By one of the corners where the Loop train curves, wedged between the “ENTER” and “DO NOT ENTER” of a self-park, across the street from a crêpe bar, a Taco Fresco and a pornography store that is the grandfather of the neighborhood, there is Pierogi Heaven.
Blood is thicker than water, but if a fluid had the color of the former and the consistency of the latter, it would look like the dumpling-filled borscht threatening to lap over the edges of the Styrofoam bowl I carried on a tray.
Blood-red and water-thin, droplets of beet soup formed on the edge of the bowl every time it lapped the edge. Step at a time, lap at a time, near spill at a time, I inched and shuffled my way to the seat.
“My secretary who used to be a waitress had a trick,” a man addressed me out of nowhere.
He was a middle-aged businessman, a “hip dad” type with a soul patch, stylish haircut and a brand-name jacket designed for cold-weather camping but used for nothing more strenuous than buying pierogis.
“Don’t look at the bowl,” he said, putting his hand up in a tomahawk chop to the air directly in front of him. “Just look straight ahead. Don’t look down at the bowl. Works every time.”
I thanked him and started on my soup.
It’s a little shop, wedged as mentioned between the entrance and exit of a self-park. A few booths. A TV hanging on the wall showing CBS Evening News.
Two women were behind the counter. One, thick but young, with blonde dyed hair browning at the roots, was the cashier. She took the orders, never smiling, never saying more words than needed, saying the ones she did with a thick Polish or otherwise Eastern European accent.
When the hip dad asked her what the most popular pierogi were, she rattled off names without looking up or greeting his eyes.
“Meat and spinach, kraut and mushroom, potato and cheese,” she listed.
She tapped the receipt with intricately painted and detailed pink nails.
The other one, older, shorter, quieter, moved wordlessly around, boiling the pierogis, heating the soup, spooning dumplings into borscht. She moved behind the counter, in and out, disappearing to the back room for moments, appearing again to give the soup another stir, the pierogis another check.
She slowly inched and shuffled as she brought a bowl of dumpling-filled borscht to the counter. As she did it, she watched the soup lap the sides of the bowl.