Toronto’s pierogi power

Eastern Europe’s favourite dumpling is having a moment, inspiring fun fusion takes and even all-pierogi restaurants. here’s where to carb-load polish-style.



LOADED PIEROGI

If there are two things Toronto loves, it’s starch and irreverence. Little wonder that Loaded Pierogi, which opened on Church in 2014 in what was once Great Burger Kitchen, launched a second shop on Gerrard a short year later (one that, it bears mentioning, features a giant light-up marquee that reads “GET LOADED”).

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The chain, from the owners of Hank’s (LP’s next-door neighbour on Church), outsources the making of the cottage cheese-potato dumplings “to a local Polish family,” then piles them high with fun toppings: duck, lobster and crab, butter chicken, fried Brussels sprouts. You can pick a platter or build your own.

A word on pierogi: ask a lot of folks who have been eating these little suckers since they were in diapers and they’ll tell you that the only way to assess a truly good pierogi is to eat it boiled (frying them just disguises a lousy dumpling). Here they let you pick how you want yours done, though you’ll want to get yours boiled for maximum pillowiness the alternative is just way too dry.

Though it’s not exactly “authentic” to eat pierogi smothered in pulled pork or kimchi, it’s clear the kitchen has put careful thought into these toppings. The truffle, mushroom and goat cheese is savoury, creamy and piled high (a little light on the truffle, but, then, this is pub food). The Catch comes with a satisfactory level of fresh-tasting lobster, and the Buffalo chicken gets an extra dose of vinegar and hot sauce that cuts right through the carbs.

Cost effectiveness Eight or nine pierogi per plate for $8 to $16. Toppings add noticeable substance.

Drinks Beer and cocktails are available, but the real thing to spring for here is vodka. There are more than a dozen options, and you can sample three of them, from bargain to top-shelf, in a $12 flight. I might be burying the real news here by not leading with “three generous pours of vodka for $12.”

9½ Church, at Front, 647-344-0088 1044 Gerrard East, at Jones, 647-348-0088, loadedpierogi.ca.


HASTINGS SNACK BAR

It may be nestled into a Leslieville side street, but if you read the new menu at the recently revamped Hastings Snack Bar, you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’ve been transported to Roncy. Karolina Conroy, owner of the adjacent Hastings Barber Shop, recently took over the place after former cook John Chong retired. Instead of watching Chong fry up breakfasts and burgers at the long, granny-floral lunch counter, you’ll find Conroy and her mom flipping potato pancakes and dishing out cabbage rolls. 

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The new menu at Hastings Snack Bar, from the pierogito the cabbage rolls, is classic Polish grub.


The brief menu (available only Thursday through Sunday the rest of the week, they just serve coffee and pastries) is a tribute to the family’s Polish heritage. Pierogi feature prominently: They come stuffed with cottage cheese, cheddar or meat fillings, then boiled (of course) and topped with either sautéed onions or sour cream. And they are excellent – smushy, chewy and buttery – but you should probably spring for the Hungry Tata’s Lunch Plate, which pairs four of the little guys with a stout, smoky kielbasa, a saucy cabbage roll, pickles, sauerkraut that could pass for an extra-fermented diner slaw and bread. It was all delicious, but to test for authenticity, I sent a photo to a Polish pal. Her reply: “That is some straight-up babushka shit.”

Cost effectiveness Four for $5, eight for $8, 12 for $11, or $13 for the platter, which includes enough food to feed a small army.

Drinks This is a diner, so you’re stuck with espresso. Sweet, sweet espresso.

5 Hastings, at Queen East, 416-466-0534, Hastings Snack Bar on Facebook


SAUCY PIEROGI

A fan favourite at food fairs and special events, Saucy Pierogi finally got itself a permanent home (or “pierogarnia”) last fall when it moved into what was once Essen on Dundas West. The team of five owners (which includes two Warsaw-born brothers) goes heavy on the modern touches, like fusion dishes and pop art, but they haven’t strayed from their roots so far that you can’t get a frozen bag of dumplings to go.

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At Saucy Pierogi, the pretty pierogi (like this bacon and cheese version) don’t pack much punch.

The menu is far shorter than at Loaded, with six options (plus a daily special) all offered pan-fried, though not done to death like at Loaded. Some are plain cheese inside, others meat-filled. I dig the potato-cheddar, which comes drizzled in a Gruyère-based cheese sauce. Topped with bacon and green onion, it brings up sweet memories of my nacho-fries-filled high school years. 

The rest are fairly middle-of-the-road. The chorizo pierogi, on special the evening I visited, aren’t bad but hardly deliver the spicy richness I was hoping for, and the meatball flavour, ordered on our server’s recommendation, come slathered in a too-acidic tomato sauce.

Cost effectiveness Each dish of three pierogi is $6. Two bucks a pop? Your babcia would be horrified. (The upside: you and your buddies can easily mix and match mini-plates.)

Drinks Just as you can get loaded at Loaded Pierogi, you can get sauced at Saucy Pierogi. Vodka tasting flights ($15, with Polish pickles) are on offer as well as some thematically appropriate cocktails. My pick is the Babcia, which capitalizes on the magical combo of Zubrovka and apple juice.

1282 Dundas West, at Dovercourt, 416-516-1361, thesaucypierogi.com


PILE ON THE PIEROGI

From pubs to mom-and-pops, here’s where else to get your fix

CAFÉ POLONEZ

Roncesvallians speak with a united voice on this one: Polonez, a polished if decidedly unhip family joint, makes the best pierogi on the strip, hands down. Get your choice of traditional options – cheddar, cottage cheese, minced pork or sauerkraut and mushroom – in six-piece ($7.25) or 12-piece ($11.95) platters, then grab a bag of frozen dumplings on your way out.

195 Roncesvalles, at Fern, 416-532-8432, cafepolonez.ca

INTER STEER

Roncey’s favourite watering hole boasts a filling menu of Euro eats (think currywurst and smorrebrod) tailor-made to go down great with multiple bottles of cheap Zywiec. To that end, you can get your pierogi (pick cheddar, cottage cheese, meat or sauerkraut) straight-up ($10), topped with onions and bacon or done up like nachos or poutine ($12).

357 Roncesvalles, at Constance, 416-588-8054, intersteer.blogspot.com

3030

Shuttered due to a fire in October, 3030 is back in action (woo hoo!), hosting shows and serving up some of the finest pub grub in the Junction. Even the most diehard of my pierogi-eating friends rave about 3030’s take on the dish, which currently includes pulled beef cheek, scallions and a spicy ragu on a bed of house-made dumplings ($16).

3030 Dundas West, at High Park, 416-769-5736, 3030dundaswest.com

nataliam@nowtoronto.com | @nataliamanzocco

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