Sort-of Secret: Heavenly Perogy, a Ukrainian restaurant and food shop running out of a church basement
The sort-of secret: Heavenly Perogy, a small Ukrainian food shop running out of a church basement near Kensington Market
You may have heard of it if: You live in the area and happened upon the cute blue sign on the church’s side door
But you probably haven’t tried it because: Exposure is limited relative to a street-level business
When Tetyana Matkivska moved from Ukraine to Toronto 15 years ago, she was immediately welcomed by the women’s organization at St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral near Kensington Market. Besides giving Matkivska roots in her new community—and giving her a chance to speak her native Ukrainian—the group held monthly church fundraisers, where the women would get together to make and sell large batches of handmade pierogies. The project eventually died down, but three years ago, Matkivska drew on the experience to start her own business out of that same church kitchen.
Under the brand Heavenly Perogy, tucked away in the basement of St. Volodymyr’s, Matkivska sells dishes she’s been cooking and eating since childhood: pierogies, cabbage rolls, borscht, schnitzel and sauerkraut. Like the group she joined as a new immigrant, the project is about much more than pierogies. “It’s beautiful when you have history you feel proud of,” she says. “This is about a sense of family, about giving respect to everything that was created by the generations before me.”
Long, bountiful Sunday lunches with family punctuated her childhood in Ukraine. “We would gather, eat and listen to my grandparents talk about their childhoods, from stories of war and famine to those of village marriages,” she says. “Those are some of my best memories.” Fortunately for us, Matkivska’s relatives—especially her mother Halia, grandmothers Tetyana and Mania, and great grandmother Maryna—were not only great cooks, but were keen to pass on their culinary wisdom. Much of Heavenly Perogy’s extensive, homestyle menu is an homage to them.
Tender, pillowy pierogies filled with potato and cheese are her most popular item—like much of the menu, they’re available frozen or hot and ready to eat. Also on offer are pierogi filled with a tangy, earthy mix of sauerkraut and mushrooms, or those with potato and either cottage cheese or onion. A choice of toppings—bacon bits, green onion, caramelized onion, sour cream, or all of the above—amps up the experience.
Her borscht—bright, earthy and made with beet kvass, a fermented, low-alcohol drink that serves as a tangy flavour base—takes around five hours to make. As anybody who grew up with borscht will tell you (the author of this piece included), it’s a deeply nourishing, stick-to-your-ribs mainstay hailed as a near-magical cure-all by Eastern European grandmothers everywhere.
Neat little cabbage rolls, available with pork and rice or in a grain-and-veggie-filled vegan version, are topped with red sauce and green onion. (Vegan and vegetarian options abound, there’s a whole separate menu for them). Delectably crisp pork schnitzel is served with a side of pierogies and coleslaw—one of the few cold salads on the menu. “In Ukraine, through the cold winters, access to fresh vegetables is limited. So we’ve always relied on things like cabbage, beets and potatoes,” Matkivska says. “Coleslaw is one of the main salads we eat, along with sauerkraut. One day we decided to experiment with using purple cabbage in the coleslaw, and we were surprised by how great, and how different, it tastes.” Customers loved it, and now it’s on the menu permanently.
During the holidays—including Orthodox Christmas on January 7—Heavenly Perogy makes festive baskets with specialty items. A recent edition featured mushroom vushka (dumplings), mushroom gravy, kutia (a traditional sweet Christmas pudding made with wheat berries), drinkable borscht, patychky (fried, breaded pork or chicken—also on the regular menu), and of course, pierogies, among other goodies. And for group events (should those ever happen again), check out the catering menu.
Matkivska maintains a day job in marketing, but the business has steadily taken up more of her time—enough to hire a small team to work through the week. But Covid has significantly decreased her sales. Given Heavenly Perogy’s sort-of secret location, exposure to the public is significantly limited relative to a street-level restaurant. But a rock solid entrepreneurial spirit keeps Matkivska going, as does the church that welcomed her all those years ago—Matkivska and her family remain active members in the community, which she credits with getting her through the difficult process of adjusting to life in Toronto.
Until recently, Heavenly Perogy was open for dine-in, but that’s obviously on hold for now. You can order takeout in person or preorder online via Heavenly Perogy’s website or on Ritual. Or, get the goods delivered via UberEats, Doordash or SkipTheDishes.
Heavenly Perogy, 400 Bathurst St. (in the basement of St. Volodymyr’s Ukranian Orthodox Cathedral), 437-886-6104, heavenlyperogy.ca