For Igor Avramenko, proprietor of Pirozhki LA, appearances matter. He knows that the most important aspect in a food operation is, of course, the food, but he also knows that eating, like every other activity, is experiential. It's not only about the food, it's also about the aesthetic; the feeling of a particular time and place. A good eating experience should not only please the palate and delight the tastebuds but, ideally, it should also transport and elevate.
That's the idea, at least. Avramenko is an artist, originally from Ukraine. He's new to the the street food scene. Together with his Georgian business partner ("Georgians and Armenians really know how to work with dough," he says. "It's in their blood."), they created Pirozhki LA about two months ago, in a venture equal parts culinary and artistic. But we'll get to the pirozhki ("It's like a Russian pie," Avramenko says) in a minute; I'd like to speak first to the atmosphere that Avramenko creates around his business, which is truly something.
In Pirozhki LA, Avramenko manages to combine the things he loves most in the world: food and cars. "I'm in love with classic American cars," Avramenko says, "and I wanted to do something crazy, with American classic cars and Airstreams, but with a Russian touch... this has been my dream for maybe 20, 25 years." He peddles his food, the pirozhki, from a gorgeous, gleaming 16-foot 1964 Airstream Bambi trailer. It's been outfitted and customized to serve food.
The trailer is single axle, so Avramenko uses his canary yellow 1965 GMC truck to pull it. Together, they make a beautiful pairing: parked outside the Chandelier House on West Silver Lake Dr. the night I visited, it positively evoked the clean lines and controlled excess of 1960s California; of Kennedy, the Great Society, and the Space Race. Or you know, an episode of the fourth season of Mad Men, essentially.
Avramenko doesn't stop there, however. He wants his customers to not only enjoy the food, but to stick around and relax; socialize. So he rolls out a giant carpet behind the trailer. Sets up a love seat with a couple throw pillows, a rocking chair and some tv trays. He's not just trying to feed people: he's trying to feed people in the comfort of their very own living rooms. The experiment works: people stick around and chat, creating an informal kind of street party.
"Pirozhki," Avramenko says to one customer. "Not pierogi." Unfortunately, pirozhki are not commonplace enough in the American culinary canon that they can go unexplained. And for the uninitiated, they have to be defined in terms of what they aren't, or compared to other food items. They're small handpies, filled with meat or vegetables. The closest comparison would be a slightly larger empanada.
The outside is a rich, buttery pastry dough, gleaming beautifully from an egg wash. "We use Russian flour," Avramenko says. "That's the secret." At Pirozhki LA, the flaky and tender dough, contains beef, chicken, cheese, spinach, or potato (all the pirozhki are $5). Each one is large enough to be a small meal, or a substantial snack. The potato and beef pirozhki were my favorites: ground beef that tastes of pepper, garlic, and carrot, almost like a good bolognese sauce. The potato pirozhki was soft and creamy, tasting of butter and dill.
Pirozhki, Avramenko explains, are the common culinary thread of all the old Soviet republics. "Pirozhki is like pasta in Italy, or tapas in Spain... it's a traditional food, maybe a thousand years old. The Soviet Union had like, 15 states. They all have different receipes for pirozhki."
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