Basia Piechoczek, founder of Polish pop-up Beksa Lala, doesn’t mind being called a crybaby. In fact, she reclaimed her childhood nickname, which means “crybaby” in Polish, as her pop-up’s namesake.
Piechoczek grew up in New Jersey, one of America’s “Polish pockets,” but her family moved to Jacksonville, Florida, after becoming enamored with St. Augustine on a vacation. It was there that Piechoczek entered the restaurant industry, as a way to make ends meet in college. After graduating with a degree in education, she learned that teaching didn’t suit her and got a job at Tom Gray’s Moxie Kitchen and Cocktails in Jacksonville.
“I just immediately fell in love with their system and the way that they celebrated food and executed a really great dining experience,” she says. Piechoczek worked the front of house for five years, eventually becoming the manager; Moxie evolved into Prati Italia in early 2020.
In July of 2020, Piechoczek relocated to Atlanta to be the assistant general manager at Cooks and Soldiers. At the same time, the restaurant was hosting Mujo’s pop-ups and Piechoczek helped the team transition into their restaurant space next door.
Piechoczek decided to switch industries and currently works for a nonprofit. Last fall, Piechoczek’s longtime friend Andrew Selvagn (Burle’s Bar) approached her and requested that she make Polish food for a pop-up. Burle’s hosted Beksa Lala’s first pop-up — a Polish Christmas event featuring pierogi, borscht with dumplings, and wild mushroom-stuffed cabbage — on December 23.
At the same time, Piechoczek offered to fill in any pop-up vacancies at Bogg’s Social & Supply, her neighborhood bar. The opportunity presented itself and she jumped right in — Piechoczek just finished substituting for a brunch and dinner residency there.
“I think that with the dining scene in the perimeter, it’s hard to get something that is authentic,” she says. “You go to Buford Highway and you have all of your mom-and-pop shops and people who grew up cooking this way and small business owners and I think that just in general, the Atlanta dining scene is lacking a little bit too.”
Even if you’re familiar with Polish cuisine, you’ll find that Piechoczek’s cooking subverts that meat-and-potatoes stereotype. The power bowl, for example, combines delicate greens and thinly sliced radishes and cucumbers with millet and roasted sunchoke for a toothsome touch. The accompanying buckthorn berry vinaigrette adds tanginess and a dash of spunk. Adjika, a Georgian hot sauce made with eggplant, lends a complexity to the breakfast blintz. Sweeter brunch items, like the Jewish-style chocolate babka French toast and racuchy (apple pancakes), are subdued with a sour cream whip.
The zupa ogorkowa, a soup with pickle brine, rice, carrots, dill, and what Piechoczek calls “a sour cream sludge,” is hearty without being overwhelmingly filling — the addition of toasted rye is nutty, with just a little bite. Piechoczek’s Polish-style pierogi have a melty mashed potato interior and get a pork fat flavor from smoked farmers’ cheese, despite being completely vegetarian.
The unexpected ingredients that Piechoczek incorporates, such as buckwheat and birch syrup for the waffles, or the buckthorn berries in the power bowl’s punchy vinaigrette, satisfy a need for playfulness and speak to the intersection of cultures in Poland.
However, Piechoczek doesn’t back down from opportunities to showcase Polish nostalgia. The table cards Beksa Lala uses were inspired by her childhood Polish school, as well as her old reading and writing book.
“A lot of what I love about doing these pop-ups is people reaching out and being like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so excited. I haven’t had one in years. I grew up in Pennsylvania or I grew up in Chicago and it’s really cool to see this kind of food down here,’” she says.
For instance, the brunch menu’s sausage plate comes with the option to add a side of potatoes that’s accompanied by a shot of buttermilk, a nod to Piechoczek’s father.
“One guest reached out and was like, ‘That’s amazing. My dad used to drink buttermilk. He would put pepper in it and eat it with potatoes too. I’ve never seen anything like that.’”
Beksa Lala’s pop-up residency at Burle’s (05 N Angier Ave NE Suite 500) starts this Saturday, February 10. In addition to pop-ups, Piechoczek sometimes offers pierogi and paczki pickups.
“People recognize one part or another and relate back to their own memories of growing up with anything Polish-inspired,” she says. “I really love hearing everybody’s story too, like [with the buttermilk] or going back to the table cards where somebody said like, ‘Oh my gosh, I haven’t seen that book in years but immediately knew what it was.’ So it’s really cool that everything that is just a slight little nod to my own nostalgia and that other people are picking up on that as well and are able to warm their hearts up a bit.”