Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Chicago Dining World Tour: Polishing Off a Perfect Polish Meal

3030 N. Milwaukee, Chicago

Although I think I have some Polish in my heritage and hope to visit Krakow on my next European expedition--possibly even this year--I really don't know all that much about Poland, its culture or cuisine, besides pierogies and Polish sausages, long my favorite tubular food on a bun.

At some point last year, well before I hatched the idea of a devoted Chicago Dining World Tour, I ate at a well-reviewed and rather authentic-feeling Polish restaurant called Smak Tak, at 5961 N. Elston in Chicago. My entree was a breaded pork loin with peach, and it was delicious.

Had the timing been different, Smak Tak would have made a terrifically suitable Polish entry on my 2013 gastro-ethnic exploration.

But in doing some research--a.k.a. clicking around on Yelp!--I discovered that Staropolska, in Chicago's Avondale neighborhood, was even more highly-rated and seemingly beloved.

So on Wednesday night, I went there with my good friend, Ken, a first-generation Polish-American whose father fought and was imprisoned by Nazis during World War II and subsequently hunted them down and brought some to trial at Nuremburg.

Ken was graciously treating me to dinner, as I had snagged him a pair of Stones tickets on Ticketmaster, and we instantly found Staropolska's decor--including the painted wall at right, a fireplace and, a bit less so, a mounted moose skin--to be delightful.

And even more so, our authentically Polish, absolutely stunning waitress named Agnieszka.

(If any Seth Saith devotees think this sounds eerily similar to my recap of a visit by Ken and me to the Ukrainian restaurant, Magic Jug, there were certain similarities in both the scintillating food and Eastern European waitresses, but Staropolska was even better in both respects.)

The restaurant, which we were surprised to learn from Agnieszka has been around for 30 years, had a number of Polish beers on tap, but Ken and I both abstained in favor of Diet Coke.

Arriving first was a basket of delicious bread, which Ken aptly described as "Polish rye bread with a sour tinge."

Ken then showed off his admittedly meager command of Polish by ordering a cup of Red Beetroot Soup by its native name--"Chevonu borscht" or something like that. I didn't choose to try any, but he said it was excellent.

As were, and then some, our appetizers.

We got an order of pierogies, split between those filled with sweet cheese and those with strawberry. Both were wonderful.

Even more amazing was an order of something every bit as good as it sounded on the menu: Plums rolled in bacon.

These were truly unique--I never had anything like it--and truly awesome, once I refrained from burning my tongue. A second time.

If, at this point, you're thinking I didn't even really need my main course, you wouldn't be completely wrong. Despite the title of this blog post, I had some leftovers for lunch as I'm writing this. And there's still some left.

I was going to go with the Beef Stroganoff, but Agnieszka pointed me to a selection called "Staropolska
Style Potato Pancakes with Beef Stew, Pickle, Cream," which was essentially Beef Stroganoff between two huge potato pancakes. For just $8.99.

Despite my not being able to finish in one sitting, it was terrific.

As was the Cucumber Salad I chose as a side dish, as well as the pieces of sausage, stuffed cabbage and some puff pastry-type thing that Ken gave me from his "Polish Plate."

As you can see at left, Ken also got potato pancakes and some more pierogies as part of his meal, all of which he happily finished minus his donations to my cause.

"Boy was that good," being his direct quote.

We hung around conversing for a good while, with Ken getting a couple cups of coffee, which he also declared to be quite good.

All of this, before tip, came to only $47.

So to recap, an authentic, attractive Polish restaurant (complete with Polish programming on the TV), a nice, beautiful waitress, pierogies, plums wrapped in bacon, great bread, beet soup, Beef Stroganoff between potato pancakes, a Polish Plate, a good time with a great friend and out the door for 56 bucks.

And for me, nothing.

It would be easy to say that dinner doesn't get much better than this.

But for my money, or lack thereof, even life itself doesn't.

No comments: