburger. Legume merged into Butterjoint in 2020 (and the Hoopers passed ownership on to George Austin in 2023), meaning you can now get a plate of sautéed potato and cheese-filled pierogi on both sides of the space. Make it a meal with seasonal vegetables, pickled beets, sauerkraut and scratch-made sausage.

208 N. Craig St., Oakland; butterjoint.com

Braided pierogi with onions, dill and sour cream at Polska Laska in Sharpsburg. (Hal B. Klein/Post-Gazette )

Polska Laska

After working in Pittsburgh's hospitality industry for years, Olive Visco opened Polska Laska as a pandemic-era cottage business, selling her family recipe pierogi via social media. Visco is now operating out of a small storefront in Sharpsburg, where she offers a variety of fillings, including a tangy farmer’s cheese and herb that packs a peppy punch of dill. The dairy- and egg-free dough renders gorgeously to a texture reminiscent of a pot sticker. Polska Laska’s shop hours are limited, but you’ll also find them at Aspinwall farmers market and pop-ups at area breweries.

1100 N. Canal St., Sharpsburg; instagram.com/polskalaskapgh

A buttery serving of pierogi with kielbasa and sauerkraut at LVIV European Kitchen in Coraopolis. (Hal B. Klein/Post-Gazette )

LVIV European Kitchen

The comfortable dining room at LVIV, a Ukrainian restaurant and catering company in Coraopolis, is a perfect destination for Old World-style pierogi. The generously filled dumplings are straight-up comfort food, though you might want to build in time for a nap after. LVIV offers eight varieties of hot pierogi, including a sweet farmers cheese version that’s a solid counterpoint for the decadent potato and cheese. A host of savory and sweet permutations are offered for special order with a two-day notice and a three dozen minimum order.

940 5th Ave., Coraopolis; lviveuropeankitchen.com

Crispy, saucer-sized pierogi at Starlite Lounge in Blawnox. (Hal B. Klein/Post-Gazette )

Starlite Lounge

Pierogi come as big as hockey pucks at this charming bar and restaurant in Blawnox. The massive dumplings are generously stuffed with potato and cheese (spinach and feta and jalapeño and cheddar are options too) and finished in butter to a nearly crunchy texture, served with nicely caramelized, almost griddled onions. They’ll leave you deeply satiated, which fits with the spirit of hospitality at the neighborhood gem.

364 Freeport Road, Blawnox; starlite-lounge.com

Polska Laska's vegan kapusta pierogi are stuffed with an umami-rich mixture of sauerkraut, cabbage, mushroom and onion. (Lucy Schaly/Post-Gazette)
How to make the perfect pierogi at home
June 20, 2024

Olive Visco has always loved to cook the old-school Polish foods she grew upon, sometimes even for friends in her adopted city of Pittsburgh.

But until the COVID-19 pandemic stymied her career as a bar manager, the Venango County native never dreamed she’d make an actual living from rolling, folding and pinching her maternal grandmother Statia’s recipe for pierogi and selling them via social media under the handle @polsaklaskapgh

Upon earning a degree at Chatham University in 2016, “I wanted to make food videos or maybe be a PR person for a restaurant,” she says.

After falling in love with the city’s burgeoning food scene, she instead ended up working both front and back of house jobs at Downtown’s now-closed Union Standard.

Visco had just lost her next job as bar manager at Iron Born Pizza in the summer of 2020 when she started selling her homemade pierogi on Instagram. Unemployment checks were slow to arrive, “and I needed to make money” to cover rent for the Bloomfield apartment she shared with her pugs, Oyster and Mussels.

“So I thought, ‘What am I really good at?’”

While most of the restaurant jobs she’d taken since age 15 involved waitressing or bussing tables, she’d also worked on the line at Iron Born before taking over its bar program in 2019. So while she’d never cooked for a living per se, she wasn’t a complete novice either.  

In fact, growing up on a 100-acre llama farm in Franklin with “pretty hippie parents” — her father, Kip, is a third-generation family physician and her mom, Victoria, was head of PR for a hospital — Visco was in the kitchen at a very early age learning to make the foods of her Polish heritage. 

Traditional dishes like golubki, mizeria and the cold beet salad known as surówka z buraków were always on the table for special occasions and family holidays. By age 6 or 7, Visco was also mastering the art of pierogi making at the side of her Polish “bachi,”  despite the beloved matriarch’s inability to speak due to early onset dementia. 

And not just any pierogi, but plump, hand-pinched dumplings with beautifully braided edges and umami-packed fillings like kapusta, a Polish cabbage dish that marries sauerkraut with onions, mushrooms and a pinch of sugar with the hot sizzle of white wine.

