Dumpling duo is peddlin' pierogies in Pittsburgh

Mention the simple pierogi -- an iconic food in these parts -- and one might conjure images of babushka'd babkas cooking the Eastern European peasant dish in the basements of onion-domed Orthodox churches, where recipes are passed between generations.

Typically, it would not put one in mind of a pair of tattooed, 30-ish, ultra-progressive guys, rolling dumplings made from organic dough, cage-free eggs and local produce in the kitchen of a smoky dive bar, serving patrons who are bobbing their heads to the metal and punk bands that play the joint.

Oh, and the guys occasionally sell their pierogies via bicycle, too.

Old Pittsburgh, meet New Pittsburgh in the form of Jeff Newman and Thomas Guentner of Peddlin' Pierogies. They prepare and sell their fresh takes on the ethnic classic at the Inn Termission Lounge on the South Side on Monday and Friday nights.

"These are not your grandma's pierogies -- we make no apologies for that," said Mr. Guentner, 33, of the South Side Slopes.

"These are made with all local ingredients. We're repackaging Pittsburgh for Pittsburgh."

Quite literally.

Their four varieties of pierogies -- classic cheesy, hot jalapeno, kraut and Swiss, and black bean and corn -- use dough made with organic spelt flour from Clarion River Organics; potatoes from Jodikinos Farms in Clinton; cheeses from Nittany Valley Organics in Mill Hall; the North Side's own BL Sour Cream; plus numerous other local purveyors' products from the Pittsburgh Public Market.

They fry the pierogies in olive oil as a healthier alternative to butter. The spelt flour -- also healthier -- gives a richer consistency than a typical pierogi, and results in a crispier interpretation. A half-dozen of their pierogies costs $5.

On Friday, Jan. 25, they'll have an official launch party for their endeavor from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Inn Termission, featuring their pierogies, as well as craft beer from Timber Ridge Brewing, a North Hills nano-brewery; kombucha from Troy Hill's Red Star Kombucha; and handmade crafts -- pierogi pins.

Clarion River Organics will have a stand featuring some of their products, and live music will follow by the band Thirds & Fifths.

The two men first met in 2010 when Mr. Guentner was working for the Student Conservation Association and applied for an internship with Mr. Newman's company, Steel City Soils, which promotes urban farming and composting. Mr. Guentner didn't get the job, but he and Mr. Newman, 29, of Braddock Hills, became friends and eventually dreamed up another venture -- a bicycle take on the food-truck trend.

But what would they peddle while on pedals?

"We both have Pittsburgh tattoos on our bodies. We both love Pittsburgh. And Pittsburgh loves Pittsburgh," Mr. Newman said.

And what's more Pittsburgh than a good pierogi?

They spent months working on recipes that incorporated both healthy and locavore principals, cooking out of a temporary home in the kitchen at Ruggers Pub on the South Side. Early last summer they hit the streets of the Flats and the Strip District on an old Ross bike with a conspicuous welded-together blue trailer adorned with a taxi light that says "PIEROGIES."

Inn Termission manager Tony Rome caught notice. After some discussions with him, Mr. Guentner and Mr. Newman agreed to get the long-idled kitchen at the "Mish" -- as it's called by regulars -- back into working order if they could prepare and sell their product on site. The pierogies are featured two nights a week at Inn Termission and occasionally appear on the menu at Ruggers and at Hambone's in Lawrenceville.

They're working on new combinations such as Buffalo Bleu Cheese and a Curried Sweet Potato, suggested by one of their investors based in Portland, Ore. They also make a vegetarian chili and are working with a local purveyor of egg noodles on another Pittsburgh ethnic favorite: halushki.

They've ironed out some technicalities with the county Health Department to become a licensed mobile vendor, and with that complete they will take to the streets again on the bike when the weather warms up.

Their committed do-it-yourself ethos permeates their business -- from the sourcing of their products to their association with other startups such as Red Star and Timber Ridge.

Mr. Guentner said he hopes that endeavors like his might inspire potential DIY food entrepeneurs who are on the fence to do the same.

"I'd love it if someone was asked, 'What was your tipping point?' and they said, 'When I bit into a Peddlin' Pierogi.'"

Mr. Newman has said that they'd like to learn more of the art of making the Old World dumplings from elder experts around the region.

"Pierogies are so traditional -- especially in our city's culture which values that," Mr. Newman said. "We want to keep that tradition alive."

Peddlin' Pierogies are available Monday and Friday nights at Inn Termission Lounge, 1908 E. Carson St., South Side. For more information visit http://peddlincompany.com.

Dan Gigler: dgigler@post-gazette.com and on Twitter @gigs412. A version of this story originally appeared on The Forks blog at pgplate.com/forks. First Published January 10, 2013 5:00 AM


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