If Michael Budny has his way, pierogi will one day be as popular in Southern California as sushi or ramen.
The hearty Polish dumpling, which can be stuffed with everything from potatoes and meat to fruit, has a loyal following on the East Coast and colder parts of the United States.
Yet Budny sees pierogi and the other traditional Polish dishes served at his brand-new restaurant, Pierogi Spot in Santa Clarita, catching on in warmer climes, too.
“If you look at trends, there is big potential for pierogi, just like dim sum and gyoza,” he said. “It’s simple, good food.”
That it is. The pierogi here are plump, puffy pockets of comfort food perfection.
Boiled first, then pan fried for a little bit of crispness, you pick the filling from a wide selection: pork and chicken, sauerkraut and mushroom, potatoes and cheese (plus jalapeno or spinach, if you’d like), potatoes and onion, seasonal fruits, loaded and Cali way (with avocado, salsa and sour cream) for $12 to $14 per plate. (You can also choose from toppings such as house, spicy and barbecue sauce or add bacon, sour cream or cheddar cheese for 50 cents more).
The potato and cheese with bacon pierogi ($12.50) are like eating mom’s mashed potatoes encased in a beautiful little shell of pasta showered with succulent, savory onions cooked to an almost jam-like consistency and crispy, salty bits of bacon. Yum.
The pork and chicken pierogi ($12) feature shredded meat that’s been marinated for 24 hours, slow cooked until it reaches melt-in-your-mouth tenderness, and is then topped with generous dollops of those awesome onions.
All pierogi plates include a colorful romaine and carrot salad with a delectable sesame dressing, which adds a nice freshness to the rich proceedings.
Other meal options include a snappy, smoky, succulent Polish sausage ($14) that will ruin you for store bought varieties forever, especially when paired with homemade condiments like a zesty mustard or zippy, creamy horseradish (50 cents each).
If you really want to kick it old school, opt for the cabbage roll ($16) stuffed with flavorful ground chicken, pork and rice, and topped with tangy tomato sauce. It’s so tender you can cut it with a fork.
A generous cup of the soup of the day, including a lightly creamy, deliciously piquant pickle with carrots, potatoes and dill, is included with every meal.
If possible, save some room for desserts, whether it’s a slice of the cake of the day ($5) or even better, a fresh, warm crepe enveloping chocolatey Nutella or a sweet/tart cherry and cream cheese filling (which is served with a bit of flambé on the sides of the plate for dramatic flair).
Service at Pierogi Spot is as comforting as the food, with friendly, attentive wait staff that are happy to answer any questions you may have.
The menu was created by Budny, based on recipes from his childhood in Northern Poland. He hails from a long line of restauranteurs and learned kitchen skills at Polish dining establishments when he wasn’t competing at swim meets across the globe.
Budny first came to California as a college student in Riverside. Upon graduation, he went into the family business and started a Polish restaurant named Polka in Los Angeles. “I like to cook and have a passion for Polish food,” he said. “I wanted to keep the culture and food alive.”
Customers came to Polka from all over Los Angeles, including the Santa Clarita Valley. “They would ask me when I was going to open a place here,” Budny recalled.
Budny, his wife and daughter moved to Santa Clarita four years ago, so he kept his eyes open for a suitable venue to launch a new restaurant. When the space on Golden Valley Road became available, Budny knew it was time.
Designing Pierogi Spot was a family affair, with input and help from Budny’s wife, as well as his father and brother, who came over from Poland to help with remodeling.
The result has a modern yet homey feel, with warm touches of wood, cool black and white tile, and comfortable half booth/half chair tables. Eventually, Budny would like to turn Pierogi Spot into a small franchise, with a focus on authenticity, quality and customer service.
“I really enjoy making people happy with my food. It’s very satisfying,” he said.
Pierogi Spot is located at 26511 Golden Valley Road, Santa Clarita. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. Catering and private parties available. For more information, visit www.pierogispots.com or call (661) 254-4850.