This is the view from the counter where I like to sit, watching Dana Sacco and her partner Andrew Schoengrund deal in a genre of late-night food they call “Midwestern-style” pierogi.
What does “Midwestern” mean? Bigger, naturally, and sometimes filled with bacon.
At Stuffed, ambiance is beside the point, and thanks to the food, that’s just fine. Early in the night, the crowd is chatty, benign and sober. Later on, things start looking sadder. A few solo diners take up stools at the counter, likely zoned into the canned laughs coming from one of two TVs.
The scene is poorly lit and never crowded. This is perhaps the biggest mystery of Stuffed, and quite the poetic foil: how a little, bleak kitchen can spill out such life-giving, buoyant food, and stay perpetually uncrowded. Then again, in this taqueria-peppered corner of the Mission, it is the mantra.
Often, Sacco is the only one working, writing the orders and filling them herself, pulling her pre-made pierogi from a cooler to a pan atop a very small electric stovetop. Once they are warmed through, Sacco plates the pierogi with heaping mounds of treasure: sour cream, sweet red cabbage chopped to crumbs, sauerkraut, apple-cabbage coleslaw.
Beyond the mainstay condiments, each order comes with a choice of two sides. Pro tip: If you see broccoli on the salad menu, don’t pass it up.
After she has served everyone, Sacco is back to the sink washing dishes or rinsing cabbage. The fact things come out so well is a humbling wonder.
The menu is concise and simple. The Traditional pierogi are the most classic iteration of the Eastern European original, filled with farmer cheese and cheddar.
The Buffalo pierogi — blue and jack cheese in a rosy dough pocket laced with hot sauce — are unexpectedly complex and delicious.
The smoked salmon pierogi taste completely of salmon (not a bad thing), and the mushroom pierogi are buttery bombs coursing with a rich umami funk.
The goat cheese and spinach pierogi are good too, if a bit boring. For $1, a scoop of chili is an excellent topping, piquant and beefy, next to the customary sauteed onions.
For a few dollars more, a cup of ruby red borscht is wonderful, coarsely blended and delicate in flavor. Both the chili and borscht are dished from slow cookers next to the register, and best with a glass of wine made by Sacco’s father. It is the only wine on the menu.
The miracle of Stuffed is that it does not need an atmosphere. The pierogi are usually as fluffy and satisfying as potato dumplings get, and the flavors are well-developed and dynamic.
The only pitfall, partly a product of having no employees, is inconsistency. On my first visit, the pierogi were considerably worse: dry, chewy, unexciting. Another time, the chili was dry.
But even when the food is not on point, it’s still good. It was good enough to make me come back, and back again, and again. If all goes my way, I’ll never stop.
Location: 2788 Mission St., S.F.
Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 5 p.m. to midnight Fridays-Saturdays
Contact: (415) 642-1069
Price range: $7 to $19
Recommended dishes: Buffalo pierogi ($10), mushroom pierogi ($10), borscht ($3), chili topping ($1)
Credit cards: All major
Reservations: Not accepted