Yeah, I Ate That

Eastern Europe embraces the Southwest at Baba and Pop's Kitchen

I've been making the rounds at Civic Center Eats the past couple of weeks, prowling for something a tad bizarre, a bit more unusual than Korean tacos or gyros in a cone -- maybe for a food substance that might have been created a thousand years ago if the migration patterns of Europeans and ancient hunter-gatherers had worked out just a little differently. The pulled-pork pierogi with green chile from Baba and Pop's Kitchen fit the bill. It emanates from an alternate universe where Polish grandmothers in babushkas and aprons found their way across the Bering Land Bridge and down the continent to a sparsely populated Mesoamerica where chile plants grew in profusion.

See also: A grilled cheese with pretensions from the Comfortable Food truck

I come from Ukrainian stock; my childhood was padded with pierogi and other hearty fare meant to fuel farming people through summers of hard work and winters of huddling under thick blankets. The people who created this food understood economy and efficiency; everything is used -- there are no wasted movements, which is why the singular and plural form of pierogi are the same, and the Slavs have saved us the need for an extra keystroke.

The indigenous population of the land that is now Mexico (and Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico and a good part of Colorado, too) learned that ingesting the fiery fruit of the capsicum family of plants made for an enhanced dining experience... and helped early bartenders sell more beer. Jeremy Yurek, Polish by blood but living and cooking in a region rife with spicy food, has accomplished what few have even dreamed of: combining the simple and rib-sticking food of his forebears with a pure chile verde more in the New Mexico style than the thick, tomato-tinted Denver variety.

For this kind of Slavic-Mexican cultural collision, the closest predecessor I can think of is Ukrainian-born Leon Trotsky's ill-fated living arrangement with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Mexico City.

Perhaps it's the pulled-pork filling that brokers peace between Eastern European boiled dough and the zippy sauce that coats the dumplings. Yurek's version of pulled pork is content to be toothsome, meaty, tender and mild, without the dominating flavors of Southern barbecue or the lard-rich power of Mexican carnitas. In fact, no single ingredient dominates, leaving the chewy texture of the pierogi with its patchwork of caramelization from a sear on the grilltop to do most of the talking.

Now, thanks to Baba and Pop's, Mexico and Eastern Europe share more than just accordions and pale lager. The Slavic food culture that created the pierogi, slathered like sour cream and sauteed onions across the European map with little respect for national borders, has shown it can withstand -- even welcome -- a minor incursion into its territory. For a cuisine in which horseradish is about as spicy as it gets, Polish food stands up remarkably well to its New World guest.

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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation

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