Every table has its own holiday food traditions, often a mixture of foods handed down through generations and others adopted through circumstance. Growing up in a Polish family, Christmas Eve came with kielbasa, sauerkraut, and pierogi. It was only later in life, through a holiday celebration with my husband John’s family, that I was first introduced to haluski, a dish entirely unfamiliar to me that has become a Christmas staple. The version I came to know was simple and satisfying: plain gnocchi mixed with cabbage or sauerkraut, onions, and a generous amount of butter.
My mother-in-law, Mary Ann Porvaznik, who introduced me to this version of the dish, was also totally unfamiliar with haluski until she started taking over the family holiday cooking from her husband’s father, an immigrant from Slovakia. “I had to pry the recipe out of [him]; he was not a person to easily give up how he did things,” she says. Porvaznik most often serves haluski on Christmas Eve, but she will sometimes now make it for other holidays (I requested it for Thanksgiving this year) or occasionally as a regular meal. “I really learned to enjoy it,” she says. “There are some dishes I made for John that I’ll never really go back and eat voluntarily, but haluski I will.”
This experience isn’t unique. It’s a dish that’s easy to fall in love with, even if you have no cultural context. Haluski sits easily in the category of winter comfort food, alongside stews and soups you might serve in colder months. And while none of the ingredients in haluski inherently sound like something that would get me all that excited (okay, maybe the butter), combined they turn into a humble, filling dish that is more than the sum of its parts.
What is haluski?
Haluski (also spelled “halluski,” “halusky,” and “halushki” — the last is how I tend to hear it pronounced) seems to have its roots in similar dumpling-based dishes from several European countries, most prominently the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary.
The dish, most often served as a side but occasionally as a meal, nearly always features sauteed cabbage (occasionally sauerkraut), onion, butter, and noodles (or in John’s family, gnocchi), and sometimes will also include bacon or even kielbasa. Generally each component is cooked separately in butter and then tossed together with the prepared noodles or pasta.
Haluski can be found in parts of the U.S. with pockets of Eastern European communities. After a little digging, I’ve spotted it on a handful of menus such as the Pierogie Kitchen in Philly, the Dough Company in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and Pierogi Mountain in German Village in Columbus, Ohio; sources in suburban Chicago and Detroit say it can occasionally be found there.
I assumed Poland was among the countries where the dish originated, given it seems to be found mostly on Polish restaurant menus, especially in Pittsburgh and surrounding, more rural parts of Pennsylvania. You’ll find it at restaurants like S&D Polish Deli in Pittsburgh, Cop Out Pierogies in Etna, and Bubba’s in Greensburg and Irwin.
But Maria Staszkiewicz from the Pittsburgh Polish Cultural Council told me otherwise when I reached her via email. “Some Polish Americans would be surprised, but haluski is not really a Polish dish,” she says. “It was adopted by many Central/Eastern European immigrants in the USA (some of Polish background), but it does not come from Poland.”
Where is haluski served?
While haluski has a small restaurant presence in Pitt, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette food writer Hal B. Klein tells me this is the exception rather than the rule. “I see it pretty rarely at restaurants,” he says. But he considers it part of the fabric of the city’s food culture, particularly given the popularity of meatless versions at fish fries at area churches and community gatherings during Lent; it also can be found at area heritage celebrations.
While haluski may not be a restaurant staple, there is one Pittsburgh place that has basically become a destination for it: Kelly O’s Diner. The restaurant originally added haluski as a special; owner and chef Kelly O’Connor had grown up eating the dish despite not having any cultural ties to it, according to daughter and CEO Seana Lois. It really took off when Guy Fieri visited the restaurant in 2009 for one of his early Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives episodes, and then again when he made a return visit in 2020 to try the restaurant’s Polish combo platter with haluski, kielbasa, and pierogi.
Lois remembers the restaurant served haluski to Fieri almost out of desperation. The star has a lot of rules about what he can and can’t eat (no eggs, for example), so Lois’s husband suggested haluski might fit Fieri’s dietary requirements. “It was the furthest thing from a chef-type dish,” she says. “And it ends up being a hit. I just remember [Fieri] raving, ‘I can’t believe how simple this was; why haven’t I been making this?’”
It turns out Fieri did keep making it, even including it in one of his cookbooks with a nod to the diner. The “Fieri bump” was significant enough that Kelly O’s had to extend its hours (and eventually expanded to three locations). Even though that initial visit was nearly 15 years ago, the restaurant still sees customers coming in because they saw it on television, especially when the episodes rerun. Buzz started anew when Fieri shouted out the dish on The Today Show. Kelly O’s now features its haluski in a section of the menu devoted to Triple-D favorites, and the kitchen dishes out between 40 and 70 orders per month.
“We’re obviously at a spot where prices are really high, and this is a filling side dish or a main meal. A little goes a long way, and a head of cabbage is not expensive,” Lois says.
“It’s one of those things where people come in here and are like, ‘What the hell is that?’” says kitchen manager Bob Tirk. “Then they fall in love with it because it’s really good.” Sounds like an experience I can relate to.
Where to try it
Though Tirk keeps the exact recipe close to his vest, the Kelly O’s version uses wide egg noodles along with cabbage and garlic salt. The meat of choice here is bacon, just how the O’Connor family grew up with it.
Multiple locations; the Strip District one is at 100 24th Street, Pittsburgh, PA, 15222
Pittsburgh broadcasting personality Rick Sebak associates haluski in particular with one restaurant: Emil’s Lounge in Rankin, Pennsylvania, about 15 minutes outside of Pittsburgh, which is his favorite place to enjoy the dish. “It’s an old steelworker’s bar, really a classic place, famous for fried fish sandwiches,” he says. Emil’s makes the dish with bowtie pasta rather than noodles; Sebak has also seen versions elsewhere that use gnocchi like my mother-in-law does.
414 Hawkins Avenue, Rankin, PA, 15104
S&D serves traditional and meatless versions of haluski made with egg noodles. In addition to meals, you can order it by the quart or as a full-sized catering pan for larger functions, should you need something to bring to your next fish fry.
2204 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA, 15222