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When I wrote up a short piece about the pierogi from Pierogi Street on Tuesday, I encouraged readers to start a raucous Internet discussion on the subject—but I knew that it was unlikely; soft, fluffy pierogi are just too comfy to incite fervor. I was right so far as that went, but if pierogi don't prompt heated feelings, there seems to be a deep love for them all the same—or so I conclude from the post winding up with over 1,500 Facebook shares, making it one of the most popular things I've ever written here. Well, if you love your pierogi journalism, I'll oblige: today's pierogi post is about Alexandra's, the northwest side's favorite pierogi maker.
If you know a local pierogi maker in Chicago (not counting Iliana Regan and Bunny), it's probably Kasia's Delicatessen in Ukrainian Village; that's the brand you tend to see in stores in areas like Lakeview. But Alexandra's was recommended to me by an unimpeachable expert on the subject: our Polish housecleaner, Lucy Mosiejewska, who has tipped me off to several superior Polish spots (as well as explaining the cultural divide between north-side Chicago Poles like herself, who tend to be urbanites from Warsaw, and south-side Chicago Poles, who tend to be rural gorale, usually translated as highlanders—though to the urbanites, I gather, it's more like "hillbillies"). Anyway, she talked up Alexandra's, and when I went to poke around a few of the delis and markets in the Polish area around Central and Belmont, I saw that her opinion was pretty widely shared—every market seemed to offer two kinds of pierogi: house-made ones and Alexandra's.
Besides being in every market, the proudly USDA-inspected Alexandra's has a factory outlet on Central, a couple of blocks north of Belmont. From a retail customer standpoint, it's a bit of overkill—there's almost a one-to-one ratio of freezer cases to flavors of pierogi. There was nothing to get here I couldn't have gotten at one of the other markets, from a much smaller freezer. But as I bought a few flavors to try, I knew the reason that this existed was to serve the restaurant trade, not home cooks like me. And I didn't really need to try Alexandra's—I was pretty sure I already had, in several restaurants. In fact, except for Pierogi Street with its unique house-made flavors, I couldn't think of a place I'd been that offered a pierogi that Alexandra's didn't make. I suspect they're the Vienna Beef of pierogi, served everywhere.
But even if they're sourced from the same place, how you prepare pierogi makes the difference, no? There are basically two ways to heat pierogi—boil them or fry them in butter with onions. Alexandra's packaging actually recommends both methods together; boil them to heat the frozen pierogi, then fry them for flavor and texture.
As it happens, that's also the method endorsed by my mom, who never comments on anything I write, but such is the power of pierogi that she left this Facebook comment with a story about the time her friend Cathy's relatives came to Wichita bearing pierogi:
CB's Polish cousins from Buffalo brought many kinds of pierogi's with them. They boil them first, then freeze them. When time to eat, they sauteed a lot of onions in a lot of butter, then added the pierogis. Amazing!!!! Dough was thin - unlike our Mennonite version - verenike - which are good too - but pierogis win over them.
I apologize for her pluralizing pierogi, as I did at the end of the previous article. Anyway, I sauteed some onions, then let them brown on both sides a little:
They were plenty good that way, as good as most I've had in restaurants, though I'd still have to say that freshly made ones, like at Pierogi Street, come out with a more tender and supple wrapper than these (of course, the fact that I browned them like they were Chinatown potstickers had something to do with that, too). Anyway, as far as Chicago is concerned, we live in a paradise of pierogi, easy to find at Polish restaurants, easy to buy and make well at home too.
Though so does Buffalo, apparently. And Columbus, Ohio—I'm kicking myself for walking right past a Hungarian stand when I went to the North Market (a great indoor market) in Columbus last weekend, which had these:
Too many pierogi, too little time.