By Stephanie Sokol for The Chicago Tribune
Loading up on potato-filled goodness during the last weekend in July has become a Northwest Indiana tradition — drawing crowds for more than two decades.
Pierogi Fest in downtown Whiting celebrates its 25th anniversary this weekend, featuring more than 30 food and beverage vendors. People flock in to fill up on pierogis, sweet treats and Polish plates Friday through Sunday.
“We were here two years ago and decided to come back,” says Rose Palmersheim from Raucine, Wis., who split a plate with friend Denise Widup. “It’s a lot of fun.”
While there are many spots to choose from, these were some of my favorites during a blitz tasting session Friday of the following six vendors.
Babushka Pierogi, is a restaurant in Toledo, Ohio. Served lightly dusted with dill, three pierogi go for $5. The pierogi dough is on the thinner side — similar to pasta, and boiled, rather than fried. Due to their consistency, Babushka’s pierogi were easy to eat, and weren’t overly greasy. The cabbage and mushroom pierogi was tart and savory, while the meat pierogi had a hint of curry and garlic.
This Elk Grove Village restaurant is closed for renovations, but that didn’t stop them from making pierogi. The meat pierogi was light, with hints of garlic and onion and a moist but not overly greasy filling. The potato had a peppery note. The dough for these boiled pierogi was on the softer side, akin to pasta.
Center Lounge Bar and Restaurant
Located in downtown Whiting, Center Lounge has a booth at pierogi fest each year, right outside the restaurant. For guests looking to cool off, the doors are open to allow eating in the dining room. The best-seller is the potato cheddar with its sharp taste and creamy filling. The sweet cheese’s ricotta texture and cream cheese flavor melts in your mouth. While the meat pierogi was somewhat dry, the potato had a comfort food feel to it, with a heavy, buttery mashed potato filling. My favorite from Center Lounge was the sauerkraut pierogi — juicy and spiced, it was a savory treat. I finished with the blueberry, which wasn’t very sweet, but had a good natural taste with what seemed like fresh blueberries cooked in their own juices.
Simply Pierogi bakery has been around for 87 years in Buffalo, N.Y. Opened by a first-generation Polish family, the business is woman-owned by Ania Duchon, and offers pierogi that are non-GMO with wholesome ingredients, as well as vegan options. For Simply Pierogi’s first time at the fest, they brought family recipes of traditional potato pierogi and some of the best dessert pierogi I’ve ever had. The cream cheese blueberry was sweet and rich like a cheesecake, and the apple had delicious pie style filling with streusel on top.
Austin Klink, marketing and business representative for Simply Pierogi, says there’s nothing like Pierogi Fest in New York. “It’s been really exciting,” says Klink. “We came across Pierogi Fest online and asked ‘how could we not be doing this?’ It’s always fun to get ideas from other vendors, too.”
When Beggar’s Pizza opened a Whiting location five years ago, they wanted to do something special for Pierogi Fest, says regional manager Crystal Kelly. So the pizzarogi was born. A cross between what it sounds like — pizza and a pierogi — this cheesy, saucy treat is almost like a mini, deep-fried calzone, dusted in Parmesan and Italian seasonings. “Every year we go through more and more,” Kelly says. “It’s only sold at this location during pierogi fest.”
Area supermarkets carry Kasia’s pierogi in the frozen section. The company has one deli in Chicago, where they also do their production. Manager Joanna Jakubowicz, a Chicago native, says they’ve been coming to Pierogi Fest for 20 years. My favorite from Kasia’s was the cheddar jalapeno, a spicy combination of soft potatoes, cheese and peppers, reminiscent of nachos.