This story began at a funeral — the father of someone whose friendship I can measure in decades.
It was as beautiful and perfect as these things go. I was close enough to have fond memories of his father, but not so close that I was blinded by grief. I was touched by the sincerity of stories told by his children and grandchildren, spiced up with some morsels of laughter and balanced with a hint of pain. Not a bad way to finish a good life.
Leaving the cemetery, I was emotionally drained. And hungry.
Before commencing the long drive home, I searched for someplace interesting to eat. I was in the heart of Philly’s Great Northeast and I didn’t know what to expect. At a red light, I did a quick map search and saw that The Pierogi Factory was just around the corner. This seemed fitting, having just left a cemetery with gravestones marking the final resting of my friend’s ancestors, many of whom arrived in this country from Poland around one hundred years ago.
The restaurant was nestled between an insurance broker and a hearing aid store in a strip mall. The interior was muted with natural light obscured by fully drawn rattan blinds. One of the walls featured pictures of Poland and its people and architecture. The other wall had pictures of Polish food and the lunch menu from the 1966 Atlantic passage of the ocean liner M S Batory.
A pierogi is the Polish version of the filling encased in a folded round made from noodle dough (some of the other versions are Chinese Jiaozi, Russian Vareniki, Italian Ravioli). The twelve different types of pierogis on offer range from traditional fillings such as potato or mushroom & bacon to the less traditional buffalo chicken, cajun and Philly Cheesesteak, because Philly.
In addition to pierogis, they offer a limited menu of Eastern European classics; kielbasa, golabki (stuffed cabbage) and potato pancakes. The pancakes looked and tasted like they came from a mix. This inspired me to make a batch from scratch (and a video) http://8theworld.com/2020/01/24/potato-pancakes-for-real/.
Each of the dishes hit two comforting notes: fatty/starchy and fatty/meaty. I don’t often crave those heavy combinations. Following a funeral, it hit the spot. It also helped that I was glued to my car seat for the next three hours, because I was incapable of physical movement.
This is what I ate.
Of the pierogies that I tried (potato & farmers cheese, potato & bacon and Philly Cheesesteak), the difference in texture was more noticeable than the difference in taste. I had to look into the pierogi to see which one I was eating at any given time. The flavor of the fried onions, cooking oil and pierogi wrapper was stronger than the flavor of the filling.
White (Fresh) Kielbasa
The Pierogi Factory sells two types of sausages, a white (fresh) variety and a smoked variety. I tried both. The fresh sausage was cooked on-site and was less salty, less peppery and felt fattier than the smoked sausage.
The smoked kielbasa was more familiar to me, similar to the supermarket brands or ones I have tried from the Polish delicatessens near Norwalk, CT. I enjoyed the smoked pimento taste and the sausage felt less greasy than the white kielbasa.
Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage)
The photo shows three Golabki views; covered in mushroom sauce, uncovered and opened up. Pierogi Factory offers two sauces. The mushroom sauce tasted like a very thick mushroom barley soup. The tomato sauce is sweet and sour. The Golabki itself was mild tasting, more rice with some meat than meat bound with rice.
Potato pancakes fall into two categories, the fresh kind and the box kind. I was hoping for the fresh kind. It wasn’t.
Even though I cooked 35 pounds (no typo) of potato pancakes last month and swore off eating any more until next December, I was perversely inspired to make even more pancakes to remind myself how good the fresh kind can be (and to share the recipe and video on this blog.) Here is the link and a photo. http://8theworld.com/2020/01/24/potato-pancakes-for-real