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Polish Festival becomes more multicultural

Pierogi still rules, but variety of foods sold on Lagrange St.

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    Savvas Alexander prepares pierogi at the Golden Gate food stand at the Lagrange Street Polish Festival in North Toledo.

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    The Lagrange Street Polish Festival charges $5 admission from noon to 11 p.m. today and $3 from noon to 7 p.m. Sunday.

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    Papa Andy's Famous Potato Pancake owner, Andy Emrisko, poses with his food stand. Emrisko, a Cleveland native, has been serving potato pancakes at the Lagrange Street Polish Festival for 19 years.

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Papa Andy's Famous Potato Pancake owner, Andy Emrisko, poses with his food stand. Emrisko, a Cleveland native, has been serving potato pancakes at the Lagrange Street Polish Festival for 19 years.

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At his 19th Lagrange Street Polish Festival in North Toledo, Andy Emrisko’s Papa Andy food stand fried up one of its first orders of jalapeño potato pancakes Friday, along with more traditional pierogi and paprikash soup.

The pancakes are not his usual fair, but he’s excited about the new product. It fits with the festival’s atmosphere, which has become more multicultural over its 32 years and is welcoming more vendors than ever. Nikki Morey, a staff member of the festival’s sponsor organization United North, said the food has to reflect the people who attend.

PHOTO GALLERY: Lagrange Street Polish Festival

“Originally, this was mostly populated by Polish people, but our population gets integrated,” she said of the neighborhood.

Lagrange Street was closed off Friday evening and lined with food and gift stands, leading to a stage where bands played traditional polkas.

Mr. Emrisko, a Cleveland native, learned how to make pierogi from his mother while his sisters played outside, and he still sticks to the same mix of simple ingredients.

“I used to like watching my mother cook,” he said.

Now, he makes close to 800,000 pierogi a year with his business.

When Mr. Emrisko started at the festival in 1997, he remembers it being “wall-to-wall” with people. Now, the street is sparser. Andrew Pawlak plays trumpet and saxophone for the Polish polka band Badinov, who will play each night of the festival, and he attributed the change to fewer Polish immigrants in the neighborhood.

“The scenery of the neighborhood has changed and deterred people from coming in,” he said.

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The Lagrange Street Polish Festival charges $5 admission from noon to 11 p.m. today and $3 from noon to 7 p.m. Sunday.

THE BLADE/CAMERON HART
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Fences now block surrounding streets. On Central Avenue, children played on the sidewalk. Tamicka Thomas, who lives just outside the festival, had returned home to escape oncoming rain and had farther to walk because of the barriers to get home.

“I don’t care for the fences, but other than that, it’s great,” she said.

Like Ms. Thomas, Friday evening was Isaiah Williams’ first Polish Festival. He owns the Godfather’s Italian Ice stand, a business he was inaugurating at the event. His daughter, Neveah, clad in a Godfather’s T-shirt, responded quickly when asked how she liked the festival.

“Hot!” she said. Perfect for a bowl of orange creamcicle ice.

Contact Elena Saavedra Buckley at: ebuckley@theblade.com, 419-724-6050, or on Twitter at @elenaSB_.

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