Natalia Gurzhiy wants to build a Portland piroshki empire. Three months ago, the Russian-born baker and her American husband opened Piroshki & a Pickle Coffeehouse. It is exactly what it says on the box: coffee, pickles and traditional Eastern European pastries called piroshki. The couple has set the lofty goal of opening another seven Piroshki & Pickles in Portland within a few years.
They'd probably be well on their way to a fiefdom by now if they were east of the 205 freeway, but conquering the sleepy Southwest neighborhood of Lair Hill, where their flagship cafe sits, is going to be difficult since few locals know what the hell a piroshki is.
I've eaten my way through a good portion of the menu, and I'm not even sure I know. Seemingly, some sort of dough encases some sort of filling. Beyond that, Gurzhiy's piroshki—her mother's and grandmother's recipes, made for the cafe by a local Russian bakery—come in all shapes, sizes and flavors. There's a breakfast piroshki of chopped egg, green onion and dill ($4.25), wrapped in a thin, flaky pastry. A shredded-vegetable piroshki ($4.25) is shaped like a Cornish pasty, but made with a thick, slightly sweet, bready dough. And a big, glossy, knotted bun twisted around a divine poppy-seed spread ($3.50)—yep, that's piroshki, too. All are delicious.
In a quest to be the next Burgerville, Gurzhiy is experimenting with some less traditional, Americanized fillings to win over the city's hearts and stomachs. A scrambled egg, spinach and bacon piroshki ($4.25) is the biggest seller. Fortunately, Gurzhiy's mom has given that one the thumbs-up. "We tried a hamburger filling," says Gurzhiy, "but my mother said, 'No, that's not piroshki; if you want hamburger, go to McDonald's.'"
EAT: Piroshki & a Pickle Coffeehouse, 4237 SW Corbett Ave., 502-2682, piroshkiandapickle.com. 6 am-7 pm Monday-Friday, 7 am-6 pm Saturday-Sunday. $ Inexpensive.