When I began pondering pierogi for this story, I was transported back in time to the small, carpeted kitchen of my Italian grandmother, Josephine. Nana was an excellent cook who delighted in watching her son and granddaughter consume her mouth-watering creations, and we obliged by greedily devouring her dishes.
One day, she placed a plate of lightly fried, caramel-colored, potato-stuffed pierogi in front of me. I was hooked. I couldn’t have been more than age 4, maybe 5. I declared them my favorite dish upon first bite. Before long, I was requesting them, with a side of sour cream, if you please. When I arrived on her doorstep to the aroma of butter and onions, I knew I was in for a treat.
Later in life, I learned that pierogi is Poland’s national dish, but Ukrainians, Slovaks, Lithuanians, Russians and others lay claim to it, as well. My Ukrainian grandfather likely had cravings early on in the marriage, so that may explain how an Italian made it her mission to perfect the pierogi.
When Nana passed on, I considered trying my hand at recreating her specialty. However, the challenge was daunting, so I lazily relied on Mrs. T to satisfy my cravings. Mrs. T will do in a pinch, but she fails feebly when it comes to treating me in the manner to which I’ve grown accustomed, which is why I was excited to learn about a new food stand that opened in the Broad Street Market.
In early August, Carolyn Pikowski and Keith Jefferies launched Pikowski’s Pierogi Place in the stone market building. Pikowski said she came up with the idea after visiting a Polish deli in New Jersey with her sister.
“It occurred to me that no one here made fresh pierogi,” she said.
The Harrisburg resident, who worked as a Dauphin County mental health case manager, decided to quit her job and take a risk. Evidently, it’s paying off because business has been brisk. As evidenced by the community response, the niche needed to be filled, just like the pierogi she creates. When I posted a shot of the little pillows of perfection on Twitter, the clicks went crazy.
“Life’s too short,” remarked Pikowski, on the choice to follow her dream. “I like working with my hands—they are my asset.”
The schedule is also working out well for her, Jefferies and their two children, Dasan, 10 and Aiyana, 8.
“It’s a good balance of work and family, with three days’ prep and three days at the market,” she said.
Worth a Trip
Pikowski’s pierogi are a riff on the standard potato-stuffed ones I enjoyed as a kid. She puts her own spin on them, using her creativity to come up with a variety of options.
“We always offer the plain potato, the onion potato, the spinach/feta/mozzarella and the cheesesteak,” she said.
Various other fillings are included on a rotating basis, like cabbage fried in bacon grease, sauerkraut and sweet potato, to name a few. Toppings include sour cream, sautéed onions and sauerkraut. Pikowski also sells breakfast pierogi stuffed with ingredients like egg, cheese, veggies and bacon.
Dessert options are in the works, too. Pikowski added pumpkin pierogi around Thanksgiving and, on the first day of fall, she advertised an apple/cinnamon pierogi topped with whipped cream and caramel drizzle on her Facebook page.
“They flew out of here,” she said, adding that the “new school twist” attracts a diverse demographic.
Pikowski also outperforms Mrs. T’s in the size department. No parsimonious portions are parceled out at her stand. The overstuffed and handmade pierogi are twice the size as those you’ll buy in the grocery store.
“Nothing is processed, and everything is fresh,” she said.
Melinda Martinez tried pierogi for the first time at Pikowski’s.
“They are addictive, wonderful and definitely worth a trip,” said the Bressler resident, who enjoys the breakfast and the cheesesteak pierogi.
Carrie Roeting of Middletown said that her favorite is the spinach/feta/mozzarella, which she describes as “amazing.” Evidently, others feel the same because Pikowski said it’s among her top three sellers.
As Pikowski ramps up to meet demand, she is considering shipping her product.
“Maybe after the New Year,” she said.
One thing is for certain: She is enjoying her new line of work—and so are her customers. Like my grandmother, Pikowski keeps her recipes close to the vest. Eventually, I did manage to wrangle one of Nana’s secrets out of her. When I asked what made her dishes taste so good, she uttered but one word: “Love.” I’ll bet Pikowski feels the same way.
Pikowski’s Pierogi Place is located in the stone building at the Broad Street Market in Harrisburg. To learn more, visit their Facebook page: Pikowski’s Pierogi Place.
Author: Stephanie Kalina-Metzger