Not long ago, the hearty, homey Eastern European food so emblematic of our city seemed to be passing into history along with the immigrants who brought it. With scant exceptions, there were no restaurants that served it, and while churches still held homemade-pierogie fundraisers, a haluski revival seemed no more likely than new mills in the Steel Valley.
Then, unexpectedly, came the latest Pittsburgh renaissance, driven largely by young folks and newcomers who celebrate that elusive quality: authenticity. Pittsburgh's Rust Belt heritage went from tarnished memory to badge of civic pride. With this, the pierogie, in particular, staged a roaring comeback on menus all over the city, from blue-collar bar to haute cuisine venues.
Now, a pierogie-serving pizzeria/deli run by Ukrainian immigrants makes us ask if we might have come full circle. Lviv, named after the principal city of Galicia, a district of western Ukraine that has also been part of Poland, is run by a mother and daughter who offer not only pierogies, but haluski, kielbasa and more, without irony. Alongside are the pizzeria and Milly's Deli, consisting of a case of standard cold cuts.
There's not much to the interior; menu boards provide the main wall decor and describe a profusion of creatively named hoagies covering all the Italian-American standards, plus many more "specialty creations." Tempting as these were, we limited our Italian exploration to the pizza, ordering a pepperoni and Lviv's Ukrainian Deluxe, which featured bacon, mushrooms, onions, green peppers and two kinds of sausage — one called "dry Eurayska" and the other, simply, "sausage." The crusts of both pizzas were well above average, puffed up in the oven for a chewy texture with crisp edges. But the star was clearly the Ukrainian pie, packed with sweet, savory and salty flavors on top of the bright tomato sauce and melty, creamy cheese.
Pierogies were tender and filled with fluffy, cheesy potato. Standard options include this popular potato-and-cheese offering as well as sauerkraut, and potato and jalapeno. (Diners can call ahead at least two days for any of numerous special varieties, including spinach, reuben, cottage cheese and chives, and apricot.) Pelmeni, a more Russian-style dumpling with meat, shared the same wrapper that enclosed a simple, savory ground-beef filling. Traditional sour cream and dill would have added a nice dimension, but the meat alone was tasty enough.
One item new to us was chebureki. Listed on the menu under "wraps," these were, essentially, giant-size, deep-fried pelmeni. The wrapper was a bit thicker, and the result was a crackling-crisp exterior paired with chewy interior, reminiscent of an eggroll. The meat filling was the same, but seemed juicier in its deep-fried package.
One legacy of the many Eastern Europeans who came here a century ago is plenty of variation in spelling of the region's native foods: kielbasa or kolbassi, halupki or golumpki? Lviv sidesteps the latter issue at least, offering straightforward "stuffed cabbage." Translucent, ultra-tender leaves held a filling that was more rice than meat, resulting in a fall-apart texture that made a good contrast to the firm pelmeni.
Kielbasa, served with good, finely shredded sauerkraut, also had a remarkably tender interior. Where many kielbasa are quite coarse, Lviv's was so finely ground it was almost like ring bologna inside its snappy casing. Kielbasa often tastes of garlic, salt and little else, but Lviv's was subtler, with smoky pork, laced with mild spices, coming to the fore.
Homemade fruit turnovers are on the menu, too, but alas, they were out the night we visited.
Dining on Eastern European cuisine at Lviv was like stepping back into Pittsburgh's past and ahead into its future at the same time: a past of resourceful immigrants, adapting traditions from their home countries to keeping body and soul together in the new world, and a future in which Pittsburgh is truly a global city with cuisine from every country that has contributed to its success.