Think of a pirozhki as a tricked out, Russian-made, artisanal hot pocket. This is, of course, oversimplifying the addictive, Moscow-originated bread buns, but you kind of get the idea.
Shaped like a torpedo, a pirozhki features a glistening bread shell around meat, cheese or vegetable filling. You can find them at a handful of Los Angeles bakeries, but some of the best pirozhki are served out of Igor Avramenko's shiny 1964 Bambi Airstream.
"I've had an idea of combining traditional Russian-Ukrainian gastronomy and a food truck format for quite some time," said Avramenko, who opened his pirozhki Airstream last year. "The idea was to find a product that would perfectly blend these two concepts. Pirozhki just seemed like a perfect fit."
Every morning around 5 a.m., Avramenko, who was born in Krivoy Rog, an industrial city in Ukraine, starts making pirozhki. He estimates that he makes about 350 pirozhki per day, by hand, using organic ingredients he says he finds at local farmers markets.
Avramenko said he used his Ukrainian grandmother's recipe, making the dough with milk, butter, flour, sugar and salt.
There are five kinds of pirozhki, including beef, chicken, spinach, cheese and potato. Avramenko has named each one for a certain feeling: cheese is freedom, spinach is energy, potato is perfection, meat is power and chicken is courage. So order accordingly.
The pirozhki look and taste like a cross between an empanada and a baked char siu bao. The dough is soft but savory, and the crushed potatoes, ground beef and spinach and cheese filling inside, just hot enough. The lacquered bun is almost crisp, and the ratio of dough to filling is almost perfectly even.
One pirozhki is a snack, two are a meal, and two — plus a cup of borscht — are a hearty dinner. The borscht, served cold and made with beets, carrots, celery, tomato, potato, grilled onions and cabbage, is an electric poppy color — like it was plucked right out of a Beatriz Milhazes painting. Served in plastic drink cups, the borscht may not look like anything fancy, but it's zapped with bright vegetable flavors, and it will serve as a jolt of freshness between bites of pirozhki.
Avramenko parks his Airstream in the courtyard of the Hauser Wirth & Schimmel gallery in the L.A.'s downtown Arts District five days a week, so you can eat your bread buns surrounded by pieces of modern art. And the Airstream, it can be argued, depending on your affinity for mobile quarantine facilities (what NASA used them for), is also a piece of art.
Avramenko said he'd searched for more than two years for a classic 1960s Bambi Airstream. He found one in Nevada, then spent seven months converting it into the food trailer. He stripped it down completely and installed a stainless steel kitchen, then took the time to fabricate a curved tinted glass window to retain the structural integrity. Then he found a yellow 1965 GMC truck on Craigslist to tow it. He gave the truck a complete restoration too.
"Well, I guess the Airstream has always represented the freedom of the American dream to me, so it seemed natural to combine an Airstream concept with my passion for my grandmother's cooking," said Avramenko. "Pirozhki places my family traditional values with my love of American culture. I guess it's just my destiny to combine my two passions into one."
You can find the Pirozhki Airstream in the Hauser Wirth & Schimmel gallery Wednesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Avramenko said he's also looking forward to a collaboration with Wes Whitsell, the chef of Manuela, the restaurant that's scheduled to open at the gallery this summer.
901 E. 3rd St., Los Angeles. www.pirozhki.la.
For the Record
May 12, 5:07 p.m.: An earlier version of this story said the Airstream opened earlier this year. It opened last year.