“What’s a pierogi?”
We at (614) Magazine realize that our discerning foodie readers would scoff at such a question, but my delivery driver asked this in earnest while dropping off a baker’s dozen from Pierogi Mountain—ordering one of each on their cornucopious menu has become an obsession as of late.
“And do you know this restaurant?”
The dark and dank dive lore of Bourbon Street shouldn’t make you flinch. It’s been legit for a while now. Though I’ve suffered more blackouts than enjoyed A+ meals in the booths there, the lineage of what’s inhabited the tiny kitchen to the right of the bar is as full of highlights as the bands who have played there over the years. Extreme Weiner’s “Chicago Dogs” or Taco Ninja’s expert late night nachos were unmatched delicacies and quite proto-trendy in their time. Matthew Majesky’s Pierogi Mountain, since February of last year, has seemingly conquered whatever curse the kitchen holds with the indulgent “dumpling,” surprisingly rare in Columbus.
The pierogi is unique in that if you’re from Pittsburgh or Cleveland—or any Rust Belt hub in the Midwest—it’s a way of life. A staple in Eastern European cuisine, it has its own patron saint (St. Hyacinth) and monuments in the Ukraine. Beyond “dumpling,” pierogi can also mean “pie,” “feast,” or “festival,” terms that you could say guide Majesky’s weekly experiments: samosa, vegan “sloppy joe,” clam chowder, Bahn mi, chimichurri black bean, pear and goat cheese…
“What’s great about pierogi is that you can take any dish and any culture and distill it down into a pierogi,” says Majesky. “People obviously will start with the basic potato and cheddar, but will eventually be more adventurous and try something like plantain and chorizo.”
Having no formal culinary training save a teenage stint at McDonald’s, Majesky’s chef origin story comes from his Polish family tree, especially Pearl Telatnik, his great-grandmother—a colorful, card-playing centenarian who would make her traditional pierogi at Christmas.
It was kind of accidental how Majesky’s climb up the mountain began, stumbling upon an email from Aunt Jane with his Busia’s secret recipe. “It was the summer of 2013; I was unemployed, drinking heavily, and bored,” says Majesky. “I also didn’t like to go out much. So instead of going to ComFest, I stayed home and made a lot of these pierogi, then gave them out to friends.”
The word spread quickly. In his third weekend of making pierogi out of his kitchen, over 1,000 were ordered. Soon Majesky was offered reign of semi-regular pop-ups at Bourbon Street, to increasing acclaim. Eventually, he was selling his uncooked pierogi in discriminate grocery stores around town, an effort that was too consuming to be profitable. The Hungarian Poutine became Washington Beach manna. Still, making Pierogi Mountain a functioning, full-time gig was somewhat Sisyphean from Majesky’s perspective.
The summit was scaled last winter when he decided to go sober and start collaborating with chef Charlie Greene, who has helped make the Mountain a magnet for local vegans and vegetarians. Each week the duo prepares both a meat and vegan sausage, housemade soups, and kraut-abundant “fried things,” not to mention the vegan-friendly pierogi Greene has added.
“I was a customer before I became part of the business,” says Greene. “And that was because Matt had vegan options here. As much as you hear these days about people being vegetarian and vegan, Columbus doesn’t have a whole lot of options.”
“I like the idea that I can serve anyone who walks in the door, and they’re going to get quality vegan food that doesn’t taste like wood chips,” adds Majesky. “It’s also a reflection of the community we serve. We’re giving people options.”
Much of the charm is that the Mountain’s pierogi are as cheap as they are deliciously creative, something that comes with the environment. As basically a “food truck that doesn’t go anywhere,” the cost is limited, allowing for a lot of experiments indicative of the community that supports him.
“Here we can do whatever we want to do. We have just enough space to do it and no one gives us a hard time. In a lot of ways, this bar is an extension of me. I’m just putting on a show.”
Personally, the rise of the Mountain to include front-door delivery is both wonderful and frightening. Majesky and Greene are invested in what has long been a best-kept secret, and spreading out for the common good. Order them uncooked, take them home and pan-fry the lot in choice butter. Or enjoy them in the aura of your new favorite band. The options can get dizzying. As of this writing, the Papet Vaudois, a combination of leek, smoked sausage, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, heavy cream, and wine, was the dumpling du jour.
“After you’ve made thousands of something, it gets harder and harder to eat it on a regular basis,” answers Majesky, “but currently, that’s my favorite.”
For weekly menus and more information, visit facebook.com/PierogiMountain