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WHITING — The polka music was thumping and crazy Buscias in colorful stockings were dancing as I walked along a packed 119th Street on the first day of Pierogi Fest in search of pierogi.

Dozens of festgoers had already formed a long, winding line outside of Dan’s Pierogi, a staple at the Whiting fest so popular that it exceeds its capacity each year so I continued through the crowds.

Gosia’s Pierogies

At Gosia’s Pierogies, the dumplings are made from a secret family recipe that originated in Poland, handed down multiple generations.

Wife and husband duo Terry and Jan Smith-Rawecki are co-owners of the Pennsylvania-based establishment; Jan immigrated to the United States from Poland when he was 25 years old and eventually, Gosia’s was born.

Everything in its store is made from scratch, with no additives or preservatives, and they even peel their own potatoes — about 500 pounds a day back at home in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, a town 35 miles east of Pittsburgh.

The dumplings are batch boiled and then sauteed on site at Pierogi Fest on the grill until the dough forms a crispy, brown exterior then lightly buttered for flavor.

Gosia’s mix and match pierogi plate at the Whiting festival comes with four dumplings for $5: sauerkraut, sweet potatoes, potato and cheese, and potato. In the fall, Gosia’s sweet potato pierogi would pair perfectly with brown sugar and pecans.

What’s fascinating about Gosia’s is the majority of staff is hearing impaired — Terry and Jan included. Alaina Duessel and her sister help out with translating at festivals year-round, she said.

Not only were the pierogi delicious, the Gosia staff was helpful and eager to share their history and some of their favorites on the menu, but Terry was not about to give up her pierogi recipe.

“It’s a secret,” she said.

Babushka's Polish Foods

Nearly pierogi'd out at this point, I went to Babushka's Polish Foods with my eyes set on Polish sausage with sauerkraut.

But the owner, Dominic Parise, of Wisconsin, — who ironically has a degree in marketing — persuaded me to upgrade to the sample platter, which comes with Polish sausage with sauerkraut, Polish fried rice and four pierogi for $15. 

Boiled and then lightly sauteed on the grill, the pierogi were juicy, bursting with flavor and topped with a dusting of dill. 

"I dill everything," Parise said. 

The Polish fried rice is Parise's own invention. The mixture of rice, sauerkraut and sausages and his own seasonings was equally appetizing. 

Parise's homemade seasoning that's used in the meat processing for his Polish sausages is now patented, he said.

The Polish sausage is smoky, juicy, with a hint of dill, and topped with sauerkraut on a sweet hot dog bun. The sweet bun balances out the flavor of the sausage. 

The backstory to Babushka's is short and sweet, Parise said. 

"I woke up drunk one morning in November 2009 and decided I wanted to sell my sausages. True story. No culinary experience or background. That's how it happened," Parise said. 

Blueberry blintzes at Kasia’s

Kazimiera “Kasia” Bober immigrated from Poland to the U.S. in the 1970s for a better life, and after working odd-end jobs and struggling financially just shy of a decade, she opened Kasia’s in 1982 in Chicago. 

This year, Kasia's is celebrating its 19th year at Pierogi Fest.

Their blintzes, or crepe-like pancakes, are folded, stuffed with your choice of filling and sauteed on a grill, said owner Chris Bober. 

The delicacies were available for $5 at Kasia’s two booths at Pierogi Fest in two flavors: cheese or blueberry. 

The blueberry blintzes are served warm with crispy edges and oozing with blueberries, with the option of adding whipped cream and a drizzle of chocolate sauce. The result is melt-in-your-mouth flavor.

I was surprised to find the blueberry filling was not cloyingly sweet. The modest topping of whipped cream and chocolate drizzle added a balance of sweetness to the desert.

It's a must-try at Pierogi Fest. 

See other Taste Tests here

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Northlake County Reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.