The battle is on at Kennywood in annual Pittsburgh Pierogi Festival
What’s your pierogi pleasure?
Latin-inspired deep-fried Chica Pierogies topped with fresh chunky salsa, sour cream and avocado cilantro sauce from Las Chicas Food Truck of Wexford?
Buffalo pierogi, fruit pierogi and Thanksgiving-themed Gobblerogi with turkey breast, gravy and cranberry from Babcia’s Lunchbox of East Palestine, Ohio?
How about some cheddar, jalapeño and beer pierogies from Dorothy 6 Blast Furnace Café, Homestead? Or vegan and handmade kimchi pierogi and pickled jalapeño pierogi from Onion Maiden of Pittsburgh’s Allentown neighborhood?
The possibilities are endless at this year’s Pittsburgh Pierogi Festival on Sept. 23 at Kennywood Park, where more than two dozen pierogi vendors will offer their variations on the traditional favorite Polish — and Pittsburgh — comfort food.
Local restaurants, food trucks and pierogi purveyors will compete for People’s Choice Award honors while offering their specialties for sale.
Defending pierogi champ
Last year’s winner, Pittsburgh Smokehouse, is bringing back its Smokey ‘Rogi, a pierogi topped with beef brisket and chipotle sauce, and is introducing Smoked Bacon Haluski topped with a pierogi, served with or without the brisket and chipotle.
Andy Wincko of Plum, who operates his Pittsburgh Smokehouse business out of the Italian American Citizens Club in Wilkins Township, says there’s no such thing as a bad pierogi.
“It’s a Pittsburgh thing. You can top them and design them any way you like — they’re never bad,” he says.
He’ll have plenty of competition, including John Kaczor of Ford City, who claims he’s “the absolute best pasta maker in the world and I’m coming to win!”
Kaczor’s creations include his deep-fried fruit-filled pierogi stuffed with lemon, blueberry, apple and cherry, and his potato/sauerkraut and potato/cheddar pierogi made from his mom’s and late aunt’s recipes.
He says he walked away from a factory job as a machinist five years ago to start his Kaczor Ravioli Co. He sells ravioli, gnocchi and pierogi at local festivals, for fundraisers and at area grocery stores.
“It’s a passion for me,” he says.
Several vendors will offer their sweet takes on traditional pierogies, including Gwyn Zollinger of Happy Camper Cakes, a small-batch bakery in Jeannette.
Zollinger will have three special pierogi-inspired cupcakes: Kenny Wears a Babushka, a vanilla funnel cake with powdered sugar dust, cherry pierogi filling, Swiss meringue buttercream, cherry reduction and fried pierogi dough twist topper; Crafty Sauerkraut Saul, made of sauerkraut chocolate cake, craft brew stout ganache, chocolate frosting and chocolate chip sauerkraut truffle; and Pow Pow Lekvar, cinnamon cake with plum bourbon jam, brown sugar Swiss buttercream and plum-shaped pastry topper.
She says Pittsburgh loves its pierogi because of the heritage they represent.
“Western Pennsylvania in general seems to hold on to tradition and pass it on from generation to generation,” she says. “Who doesn’t love a soft pillow of dough filled with … hey, just about anything delicious. It’s comfort in a dumpling.”
Sugar Spice Truck of Baldwin will feature its Sweet Cheese Pierogi Sundae, made with two sweet cheese pierogies, homemade vanilla ice cream and cinnamon apple compote, with a caramel drizzle.
Pierogi crepes, egg rolls and tacos
The festival will feature pierogi in all shapes and sizes, including a new vendor, Le’s Oriental, with its potato/cheese, potato/fried onion and sauerkraut/onion pierogi egg rolls; PGH Crepes of Oakland, offering pierogi crepes stuffed with potato, cheese and onions, and Halal’s Foods with its lamb, chicken kabob and falafel pierogies.
Grandma Cyl’s Homemade Pierogi of Butler will have its potato and cheese pierogi, deep-fried pierogi taco and pieroli, a pierogi with steak and provolone cheese.
Michele’s Mobile Meals of Export will have her Pittsburgh in a Cup, featuring handmade potato cheddar pierogies, kielbasa, sautéed cabbage and onion and a blend of cheeses, served with a souvenir cup.
Two local churches will join the event this year with their homemade pierogies, Holy Ghost Byzantine Church of McKees Rocks and St. Mary’s Orthodox Church of South Side.
Festival promoter Eileen French Jordan says organizers hope to grow church involvement in upcoming years to support “the beloved cultural centers of Pittsburgh’s pierogi tradition.”
The festival also will host the first Pierogi Pinching Contest sponsored by The Pittsburgh Bakery Society, in which 40 preregistered contestants will compete for prizes by assembling pierogi in a timed competition.
There will be live musical entertainment by resident DJ Pandemic, Eastern European band Cetiri Jedan Dva Bend and polka bands Mon Valley Push and Unnecessary Polka.
Other activities include “Paint Your Own Pierogi” with Paint Monkey, pierogi-inspired chalk creations by The Chalking Dad, a pop-up pierogi marketplace, face painting, balloon art, a photo booth and beer garden for guests ages 21 and up.
Kennywood rides open during the festival will include the Merry-Go-Round, Thunderbolt, Jack Rabbit, Racer, Turtle and Noah’s Ark.
More than 6,000 visitors attended last year’s festival, according to organizers.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.