All Pierogi Kitchen in Mesa Offers Eastern European Comfort Food

You know you probably have entered a good place for authentic Eastern European fare when the cashier greets you with words steeped in a heavy Ukranian accent. You're further reassured when a peek into the partially exposed kitchen shows three unmistakably European women, one of whom belongs in an idyllic pierogi advertisement, with her white hair in a soft bun and her wrinkled hands expertly kneading dough.

Just as its name implies, All Pierogi Kitchen does pierogi -- a traditional Eastern European dish of dumplings stuffed with a variety of fillings, from mashed potato to sauerkraut to meat -- and it does it extremely well. Pierogi are to Eastern Europeans what ravioli are to Italians or pot stickers are to the Chinese. Though a single dumpling is called a pierog, it is universally accepted that the plural term pierogi be used, because no one ever walks away satisfied with eating only one.

See also: Milk Bar Brings Polish Eats and European Style to Downtown Phoenix

The space is clean and small and, like many ethnic restaurants, located in a nondescript shopping plaza. Entering the restaurant is akin to stepping into an IKEA showroom, with its bright, white tables, red plastic chairs, and wall lined with boxes and jars of imported European food products.

The menu at All Pierogi is not so extensive that newcomers get overwhelmed, but there are enough choices to be made that a quick consultation with the cashier at the front counter turned into a bit of a conversation. We finally decided upon the combo plate, which includes three pierogi with fillings of your choice and a pork or beef cabbage roll. With so many different fillings to choose, we let the cashier's knowledge -- that the potato and cheddar was the most popular, and that the farmer's cheese was her personal go-to -- decide for us. We rounded out the plate with a sauerkraut and mushroom filled pierog and a pork cabbage roll.

It was easy to see why All Pierogi Kitchen chose to name themselves so. There was an immediate sense of joy when their fresh, made-from-scratch pierogi came out. Three half-crescent pillows lined the plate, slightly browned from a good pan fry and filled with ingredients that would only be revealed upon first bite. The first pierog we cut into turned out to be the farmer's cheese, a fresh white cheese with a cottage cheese texture to it. The flavor was very clean and delicate, and paired very nicely with a bit of the caramelized onions, bacon, and heavy sour cream condiments included on the plate. The sauerkraut and mushroom filled pierog was next. This one turned out to be the lightest of the three pierogi texture-wise, and while the mushroom flavor was not as pronounced as we would have liked, it made the thick dough exterior all the more evident. At long last we reached the highly praised potato and cheddar pierog, and soon understood the praise. The mashed potato filling was very hearty and the cheddar cheese gave a sharp bite that the other pierogi just did not have.

The pork cabbage roll was certainly no looker with its wrinkled cabbage exterior all smothered in a homemade red sauce. But what the roll lacked in appearance it more than made up for in flavor. The ground pork was mixed with what we were pretty sure was barley and was mildly seasoned to create a filling that was incredibly moist, yet did not crumble apart. It was the red sauce however, that really made the cabbage roll. Nothing like the heavy marinara sauce a la Prego; this sauce was light and tangy, probably from the natural acidity of the tomatoes.

We also got a side order of the Russian style potato salad ($2.50). This potato salad was nothing like a "stick to your ribs" scoop of American potato salad. The cream used was thinner, almost watery, and the flavor emphasized the cubed vegetables and dill more so than the boiled potato chunks.

To break the carb fest we were having, we ordered a smoked sausage dish ($3.50), which came with a perfectly formed mound of homemade sauerkraut. The smoked sausage had a good delicate flavor and the sauerkraut was a big departure from the more potent sauerkraut we were used to. This sauerkraut was very mildly flavored, not sour at all, and made for a perfect bite when paired with a bit of smoked sausage and a dip in the extra hot mustard brought out with our food. In fact, that extra hot mustard was a condiment we all agreed we could use a lot more of in our life. It was strong and hit the nose almost like a good horseradish sauce or wasabi.

What impressed us most about All Pierogi Kitchen was the evident quality of the ingredients. Everything, from the pierogi to the parsley garnish, was fresh as could be. The staff are kind and genuine, cooking the comfort foods they were brought up with and hoping you like them just as well as they do. We were transported by the fare, and it seems the other diners that surrounded us in this little restaurant were too.

Just as you would wait a little while longer for a home cooked meal, be prepared to wait a little while for your food to come out as most of the food is prepared to order. You'll want to use that extra time to browse the wall of authentic Eastern European products anyhow.

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