Tucked into a slender storefront between a couple of overflowing discount stores on the boisterous intersection of 24th and Mission is Stuffed, a new pierogi and beer bar.
Pierogi, boiled dumplings of Eastern European provenance, aren’t exactly a common sight amongst the tacos, burritos, and pupusas that fill the stomachs of the typical Mission Street wanderer. Stuffed opened in September, in hopes of filling in that missing gap. Co-owners Dana Sacco and Andrew Schoengrund are both from the pierogi-friendly Midwest, and they’re taking their cues from the Americanized dumplings they grew up eating. While traditional pierogi are humble, bare-bones dumplings of potatoes, farmer’s cheese, and (sometimes) meat served simply with caramelized onions and sour cream, the Midwestern versions are typically bigger, bolder, and full of cheddar cheese.
Sacco welcomed us in on a recent Saturday afternoon with a friendly smile and helpful tips on ordering. With only nine varieties on the menu, it was an easy decision to try one of each pierog. After ordering at the register, we settled in to watch the passing crowd from an outside table. The restaurant was empty, giving the impression that Stuffed was more appropriate for a late-night visit than for weekend lunch. We made a note to return another time after dark for beers, snacks, and a televised sports game.
Our table filled quickly with platters of pierogi, and Stuffed’s Midwestern pedigree becomes abundantly clear. Each pierog is fist-sized and large enough, in fact, to eat on its own as a solid snack. An order of two per plate makes a decent meal. Three are almost excessive. So the fairly high price, around $4 to $5 a pop, seems almost justified. There’s little chance of leaving without a full belly.
The pierogi fillings themselves run the gamut from traditional potato and cheese to comically strange “buffalo” flavor. Thankfully, this bar snack doesn’t include minced chicken wings. Inside the hot sauce-laden dough is a mixture of mashed potatoes and blue and jack cheese. Neon orange buffalo sauce crowns the dumpling. While it sounds more like a party trick than a tasty lunch, this curious pierog was surprisingly tasty.
Also unexpected good were the bacon cheddar pierogi, hot pockets for the hipster set. The potato and cheese pierogi, jalapeño special, and smoked salmon with cream cheese were all solid, each with its own distinct identity. Llapingacho, Ecuadorian fried potato cakes, were as satisfying as any plate of mashed potatoes, but the lack of textural contrast from the missing dough made these feel like a concession to the gluten-free crowd.
In fact, even the less successful flavors (mushroom and spinach, goat cheese, and blueberry) were redeemed by Sacco’s tender dough.
Stuffed’s stumble is not in these weaker pierogi, but in the toppings. The sautéed onions scattered atop almost every order hadn’t yet spent enough time on the flattop to collapse into sweet, silky softness. Each fat dollop of sour cream was appropriately thick and tangy, but the sauerkraut next to it was dry and far too sour. The other options—a cup of creamy cucumber salad or vinegary slaw—were each serviceable, but no substitute for the lack of properly caramelized onions and tangy kraut.
Most of the beers on offer are well matched to the pierogi. Unexceptional macrobrews and a few local favorites like Drake’s and Anchor Steam make up most of the list. Soon, Sacco and Schoengrund plan on serving Midwestern brews from Yuengling and Great Lakes that aren’t currently available in the Bay. Wine seems mostly an afterthought, but it’s hard to imagine sipping on a nice glass of pinot while digging into a plateful of bacon-cheddar dumplings smeared in sour cream. Stuffed also curiously offers mimosas, perhaps in a plea to solicit brunch patrons during their slow weekend hours.
If Stuffed can find a way to draw in greater daytime crowds, they could stand out as one of the only viable alternatives to tacos and fast food on their block. Right now, the restaurant feels like a mid-Valencia street restaurant that lost its way, getting stuck on a stretch of Mission that is dominated by competitively cheap taquerias. Only a block up 24th Street, there are plenty of inferior and more expensive restaurants crammed with Stuffed’s key demographic—young foodies looking for something new with a couple of beers alongside. Only time will tell if they’ll fall for pierogi.Related