Fueled by muscle memory built up over time, “She made pierogi until the year before she died,” Visco remembers of her grandmother with a wistful smile. 

That her own dumplings would prove just as mouthwatering to pierogi fans when she offered them for sale by the dozen was nothing short of amazing. “I’m not from Pittsburgh, so I didn’t understand the novelty of it,” she says with a laugh.

The 30-year-old mother-to-be soon learned that people in the ‘Burgh don’t just like pierogi; they love them.  “So I thought, ‘This is the city for it.”

Olive Visco from Polska Laska. (Lucy Schaly/Post-Gazette)

Her many connections in the hospitality industry and on social media made selling the dumplings she hand filled and folded in her tiny kitchen easy. Soon, friends and friends of friends were ordering them to the tune of 500 a week on Instagram and Facebook. 

“People were lining up outside my apartment on Penn Avenue,” she recalls with a grin. “It was a lot of hard work,” but within a year, she was really catching on as the Pierogi Girl of Bloomfield.

She named her growing takeout business Polska Laska, slang for “Polish Chick.”

“I wanted something fun, and a little slaying,” she explains. “It’s a little sassy, a little flirty, a little naughty” — kind of like the girl herself, who at almost 9 months pregnant, couldn’t stop laughing and joking as she rolled out some dough for a demo on a recent Monday — wearing a pair of dangling pierogi earrings.

Eventually, Visco’s sales outgrew her home kitchen and she moved operations — first to a catering kitchen in Etna and then to Gooski’s in Polish Hill, which is owned by her husband Sky’s family.

Last fall, she took a giant leap of faith and set up shop in a corner storefront on North Canal Street in Sharpsburg that formerly housed Mindy’s Take & Bake. She wasn’t looking to move, she says, but couldn’t pass up what seemed like a perfect opportunity when a customer told her it was available. 

Today, the spacious commercial kitchen filled with professional equipment allows her and former Mindy’s employee Shaina Satterfield to crank out around 1,500 pierogi a week in an amazing variety of flavors.

Church lady pierogi these are not. While potato cheddar, farmers cheese and kapusta are, and will always be, perennial favorites, Visco is not afraid to experiment with what some might consider crazy fillings. 

The hundred-plus varieties she’s dished up over the years include everything from bacon cheeseburger, Philly cheesesteak and meatloaf to Buffalo chicken, blueberry cheesecake and “Weak Night” (made with Maruchan ramen, cream cheese, egg, Parmesan and scallion). In early June, “cowboy” pierogi filled with chorizo, corn, black beans and scallions were available as a special. 

“I try to create as much flavor as I can,” she says. 

She also occasionally wraps the dough around seafood just to be fun, even though she knows it’s a hard sell.  A lemony, herb-kissed clams casino was probably her weirdest pierogi, she says. “But it wasn’t a crazy amount.”

Also a little different: She uses the vegan dough she grew up on instead of one enriched with dairy.

“Eggs and sour cream were expensive, and a luxury for my grandparents,” she explains. “So our dough has always been just flour, water and salt.”

The resultant pierogi are thinner and crispier than traditional church lady dumplings and easier to make vegan across the board.

Many are crafted using local ingredients that are in season — this spring she made them with ramps, and she’s currently contemplating pairing mulberries with farmers cheese — and they are sold both fresh and ready to cook as well as frozen. (They keep for about three months in the freezer.) They cost $12 for 6 and $20 for a dozen. 

Due to give birth to her first child in July, Visco plans on taking a short sabbatical over the summer to prepare for turning the takeout business into a small sit-down cafe. While the grand opening date is still in flux, she expects to open it sometime in the fall with seating for around 25 customers.

Along with pierogi — which you can also find at Kelly’s Bar and Lounge in East Liberty and on weekends at pop-ups —  customers will be able to enjoy everything else she currently offers for takeout, including sauerkraut pancakes, Polska platters, stuffed cabbage and haluska. Most sides are $5. 

She’ll also return to doing pop-ups and teaching classes, as well as the occasional catering job. 

“Cooking was always just a hobby,” she says. “I never dreamed that one day I would own a business where I’d be able to cook as well.”

While at times Visco feels overwhelmed as a small business owner, she hopes that every year she’ll be able to step up with something bigger, better and more creative.

“I love feeding my community,” she says. “For me, it’s not about getting rich but creating a space to cook some really good food that makes people feel good about spending their money. I feel really lucky to be able to work hard and have something to show for it.”

