I had been to the Polish grocery store next door a couple of years ago when I first learned of it and enjoyed some excellent kielbasa and other items I picked up then and have been meaning to check out the restaurant ever since but it had completely slipped my mind until I came across the beer mustard I had bought while looking for something to put on a hot dog.
The restaurant is in a strip center, like many of Houston’s ethnic restaurants, but the interior is very distinctive, resembling perhaps a clubby bar. With the temperature outside in the upper 90s, the place seemed secluded and cool, a world away from the sweltering parking lot. I had the place almost to myself at 1 in the afternoon.
The meal started very well with a draft Pilsner Urquell, a very smooth beer, drawn with great care by the young waitress. While I studied the menu (I’d looked it over on-line but still hadn’t decided what I wanted), the complimentary rye bread with two spreads, a cream cheese and smalec, the poor man’s butter, made from bacon fat, lard, cracklings and onions arrived, then a cup of a complimentary potato soup. The spreads were good on the rye bread, the potato soup looked very good and it was, slightly sour with carrots, minced parsley, and, I presume, some sauerkraut.
I ordered the Polish vegetable salad, Salatka Jarzynowa, to start and Bigos, the traditional Polish hunter’s stew, for the main course. The salad is a Polish version of a Salade Olivier with potatoes, peas, carrots and other vegetables along with hard-boiled egg white and mayonnaise. I have grown so fond of the Olivier salad in the Russian style at Golden Grains, The Russian General Store and Phoenicia, all of which contain some meat along with the vegetables, that I was a little disappointed in this meatless version which also seemed quite bland. But when the Bigos arrived the salad proved a very apt complement to the sourness of the stew.
I was also a little disappointed in the Bigos at first, more like a hash than a stew made with both sauerkraut and fresh cabbage and various sausages and other meats. The sourness of it didn’t bother me, it was nicely seasoned, with bay leaf and, I think, juniper berries, but the meats had been cut in small dice and I would have preferred larger chunks of the excellent kielbasa.
The disappointments were minor and there are plenty of interesting items on the menu to choose from and overall I had enjoyed my first visit very much.
Because of the unexpected complimentary soup I was full long before finishing all the food and wound up taking some of the Salatka and Bigos home and was delighted to find they improved with refrigeration and with the flavors coming together. In particular the Bigos was much better whether cold or reheated. When I order this again I think I would get it take-out and save it for the next day.
As I left after my first visit, clutching my leftovers and a printout of the menu, the waitress came running into the parking lot after me to bring me my camera. I had gotten so entranced in the secluded lair of the restaurant and the meal I had totally forgotten I had it with me, sitting on one of the other chairs at the table. I really wish I had gotten a picture of that soup.
On my second visit my memory worked a little better and I got a picture. In the meantime I had studied the menu on line again and read up on Polish cuisine and went with very high expectations. The Sour Rye Soup (Zurek z Kielbasa i Jajkiem? - with sausage and hard boiled egg) in particular sounded awesome and I fully expected to be knocked off my chair by the dish but it proved to be no more sour than a soup with an added dollop of sour cream and I suffered a little let-down. It did however include a generous amount of the excellent kielbasa. The spreads accompanying the bread on this occasion included a whipped butter with a generous amount of minced garlic in addition to the smalec. I do wish the bread was served warm.
In keeping with my sandwich motif of recent weeks I went for the Breaded Pork Cutlet sandwich on rye (Kanapka Kottletem Schabowy). This proved to be quite a hefty sandwich with a thin portion of pork sirloin, breaded and fried, and served on rye bread with thick strips of onion, pickles, tomato and lettuce. It was unfortunately on the dry side and would have benefitted from some mustard or mayo; I tried using up the last of the whipped butter spread. I think I would have enjoyed the breaded pork cutlet plate served with sauerkraut and potatoes more than this sandwich.
But I left satisfied once again and determined to return to try more on the menu. Polonia is certainly one of my favorite ‘finds’ of the last couple of years.
Polonia, with a link to the Polish Grocery Store next door.
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