Dense, chewy, and starchy, pierogi are a mainstay of the Polish diet and the epitome of everything comfort food is about. Whether you take them stuffed with potatoes, cheese, boiled, deep fried, or pan-fried in butter, it's hard not to love them.
First Avenue Pierogi & Deli, a tiny stall of a shop off St. Marks Place, offers an extensive selection of the crescent-shaped dumplings in flavors like potato, sweet farmer's cheese, sauerkraut, and potato and onion. The store's nondescript and worn exterior makes it easy to miss, but if the sound of the automatic visitor bell doesn't grab your attention, the store owner's mysterious smile will. He greets every customer in Polish and relies on hand gestures and hand-written labels when his English fails him, though most of his pierogi enthusiasts are Polish-speaking regulars who he immediately recognizes.
His dumplings are kept in a large, glass case and are usually sold by the dozen, though upon request, he very happily agreed to sell them to us in sixes, allowing us to try more flavors. We opted for the potato ($6/doz), sauerkraut mushroom ($6.80/doz), sweet farmer's cheese ($7.90 doz), and the special of the day, the potato, bacon and cheddar ($7/doz). The deli also sells stuffed cabbage in meat and kasha variations, $5.35/pound.
You can order the pierogi cooked to order as well as frozen, but if you're cooking them soon you may as well opt for fresh. We tried ours simply boiled and fried in butter.
They're satisfying, if not perfect dumplings. While the dough was pleasantly chewy, the flavor itself was rather bland, and it needs additions of fried onions, sour cream, or applesauce, all $.50 to $1 per side. Most of the fillings are also mild, such as the potato and sauerkraut. Sweet, sugary cheese was voted best of the lot, a substantial dessert pierogi. Unfortunately the stuffed cabbage, sold without sauce of any kind, also doesn't add up to much.
But at the end of our pierogi feast, our bellies were stuffed and satisfied for very little money, so this comfort food did its job.