Thought it would be great to discover together some of the local New York addresses with family recipes, memories and stories related to them. Let’s start with East-Slovak specialty called “pirohy”, or what is commonly known here as “Pierogies”.
When we arrived in New York in 2015, my heart bumped up when I first saw “Pierogies” in the supermarket. They are sold fresh or frozen, filled with potato, cheese, feta and spinach, cabbage, etc. But the dough is very thick as compared to what I was used to eat since I can remember. Also, I find that fillings are too “sturdy”. I understood why 5-6 pieces are enough for one portion while in my home, you would eat at least a dozen.
All my family would agree, that my paternal grandma, who lived close to the town Michalovce, did the best pirohy ever: “Zemplinske pirohy” (Pierogies of Zemplin Region). She had such ease to make them, no matter how many we gathered in her house. As she knew that this meal will make everyone happy, whenever we called her that we are coming to visit, she would start preparing them right away. So, when we arrived she was waiting for us in the kitchen, with a big bowl of pirohy filled with home made plum jam and with Slovak style cottage cheese (called “tvaroh”), poured over with melted butter. They were thin and you could see through the cooked dough, in which there was jam and in which one cheese – as you may prefer one or the other, but we always ate them all.
I realized too late that my grandma’s knowledge of making pirohy at the perfection, was our family heritage. My mom and my aunts are good cooks as well and their pirohy are delicious, but I wish I could ask my grandma her secrets.
During my last summer vacation in Slovakia, I had a goal to learn how to cook them. I was proud of making them alone under my mom’s instructions but they were just like any beginning. You need to practice to reach the rightness, and I don’t. So, when I heard about a restaurant called Baba’s Pierogies situated in Brooklyn, founded by the couple with Slovak ancestors, I was curious. Will they taste as the ones from my childhood?
First, I read many positive reviews. I was touched by the story that Helena, co-founder of this place, explained in different interviews. In fact, her Slovak grandma, Julia Hlinka, was also the one who gathered all the family every Friday around the bowl of pierogies. And when Helena and her partner Robert wanted to open a restaurant business, she taught them all she could about pierogies so now, it’s them who perpetuate this cultural heritage. And they do it so well!
Their restaurant, situated close to Union Station in Brooklyn, is very cozy, with modern interior design integrating some Slovak elements. The long wall is covered by pictures with family memories and map highlighting Slovakia, and an open kitchen enables guests to feel the home atmosphere. I had a great Chicken soup and a “tasting” plate with every variety of pierogies proposed here. I began with boiled Potato & Cheese, and this is definitely my favorite because it reminds me the closest to the taste I was used to.
I had a chance to chat with Helena about all this “adventure”. We spoke Slovak even though she was born here. I was curious to know why the menu doesn’t include “bryndza” filling (sheep cheese), as this would be really typical Slovak recipe. Though this cheese is available nowadays in New York, it was not the case in the 60’s when Helena’s grandma arrived in New York and needed to adapt her recipe with American Cheese. To keep the family tradition, Baba’s Pierogies proposes the same recipe and when you order “Classic Potato” filling, get ready to be transported. And if you really want to taste bryndza, order the “Kielbasa sliders”, that features this typical Slovak cheese with sausage from Muncan in Queens, sauerkraut, and home cooked mustard. Czech and Slovak beers are available as well. I can’t wait to return here.
Written by Martina Hornakova