I’ve known for many years of the significant Polish population here in Chicago. I’ve had a Polish sausage and kraut, many times, and loved it, but I hadn’t yet sat in an establishment and welcomed in hoards of their food, until yesterday. Feeling both sluggish and exorbitantly hungry, we thought we’d join our favorite Chicago cohorts for some winter comfort food in the heat of summer. Not sure what we were thinking but we could not be deterred. And so we were off, luckily in the breeze filled open windowed vehicle my brother owns, heading due west on Belmont, way the hell out there, beyond California, nearly beyond the city limits, to Staropolska! Our very dear friend told us his Staropolska story the night before and it was no surprise we were all craving it the next night. Each stop light built on the ever-increasing hunger and diminishing patience. I could only imagine the hungry woman meals of meat and potatoes I was about to shove ever so delicately into my all too active mouth. We had learned this place closed at 8:30, on a Saturday, so we opted for the early bird dinner and left around 6. I can inform you now that it does not matter when you go, if you arrive at 8 you’ll still feed your face, you just may not be able to hang around for rounds two and three. I respectfully suggest you arrive early.
We walk in and are each hit with a heavy dose of nostalgia. It reminds me of the many cafeteria style, buffet restaurants we used to frequent as a kid. I’m half embarrassed to admit this, as these business aren’t providing the best product, but you feed your family at a reasonable price and I don’t remember hating the food; in fact, I loved it. Given the promise of an infinite supply makes you see meat flavored stars, and the smell of survival food that strikes your amygdala tells your brain you’re in a safe place. All is well, healthy, and satisfying.
We sat in a comfy, tall booth, and remarked on our connectedness to our childhoods and to various countries in Europe. A pretty, no-nonsense, Polish server greeted us and immediately asked which soup we’d prefer. She spoke rapid Polish and English with a thick Polish accent. Needless to say, she repeated herself a fair amount. The two soups were a Stew Soup and a Beet soup with hardboiled egg. Half of us ordered the beet, the other the stew. Both were excellent, but the beet soup was special. It was vibrantly red, like fresh blood, and the flavor of liquified beets, the broth, and hardboiled egg was so surprising and delicious. We slurped, gulped some of our Polish beers and moved on to the buffet line.
My girlfriend is a vegetarian, not frustratingly strict luckily, but I still felt sorry for her. This place was replete with meat. Sausages, patties, roasted chicken, fried chicken, roast pork, head cheese, and many other concoctions and combinations I cannot even recall. Not to worry though, this place was robust with little surprises and like the fatties we are, we shoved a million things on our plate, including various potato dishes, kraut recipes, and pierogis. Oh the pierogis. I bypassed salad and dessert without even thinking and piled everything warm I could on my seemingly tiny plate.
The sausage was juicy and flavorful, as were the patties, chicken and especially the roast. My favorite; however, didn’t contain meat at all. First there were the Polish equivalent of gnocchi, Italian potato dumplings that resemble something like a thick pasta, but like ravioli without filling, very buttery, very smooth, quite tasty. There was an excellent potato and onion perogie that we all devoured, on top of a cavalcade of varying potato dishes, warm and cold. All good. The best for me would possibly fall into the dessert realm but I prefer it as a side dish/snack. Similar to the consistency of a pierogi, thick pasta sheets are filled with a sweet ricotta mixture, again reminding me of Italy, but with an excellent Polish spin. Savory on the outside, warm, soft and slightly sweet on the inside. If it weren’t such a trek, I’d go back right this second for more.
This place is $11 for all you can eat. In this ridiculously unsuccessful economy, combined with living in an expensive city, finding places providing more bang for your buck in tandem with great tasting, hearty food, Staropolska also gives those with differing backgrounds insight into the Polish ways of life. They’re an interesting people and they eat soulful, stick to your ribs food. It made me miss living in Europe, miss my childhood and for a split second, miss cold weather. We waddled home rubbing our bellies, ready for bed. Sat.Is.Fied. Eat this, followed by a bunch of grass and sticks. You'll be ready to hibernate.
As always, broaden your mind by exploring foods from different cultures than your own. I’m always left pleasantly surprised, with a new lasting memory. Enjoy.