A few of the loyal Chowhounds and I met up last night at Polonia, one of the few Polish restaurants in town — really the only Polish restaurant in town, as far as I’m aware — for what I’m sure will become a cherished Election Night ritual in decades to come: pints of Pilsner, tons of cabbage and CNN on the big screen under a huge Polish flag. I mean, that’s how you spent your election night, right?
Before heading in for our feast, however, Peggy and I sampled the wares at Polonia‘s sister deli next door. Although it may seem difficult to imagine, there are quite a few jars of sauerkraut lining the shelves at Polonia‘s deli.
Even more surprisingly, there is roughly a metric tonne of sausage available for purchase. Kielbasa? Yes. Kabanosy? Yes. Kabanosy suche? YES. No need to do a crazy, eager waiting dance for days as you wait for your kabanosy to dry out — they sell it pre-dried here.
Aside from sausage and sauerkraut, there is the traditional bounty of food one would expect in a Polish deli: jars of beets, freezers full of many varieties of pierogi, Princessa bars, bottles of carbonated water, to-go containers of bigos and gołąbki, and assorted Polish memorabilia.
I purchased some fresh kabanosy (which will go well with the bottle of Żubrówka that’s chilling in my fridge) and a yellow greeting card with a piano on it that says Serdeczne Życzenia. I have no idea what that means. My Polish is extremely limited, as you shall learn later.
Soon, our other Chowhounds showed up — Ruthie and Victoria — and we ended our shopping excursion and headed into the restaurant. Inside, most of the tables were full of jovial families and couples, while a harried but charming waitress worked her way through the small, cozy dining room. A bar stood in one corner, with only one beer on tap: Pilsner. The breadth and variety of vodka behind the bar was staggering, though.
The menu at Polonia is like a guided tour through Poland’s best cuisine. You’ll be hard-pressed not to find a dish that isn’t represented, from barszcz all the way to paczki (which are only available on weekends, however). As a result, we were faced with the difficult task of choosing only four dishes off the menu.
As you can see, we were more than up to the task. The combination platter presented a tidy solution to our dilemma, containing a heart-stopping mixture of pierogi, kielbasa, gołąbki (cabbage rolls), bigos, meat loaf, baked pork, duck legs and several cold salads.
What’s that? Oh, you thought that was all we ordered? Amateur.
Before digging into the combination platter, we ordered a serving of potato pancakes (appetizer portion), two bowls of barszcz and a bowl of sour rye soup. All were huge hits as they were passed around the table. Ruthie’s germane comment on the barszcz was that it tasted “…like a bowl of health.” To her point, the dark ruby-red barszcz was very brothy — much more so than I’m used to — but had hearty meat-filled dumplings to offset its thinness. The tangy sour rye soup with its chunks of sausage and hardboiled eggs also drew rave reviews, as did the utterly comforting potato pancakes.
Along with our combination platter, we also demolished a plate of golonka (braised pork shank) and some veal schnitzel. The golonka was the favorite of the night, the pork falling off the bone with only the lightest breath and its silky, paprika-spiked sauce being eaten by the spoonful.
For my part, I enjoyed the bigos and the gołąbki the most. I’ve never tasted bigos quite like Polonia‘s, which was much sweeter and vinegary than I’m used to. Instead of only sauerkraut, they add shredded carrots and apples to the mix, which — along with the traditional juniper berries — lend it a sharp sweetness that’s addictive. I could have easily eaten the bigos as a meal on its own (and probably will next time I’m there).
And I realize that we should have been enjoying a nice vodka with our meal, but while I love and appreciate the Polish people and their culture, I’m simply not that in love with it. I just can’t sip vodka throughout a meal; your mileage may vary. We stuck with the cool, sweet Pilsner that perfectly complemented the meal — a good thing, too, since it’s all they have at Polonia.
As we wound down our meal, discussion turned to why I like Polish food and why on earth I speak Polish. While that’s a long story, the night ended with me attempting to teach Victoria and Ruthie a few choice phrases. I considered teaching them something highly useful, such as “Ja nie mam nogie…” but settled instead on the simple “Thank you” and “My name is Ruthie.”
Victoria managed “Dziękuję” quite handily, even if it sounded more like “Jane cool ya” when spoken aloud. Ruthie, on the other hand, ended up mnemonically remembering “”Nazywam sie Ruthie” as “nauseous upchuck Ruthie.” That said, when she stopped our waitress to proudly display her newly acquired linguistic skills — “MY NAME IS RUTHIE!!!” — the waitress understood her Polish immediately and grinned from ear to ear.
“Who taught you that?” she asked.
“She did!” Ruthie grinned back, pointing at me.
“…her?” The waitress stared at me quizzically. “Czy mówisz po polsku?”
And at that point, my Polish skills ground to a halt. “Nie.”
“Nie. Ja nie jestem polski.”
More staring. And then the waitress just walked confusedly away.
Now, this is a bit like walking around with a great green balloon tied to your wrist, and someone asking you, “Hey, do you have a green balloon?” And you responding, “No. No, I do not.” And then trying to pop that balloon really fast, while they’re still staring at it. Awkward…
That lesson in linguistic diplomacy notwithstanding, I couldn’t recommend Polonia more highly. Wonderful food, reasonable prices, friendly service and — most importantly — the best bigos this side of Krakow. Bonus: Check them out for yourself this weekend and you can catch some hot, fresh paczki.