Troy's Polish center makes pierogi just like grandma's

Dequindre and 15 Mile becomes the heart of a Polish community that spans several generations

Charlotte Massey
The Detroit News

Third in a series on the many ethnic food businesses on Dequindre between 11 Mile and 17 Mile.

Maria Rokita, left, and Janina Stanton make sauerkraut pierogi at the American Polish Cultural Center on Dequindre Road in Troy.

It’s pierogi assembly time at the American Polish Cultural Center on 15 Mile. A group of women sit in front of trays at two long metal tables, chatting in Polish and English as they deftly stuff balls of sauerkraut into circles of fresh dough. They fold the dough over the sauerkraut and pinch the edges shut, forming little half-moon shaped dumplings that Dorota Bazinska boils up in big pans on the industrial range.

When served piping hot with a large dab of butter, the pierogi balance soft texture and sharp flavor that linger as memory long after they are devoured.

“I think those are the best pierogi in the area, and it’s not because I work here,” said Margaret Wojciechowski, general manager of the American Polish Cultural Center. “Those are the pierogi your grandma made.”

Along with dill pickle soup, the pierogi are among the most popular items served at the Wawel Polish Restaurant housed at the center.

The restaurant is just one of the entities at the center, a huge hall paneled in dark wood with ornate carvings and decorated with memorabilia and costumes from the old country. It used to be an architectural museum. A stone archway on the corner of Dequindre and 15 Mile, graced with large Polish and American flags, welcomes visitors.

The building also houses a banquet hall, the American Polish Cultural Society -- which started in 1985 and has about 800 members -- and the Polish American Sports Hall of Fame. Two walls next to the dance floor are lined with display cases holding memorabilia of athletes of Polish descent, including Mark Fidrych and Alan Trammell of the Detroit Tigers.

Michelle Ostrowski right, and her brother, Kris Ostrowski, both of Armada, fill their plates at the Christmas Buffet at the Polish American Cultural Center in Troy. Both are members of the Polish Genealogy Society of Michigan.

Wojciechowski came to the Detroit area from Poland in 1996. It was a big leap for a young woman.

“Before I moved here, I used to live with my parents, so I really didn’t know what does it mean to be on my own,” she said. “It was like jumping into a deep ocean.”

She says she has seen the Polish community migrate from its traditional center in Hamtramck in the years since she arrived.

“I remember, Hamtramck was still Polish when I moved here,” she said. She has watched as more and more Polish businesses and churches there gradually closed.

From left, Erica Geml, 16, and Katrina O'Higgins, 15, both of Warren, sell Polish items at the Polish American Cultural Center.  The young ladies are members of the Polish Women's Alliance Zamek Dance Troupe.

It seems to her that the community is moving toward the Troy, Macomb and Shelby Township areas.

“This corner here, Dequindre and 15 Mile, this is definitely like a small Polish community here,” she said. “There is our building. Across the street there is Polish Plaza, where there also used to be a Polish bookstore. There is a Polish pharmacy out there. There is a physical therapy place. Next door we’ve got the huge medical building. Most of those doctors are Polish and they own the building. A little bit further there is a Polish American credit union. It’s definitely like a new Polish community up here.”

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Coming next in the series at detroitnews.com/special-reports/ :

Wednesday: Mid-East Pastry Delight

Thursday: Chung Ki Wa restaurant

Friday: Pho Tai restaurant