The fact she’s passing down her Polish heritage to others by passing down her grandmother’s recipes?

“What I do is a privilege for sure,” she says. “To do something I love and make people happy and make connections.”

Can’t wait until she’s back in the kitchen or just curious to try making pierogi yourself? Because her super-simple dough is so consistent, Visco is confident anyone could learn to make her pierogi once they get a feel for it.

“It’s knowing the [proper] texture,” she says, which can take some time to perfect. “It’s not a hard know, but you know when you know.”

For beginners, she offers some tips: 

Gretchen McKay: gmckay@post-gazette.com

Recipe: Kapusta Pierogi
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Olive Visco, owner of Polska Laska, holds her signature pierogi in her Sharpsburg restaurant. (All photos and video for recipe: Lucy Schaly/Post-Gazette)

Kapusta is a traditional Polish cabbage dish made with onions, mushrooms and sauerkraut. Full of umami, it’s often served with broth as a soup, but at Polska Laska in Sharpsburg, Olive Visco uses it as a savory filling for her handcrafted vegan pierogi.

Aldi’s jarred sauerkraut is her preferred brand not only because it’s the cheapest, but also delicious, “and I transform it anyway.”

She likes to use white wine to deglaze the mixture as it cooks in a pan but, depending on your taste, “a nice Polish lager would be delicious, too!” she says. Water is also fine. 

When making the dumplings, remember that flour is your friend! “The key is to keep your dough and surface sprinkled with flour at all times to prevent dough sticking to the table,” she says. 

You can reroll dough scraps, but only once. After that, it’s too tough and dense.

For kapusta filling

1 24-ounce jar sauerkraut

1 medium white onion, chopped

Handful of chopped mushrooms

1 bay leaf

Salt and pepper

2 teaspoons sugar

Water, white wine or beer, for deglazing

For dough

2 cups water


6 cups of all-purpose flour

For serving

Caramelized onion, sour cream and chopped fresh dill

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Test Kitchen hits the road and heads to Polska Laska in Sharpburg to learn how they make their well-known pierogi. (Video and photos: Lucy Schaly/Post-Gazette)

Make filling. Add sauerkraut, onion, mushrooms, bay leaf and sugar to a wide pan or pot.  Stir to combine, then season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cook over medium heat until mixture is cooked down and slightly brown on the bottom of the pan. 

Add a splash or two of wine, water or beer to deglaze pan. Repeat until mixture is braised down and all the ingredients are caramelized. Set aside while you make dough. 

Prepare dough. Start by putting the 2 cups of water into a large mixing bowl and then salt the water like the ocean.

Add 1 cup of flour at a time and whisk it into the water. After about 2 cups of flour, you will notice the mixture will have a batter consistency and will become a little thicker and hard to use a whisk for.

Switch over to a rubber spatula and start adding flour 1 cup at a time and stirring, scraping the sides, and folding it into the mixture.

Once the dough is thick enough that it's becoming a shaggy-looking blob, you can flour your work surface and put your shaggy blob onto it. The key is to keep your dough and surface sprinkled with flour at all times to prevent dough sticking to the table.

Knead your dough out with heavy dusting of flour at a time and form a firm (not soft, but not sticky) ball of dough. You should be able to poke the dough and create a deep print where the dough does not stick to your finger.

Now it's time to roll out your dough. Pat your ball of dough into a nice flat disk. Make sure it's dusted with flour. Dust your rolling pin, too. Roll out your dough in all directions but do not force a stretch of any kind.

Dust the rolled out dough with flour. Flip it. Dust it again. Roll it again. The dough should be very thin, but not translucent.

Cut circles into the dough using a thin-edged circular tool such as a water glass or cocktail shaker.

Place about 1½ ounces of your choice of filling into the center of the circle.

Fold one side over, leaving a lip of space between the edge and the filling. This is where you can crimp, fold or braid. Just make sure it's sealed on the side.

Add your pierogi to a pot of boiling water, being careful not to crowd the pot. Once a minute or two has gone by and the pierogi have floated to the top of the pot, it's time to sieve them out and lay them on a rack to drain.

In a frying pan, add a couple tablespoons of your preferred high-heat oil. The oil should cover the whole bottom of the pan. Once it is a nice medium-high heat, add pierogi and crisp them up on each side until golden brown.

Serve with caramelized onions, sour cream and fresh dill.

Makes about 48 pierogi.

— Olive Visco, Polska Laska



Hal B. Klein

Gretchen McKay

Videography / Photography

Lucy Schaly

Hal B. Klein

Esteban Marenco


James Hilston

Design / Development

Laura Malt Schneiderman