Actually, unlike my first post about Polish food, very little in this post is about babka, though it makes an appearance eventually. It’s just that, by the end of the night, babka became a bit of a slogan, a rallying cry, if you will, for our little band of food adventurers.
I’d been wanting to visit Cafe Polonia for quite some time – it’s the only Polish restaurant in Boston proper, or even in the immediate area (although they’ve added another location in Salem, MA, for our friends in Witch City to enjoy.) In addition, I’d been to the deli owned by the same folks across the street (to buy babka, in fact, in the days before we started making our own!) and had been impressed by the selection, particularly of the meats and sausages. The deciding factor to finally get me to South Boston, however, was the voice of the people – the members of the Adventures in Food Facebook group voted for it as their top dining destination. Never one to ignore the will of the crowd, I made a reservation and we were off!
When we arrived at the restaurant (after a brief detour at the deli, where we bought assorted goodies for later) the first thing that struck me was how homey it felt. It’s small, but it’s bright, clean, and warm, with blond wood tables and matching chairs that look incredibly sturdy, and decor that ran in the vein of copper pots and bright fabrics on the benches and walls. We’d originally come intending to start with some Polish beer, but Kasteel Rouge, a Belgian fruit beer, was being offered as a special, and how could we refuse? This beer is a brown ale steeped in cherries, and it shows. It’s quite red, and quite delicious as long as you’re cool with your beer tasting more like fruit than beer (which I am, when that’s what I’m in the mood for.) It was also served in branded glasses, which were rather fun:
With our drinks came the bread basket, and the first nod to traditional Polish cuisine – in addition to butter, the bread came with rendered pork fat!
Spread on the sourdough bread and studded with bits of roasted pork, this “pig butter” as Elise called it was incredibly tasty – rich and meaty while keeping the delicious fattiness that butter provides. I don’t think I could chow down on a whole basket, but it was a nice treat as an opener.
While we pondered over the “traditional” portion of the menu (in a clear nod to American tastes, you can order some chicken fingers or a Caesar salad in addition to your golabki, which we were NOT interested in) we ordered a couple of appetizers for the table.
These were the kielbasa twists, our less adventurous but still quite delicious appetizer. Basically they’re just little links of kielbasa cut into the amusing shapes you see there and served with brown mustard, but they were exceptional kielbasa, very smoky and salty without having the heaviness some kielbasa does. The little “twists” provided some textural contrast since they got quite crisp while the middles remained juicy.
We also ordered:
This is kishka, or blood sausage, one of the surprise hits of the evening. I say surprise because while 5 of our crew of 6 are jaded, hard-core organ meat lovers, 1 of us is a little less bold with his food choices normally – but he loved the kishka! I’d never had blood sausage of any kind served without a casing before and it was a revelation – soft and tender, almost like a porridge. The caramelized onions on top and the delicate, crunchy pickles served with it were perfect accompaniments.
Finally, we settled on our entree choices, trying as much as possible to maximize our exploration of the menu. I went straight for the Polish Plate, a sampler platter of pierogies, bigos, kielbasa, and golabki with tomato sauce:
The Goog joined me in this order, which meant we had pierogies for the whole table, luckily! I’d had most of these items before, but eating them homemade from folks who know what they’re doing is very different than grabbing some pierogies (the little dumplings!) at the fair. The bigos, a hunter’s stew that is the Polish national dish, was the one thing I’d never eaten before and it was outstanding. The name means “big mess” in Polish and it is indeed a hodge-podge of ingredients – cabbage, of course, stewed with meat and caraway seeds and assorted other goodies. It made a lovely bed for the kielbasa. Golabki, which is a meat and rice stuffed cabbage roll, is a dish my Nana used to make at home sometimes. Sadly, I hated it as a kid – the smell of cabbage cooking was vile, and the idea of all of my food being mixed together was unappealing. I wish I’d been more open-minded back then, because I really enjoy it now!
Elise got the golabki with the mushroom sauce, which was a take I’d never seen before. The sauce was delicious and did not skimp on the mushrooms!
Gary, our more particular eater, ordered the potato pancakes with goulash and apple sauce, and Matt did the same but with sour cream in lieu of Gary’s favorite condiment. The pancakes were wonderfully crispy and surprisingly light.
Finally, Valerie ordered one of the specials on the menu that evening:
Those are pyzy, little glutinous potato balls stuffed with meat and served with pickles and beets on the side. While everything was delicious, this might have been my favorite dish – as I’ve mentioned, I’m a sucker for a dumpling.
Chocolate babka – also warm and our inspiration for battle cry of the evening – this was Gary’s favorite dessert! The chocolate was excellent, with just the right amount of bitterness to keep from being cloying.