Half of my family is very, very Slavic - predominantly Polish with a dash of Ukrainian and Belorussian for good measure. This means that I grew up eating perogies, garlic sausage, and cabbage rolls that were made by family members. You did not go to the store and buy perogies out of the freezer. No way. This was never said explicitly, but this way of life existed as an unspoken rule and a familial understanding of Slavic loyalty. Heck, my grandma and her sisters-in-law are still ruthlessly competitive about cooking. You don't mess with them.
I grew up watching them cook and have no doubt that their no-nonsense approach to cooking was the genesis of my culinary existence. These are different times, though, and I've always wondered what other people's perogies tasted like. I have not in over three decades ever eaten a perogie that wasn't hand-made by a blood relative.
Until now. (It helps to set the mood if you listen to this clip of music before proceeding. Not mandatory, but it helps).
Highlands Kitchen is one of a select few spots in Edmonton where one may indulge in authentic eastern Slavic cuisine that rivals (dare I say it) the cooking of Grandmas everywhere. The kitchen strives to make use of abundant local produce and meats; that alone is reason to visit. We arrive on (unfortunately) the hottest day of the year and discover there is no A/C. Yikes. We tough it out and start with Mushroom and Feta Flatbread, which is a tempting riot of savoury flavours and textures.
Though the heat significantly diminishes our appetites, we nosh on Pulled Pork Crepes with Saskatoon Berry Sauce and Marinated Onions. The pork is lusciously mild and juicy, the crepes are tender and the onions are tangy, but I can detect no Saskatoon berries.
A Kalyna Platter is a grand-slam of garlic sausage, perogies with bacon gremolata, and lazy cabbage rolls. The latter are, for the uninitiated, the components of cabbage rolls cooked in layers in a casserole, rather than rolled up as tradition dictates. The waiter brings us a small bowl of homemade ketchup - ask for it if you go, for it's delicious. The sausage is fragrant and extremely amenable to aforementioned homemade ketchup. The lazy cabbage rolls are ok, but I'll stick to the traditional sort, for these are a bit too spicy and skimp out on the cabbage. Perogies are the acid test. I gingerly cleave one in two and allow the layers of dough and potato to reveal themselves. I am impressed. They are truly excellent and finely crafted.
It was most certainly worth suffering through the unbearable stickiness of a heat wave evening to enjoy a meal at Highlands Kitchen. While I wasn't enamoured of everything I tasted, I left with the knowledge that gorgeous perogies can be made by non-family members (of course, I knew that all along but couldn't admit it). I haven't told my grandma that I ate someone else's perogies. My cheatin' heart.
Read about Marlow Moo's take on Highlands Kitchen here.