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Polish pierogi fest an ode to iconic food

Staff Photo: John Bohn Lynn Bryant, left, of Ball Ground, GA, Gabriel Campbell, Matthew Gambeski and Bobby Cambpell, of Ball Ground, eat a meal of Polish foods during a pierogi festival held at St. Marguerite d'Youville Church in Lawrenceville Saturday.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Lynn Bryant, left, of Ball Ground, GA, Gabriel Campbell, Matthew Gambeski and Bobby Cambpell, of Ball Ground, eat a meal of Polish foods during a pierogi festival held at St. Marguerite d'Youville Church in Lawrenceville Saturday.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Polish folk dancers Kinga Steczko, age 14, left, and Olivia Bednarski, 14, right, dance with Matty Chec, 4 and his sister Mya Chec, 8 of Norcross, during a Polish pierogi festival held at St. Marguerite d'Youville Church in Lawrenceville Saturday. The folk dancers are with the Polish fold dancer group Krakowiacy from Denver, Co.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- It's hard to say a disparaging word about a pierogi.

A cousin to the dumpling, and the national dish of Poland, the pierogi (pronounced, with a Polish accent, as "pee uh row gee") is a half-circle of doughy wonderment that hides internal secrets like cheese and potatoes, sauerkraut and deliciously seasoned meats. Cuter than a calzone, more nimble than a fortune cookie, a pierogi is like the squirrelly little brother to smoked Polish sausage. They even stuff them with fruit sometimes.

It's a food item, in other words, deserving of its own massive festival. Enough to make the grumpiest misanthrope nod dzien dobry.

Enter: Pierogi Fest 2011.

Held Saturday at a big Catholic church off Gloster Road in Lawrenceville, the festival in three years has morphed into one of the country's premier Polish blowouts, with an estimated attendance in the neighborhood of 2,500. The festival's popularity -- responsible for the infamous pierogi shortage of 2009, where hundreds of patrons left with pierogi-less stomachs -- speaks both to a burgeoning Polish community in metro Atlanta, and the desire of folks generations removed from the old country to rediscover their roots.

"To find something else like this, you'd have to go to Chicago," said festival co-chair Anna Standish.

The Polish Club of Atlanta estimates there's as many as 60,000 second and third-generation Poles in the metro area, and another 2,000 first-generation. Among them, Edyta Reed.

"It's really an amazing feeling I'm walking around and people are speaking Polish," said Reed, an Atlantan who met her husband, former Floridian Eddie Reed, when he was teaching English in Poland. She called the 10,000 pierogis on hand Saturday authentically dynamite.

Dorota Badiere flew in with her troupe of Polish folk dancers, Krakowiacy, all the way from Denver. After hilariously describing Georgia's climate as "moist," she tipped her hat to Gwinnett's sweaty pierogi homage.

"Only the best festivals in Denver have this many people," Badiere said.

Pierogis aren't as under-the-radar as one might think.

The Indiana town of Whiting hosts an annual pierogi fest replete with a parade. Up in Wisconsin, there's an actual group calling itself the "PierogiHead News Network." One of the famous pierogi mascots that race each other at Pittsburgh Pirates games was fired last year for blabbering about the team's putridity on Facebook. Headlines punned about that particular pierogi getting cooked.

Lounging on a shaded blanket with her twin grandsons, Marietta resident Edina Alavi reflected on the fortunes that Americans can sometimes take for granted. Like the ability to dance and drink Zywiec beer all day and enjoy family in the name of pierogi.

Her grandfather died in Hitler's concentration camps. Her father narrowly escaped Europe and established a successful career as a psychiatrist in Cincinnati, and later Georgia.

"I've never seen a Polish festival," Alavi said. "I was thinking, 'Gosh, my father died too soon.' He would have loved to see this."