“Follow me.” Past the shelves of poppy seed rollsand cold cases of pierogis, Agnieszka Sornek leads me towards shelves stacked to the ceiling with the finest jarred goods Poland has to offer –right here in Pittsburgh. I just placed an order at the deli counter for kiełbasa (smoked sausage) and biala (fresh sausage) and I’m looking for the perfect embellishments. Pittsburgh is, after all, a center for Polish life in the U.S., a city turned obsessed with the pierogi after approximately 200 years of Poles settling in Western PA.
One settler arrived on the relatively recent side: Sornek arrived at S&D’s Polish Deli 13 years ago from Katowice, Poland and now manages the delikatesy. Referred to as “the show runner” by her culinary and front-of-house team, Sornek was excited to share her beloved home cuisine with me.
It’s summer, and one of Sornek’s favorite times of year for Polish cuisine. She tells me that for her, there is nothing quite like being outside and making food with friends and family, and what better way to do it than with S&D’s freshly prepared assortment of grillable offerings sourced from Polish butchers in Chicago and New York. Sornek adds that some of her kiełbasa comes from a couple of butchers just outside of Pittsburgh, and while they aren’t Polish, their stuff is just as good.
The deli has big plans to expand their dine-in menu so that customers can try more of what Polish cooking has to offer. Sornek hints at what might be available: freshly grated carrots, squeezed over with lemon and studded with raisins (surówka z marchewki). A potato salad flavored with spring peas, apples, and dill (jarzynowa). Both sound delectable, but for now I must focus on the present, and how to possibly choose amongst the mountain of condiments before me.
THE BEST MUSTARD EVER
Sornek hands to me what she calls the best mustard ever. It says so on a sign her husband placed next to the gleaming, golden jars. I imagine that this musztarda is how they met, reaching for the same jar of the sweet and spicy condiment, only to knock hands and leave the deli with more than mustard. Apparently, it went down some other way. It turns out, the real love-story happened later, when I finally got to prepare my Polish grill dinner.
As I loaded my grilled, juniper smoked kiełbasa into a nothing-fancy bun with sliced pickles and S&D’s house-made kraut, I smeared on a thick layer of the seedy mustard Sornek so adores. After just one bite into the crisp and juicy, briny and smoky, sweet and savory, handheld delight, I realized that S&D’s has everything I need to satisfy my tastebuds on a hot summer evening, and maybe all evenings that follow.
S&D Polish Deli is located at 2204 Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh’s historic Strip District and is open every day except Tuesdays. Orders can be placed ahead by phone or online, but for the full experience in-store browsing is also available
STORY AND STYLING BY NINA KATZ / PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAVE BRYCE
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