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Cleveland was once an industrial city fueled by pierogis, thanks to its huge Eastern European population. The potato stuffed dumplings are all still available at the city’s Westside Market—but these traditional Old World foods feel more like relics of simpler times than modern Clevelanders’ daily sustenance. I recently visited Cleveland to write about the food scene for the November installment of F&W Across America, which is just hitting newsstands now. As in the rest of the U.S., most of the new restaurants there are serving more cosmopolitan modern American food and swear by the "eat local" dogma.
Out in the suburbs, I did find one restaurant serving honest-to-goodness Polish food, piled high, with no chef trickery. Lured by the promise of pillowy pierogis described in this review by local restaurant critic Elaine Cicora, I drove 20 minutes each way to three-year-old Babushka’s Kitchen—a barely marked little joint in an unassuming three-shop strip. Inside the floral curtain-covered door, Polish kitsch hung on bubblegum-pink walls. Even though I knew another lunch and two or three dinners awaited me, I still ordered the Hunter’s Feast. For $15, I got roast pork, cabbage three ways (in noodles, as sauerkraut and stuffed), kielbasa, cucumber salad and of course, a giant cheesy pierogi. I couldn’t resist taking a few kolachky (cheese- or fruit-stuffed cookies) to go—they reminded me of rolling out cookie dough with my mom at Christmastime. I didn’t get to eat the kolachky until the next morning, before a breakfast followed by a brunch. Even a day old, they were super-tender and buttery—the Christmas cookie Mom and I wish we had baked. Elaine told me she once thought she made Cleveland's best kolachky, but, she admitted, Babushka’s is better.