Although it was the Scots-Irish who put the yin in our yinz, and the Germans who gave us Iron City and whose descendants here claim ancestral ties more than any other European tribe, it's hardly a reach to suggest that no ethnic groups are more closely associated with Pittsburgh than Eastern Europeans, specifically the Poles.
You'd hardly guess it by looking at the local culinary scene, which is dominated by Italian, Mediterranean and Asian fare (not that Munch is complaining).
Perhaps it's because Polish food is simpler, a bit heavy and a tad inelegant -- pierogis and haluski do not exactly scream "hot date" the way, say, tapas and sangria do -- or perhaps because so much of this gastronomic tradition is still kept alive in Gram's kitchen and church basements.
After all, why eat it out when you can get it better at home?
As a pure Heinz 57 Pittsburgher, Munch claims no favorites among ethnic dishes, except for one: more. And that's exactly what this Baghead-American got at the S&D Polish Deli in the Strip District. More. More! Dalszy!
The clean little storefront done up in its home nation's traditional red and white is an excellent addition to the United Nations of food that exists on Penn and Smallman. Run by a married couple from Wocawek in central Poland, it has to be the only place in Pennsylvania that you'll hear Polish reggae on the stereo, and it's a one-stop shop for everything from Polish shampoo to Polish ketchup imported from the motherland, as well as some truly excellent traditional Polish fare.
Let's start with the pierogis, as Munch and Roommate of Munch (ROM) did; $4 gets you a plate of four of the finest pierogis you'll eat this side of Krakow. We mowed through two plates, trying the potato & cheddar, kraut & mushroom and farmer's cheese -- a sweet dry-curd Polish white cheese called Twarog. Each one was better than the last, perfectly buttered warm gobs of goodness in a thin soft dough shell.
If there is such a thing as dessert pierogis, S&D offers them as well -- fruit pierogis filled with whole pitted fruit and served plain or with sour cream and sugar. But Munch and ROM were just warming up to gorge on the main courses.
All manner of dishes from Stroganoff ($6.50), to Golabki ($2.50) to Borscht and Kielbasa ($5) beckon your belly.
Munch opted for the Hunter's Stew or Bigos, a traditional Polish dish of cabbage and kraut cooked with pieces of smoked meats and dried mushroom ($4.50). Impeccably seasoned, it was simply delicious.
ROM tried the Leczo, another soupy stew that's said to have Hungarian origin, but is "very popular on Polish table" according to the menu. Green & red peppers, onions and tomatoes are sauteed with slices of Polish kielbasa ($5). ROM reported it to be an excellent cup of comfort on a cold day.
Feeling a bit peckish, Munch also wolfed down a plate of haluski ($3.50) -- cabbage and noddles with a peppery seasoning, while ROM went for round two on the pierogis. Both were outstanding and filled us to the point that eating became an optional pursuit for three days following.
The only thing missing from this feast was beer (or vodka, more appropriately). Nonetheless, Munch offers a hearty Na Zdrowie! to the S&D Polish Deli.
S&D Polish Deli is at 2204 Penn Ave., Strip District. Call 412-281-2906 or visit sdpolishdeli.com for more information.