At Good Pierogi, it’s all about ‘food that supports drinking’
Krem Miskevich, 31, likes to describe their dream bar. It’s the vision of a lively and expressive queer chef who loves good food, loud music and a big crowd.
This bar, in theory, is an unpretentious, inclusive place where people can let loose. Patrons don’t order individual drinks; they opt for carafes of vodka and bottles of wine for their table of friends. Energetic, largely unappreciated music thumps through the speakers, and if Krem is involved, you can expect a seasonal and clever twist on modern Polish food.
“My whole spiel is drinking food,” Krem says, “food that supports drinking. … In Poland, we do a shot of ice cold vodka and a piece of herring, or a pickle, or beef tartare, or potato with farmer’s cheese, or sausage. Just simple. It’s the best.” And it’s one of the inspirations for Good Pierogi, Krem’s monthly pop-up that is coming to Culver City on Feb. 26.
Krem, a native of Warsaw, graduated from culinary school in Los Angeles before working as a cook in Copenhagen; Barcelona, Spain; and Warsaw. Their first job as a cook was at a restaurant attached to a nightclub in Warsaw. “On my breaks, I would drink vodka and dance in the club,” Krem recalls, “then come back to the kitchen to cook.”
In Barcelona, they fell in love with Spanish traditions involving food and drink, specifically cava bars where you order a small plate of food (morcilla sausage, for example, or marinated white anchovies) with each drink — places where drinking and eating are not separate acts.
The menu at Good Pierogi changes with each pop-up. One night the star of the show is a traditional Warsaw tartare made with tuna instead of beef; the next, it’s beet soup with kefir, radishes and lobster. Vinegar, spice, good dairy, excellent dough and a clever use of potatoes play prominent roles in Krem’s cooking. Another menu features a Polish “loaded potato” topped with farmer’s cheese, radishes, herbs and “razzle-dazzle.”
Krem rarely, if ever, repeats pierogi fillings, which are inspired and seasonal. In October, the dumplings came filled with kabocha squash, the sweet, buttery Japanese vegetable glowing through Krem’s deliciously thin dough. In summer, Krem serves pierogi with smoked blue fish, fromage blanc, leeks and celery. In late January, the pierogi were vegan, a reflection of their desire to eat less meat, a meditation on January as a time when everybody tries to be a little more health-conscious.
You might think of a pierogi as something basic — filled with potato — especially if your experience has been limited to the frozen foods aisle of your local grocery store. Krem describes walking through a Pavilions at 3 a.m., marveling at the sameness. “Every time I see pierogi, [it says] potato [on the box]. And to me, yeah, there is one filling with potato [in Poland]. But every single flavor [in the store] has potato in it. Cheese and potato, spinach and potato, meat and potato.”
In Poland, on the other hand, pierogi might be stuffed with braised duck, braised veal, lentils, buckwheat, farmer’s cheese and sugar, cabbage or sauerkraut. “I’m never going to stretch my filling with potato,” Krem says. “I want people to have four to six pierogi in one go. And I think I do that. I think it’s possible to eat my pierogi and not feel stuffed.”
Krem’s cooking isn’t solely Polish; it’s also a reflection of their personality and time in Los Angeles. They would rather source ingredients locally than import products from Poland. Food is paired with “natural” wine. Sexy, fun music (Krem’s picks) blasts through the night. “I want to have fun with it, and I want people to have fun with me,” Krem says. “I truly believe in the energy transfer through food.”
On a recent January night, Krem’s pop-up was at Gravlax, a Scandinavian bar in Culver City. The menu included half of a boiled egg topped with pickled mushrooms and mayonnaise on a snow white plate alongside a shot glass full of shochu — and an elegantly straightforward kosher dill pickle soup. The vegetable broth — made from onion, carrot, celeriac and fennel tops — was served in a bowl with diced kosher pickles, beef bacon and a crispy, crunchy Myrna potato disk.
Behind the bar, Krem made pierogi dough — a mixture of local, finely ground flour, grapeseed oil, water and salt. Once the dough was formed, it was fed through a large pasta sheeter. The flattened sheets were then draped over a pierogi press, after which Krem scooped a filling of buckwheat, dried apple and tomato into each indentation of dough before pressing them shut with the machine. After Krem crimped the pierogi a bit more, they were immediately dunked in a pot of lightly boiling water, where they were delicately nudged with a long steel spider as they cooked. The whole process, from dough to plate, took a matter of minutes. Krem fanned the pierogi out on a plate and topped them with pickled mustard seeds, caramelized fennel and onion for a flavorful, complex and meatless serving.
Later, at Gravlax, Krem — wearing a bright red apron — raised a shot of shochu to the bar, and everyone raised their glasses in return. The place was full. The music was loud. For a night, Krem’s bar was realized. I knew then that I’d be doing this again the following month — wherever Krem and Good Pierogi might be.
Good Pierogi will be at the Platform in Culver City, 8850 Washington Blvd., from noon to 3 p.m. Feb. 26, @good_pierogi
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