Heres some more about Mabenka, mentioned in the salami thread.
Not so long ago there were lots of Lithuanian businesses around Marquette Park, mostly on 69th and 71st. I think the restaurants are all gone now and only Talman Deli remains. Theres Healthy Food on Halsted, of course, but I dont know if there are any more Lithuanian restaurants left within the city limits. Mabenka, a Lithuanian-Polish restaurant in Burbank, is the closest I know.
Mabenka sits on a horrible stretch of Cicero Avenue that seems to have every discount chain store and restaurant franchise. From the outside it doesn't look too promising, kind of like a Lithuanian Denny's. Even inside it looks a bit like a chain restaurant but it's pleasant enough. It's large and bustling, usually crowded.
The Lithuanian combo plate ($6.45-$7.95 depending on the day; an extra buck or less gets you the complete dinner) is a good introduction. Start with a large bowl of soup (hot beet, sauerkraut, tripe, etc) and a nice bread basket (light rye, dense pumpernickel, and egg-raisin). A large boiled potato comes alongside the soup, just to get you in the mood. Then a large, forgettable but fresh iceberg salad with standard-issue dressings.
The main plate has a big chunk of kugelis, a mound of sauerkraut, a generous length of homemade Lithuanian sausage, and cepalinais--the mother of all dumplings. This thing looks like a large boiled potato and has a very thick chewy potato-based shell surrounding a mild ground meat filling. Pretty tasty but one of these babies is plenty for me. The sausage is excellent, a fine-textured peppery veal/pork (?) mix, very different from the usual smoked, garlicky Polish version. Sauerkraut is nice and fresh, with a firm texture and a light caraway flavor. The kugelis is the star; I'd strongly recommend getting it with what ever you order. There's a 0.75 surcharge to substitute kugelis for potato with many dishes; go for it, you won't be disappointed. An entire kugelis dinner is also an option but I imagine that might be too much of a good thing. This is rather light-textured as far as kugelis goes (at least compared with the also excellent version at Healthy Food), baked in a flat pan and served in squares. Nice bacon flavor and a fantastic crisp crust. Of course a tub of sour cream comes along.
I couldn't resist trying an odd sounding dish: goulash served over a potato pancake. Lots of lean chunks of meat in a thin gravy came atop a huge bacony pancake. Both were pretty good on their own but serving them together like that didn't seem exactly inspired. The gravy soaked into the pancake and made it rather soggy. It was clearly a superior potato pancake and would have been excellent all by itself. They have a good variety of pancakes, blintzes, and dumplings on the menu. I'll bet many are really good.
By the time you finish dinner (almost everyone gets a doggy bag) dessert might seem like a bad joke. Nothing exceptional, just rice or bread pudding, Jello, or ice cream. The rice pudding is blessedly light and rather soupy. Bread pudding is basically the egg-raisin bread, slightly dampened.
They have a full bar with cheap mixed drinks ($2.75) and a small, slightly scary wine list. How about an $11 bottle of ruby port to go with your meal? Somewhat more appealing is a Washington riesling ("perfect for salads, Canadian smelts and chicken"). Beer is clearly the way to go with most imports at $2.50. A dollar more gets a half-liter bottle of Kalnapilis from Panevezys, Lithuania.
The very large menu includes many fairly standard meat and fish items as well as lots of sandwiches. Some of the more interesting entrees are roast duck ($8.95 for a half duck complete dinner!), goulash, lamb or pork shanks, stuffed veal breast, veal tongue, oxtail stew, zrazai (stuffed, rolled steak), and tatar ("fresh pint ground beef tenderloin"). Not everything is available every day.
The servers, mostly young Lithuanian women, do a good job but seem overworked. Don't expect the coddling you may get at Healthy Food. It's clearly a mass-feeding operation but they do a very good job at providing some pretty well-prepared food at very good prices.
7844 S Cicero Av
Burbank IL 60459
Sn-Th 8am-9pm; Fr-St 8am-10pm
Rene, as usual you hit upon all the little things that make places fun. What struck my fancy was the desert descriptions. Makbenka seems to be like every other Polish/Ukranian/Bohemian/etc. place I know in serving jello for desert. Or if it's not the jello, it's a very dry baked something. Why is that?
re: Vital Information
Well, theres always room for Jello, right? Yeah, I know exactly the dry cakes youre talking about. Another classic Chicago Polish buffet dessert seems to be whole kiwi fruits. Staropolska almost always has all three: red Jello in a big square pan, an assortment of dry cakes and cookies, and unpeeled kiwis. All you can eat.
Since decent restos are few and far between in my Grandmother's neighborhood (and Hyde Park for that matter), I have visited Mabenka many times. I can't add much to the review, as it sounds just like I remember it--but a couple of things hit me while I was reading.
There is a large room adjacent to the dining room, presumedly used for banquets and extremely large parties--but on certain nights it serves as a polka pick-up scene for the neighborhood folk, most of whom are in their 70's and 80's. This is a fun and heart-warming spectacle, and an even better time if you lube up on a few $2 beers (or maybe a bottle of port) and join the action. I seem to remember it being on Monday nights, but I'm only about 14% certain.
Another thing, and I was waiting for you to mention this in the last paragraph, is that the waitresses were, at the time when I was going semi-regularly in the mid-90's, absolutly drop-dead gorgeous. They may be rather slow (service-wise), and English is certainly a second language to most, but man do they look good. If this is still the case, I may stop in after I arrive in Midway next week for bowl of saurkraut soup and some dumplings.
re: Andy O'Neill
If you are looking for another good place to eat in Burbank I would recommend Chucks Barbecue on 79th just east of Central. Its high time for me to revisit and review it. Unless it has seriously slipped, its the best place Ive found for sit-down barbecue anywhere in the Chicago area. Anyone tried it yet? It was actually Chuck who recommended Mabenka to me.
Im not sure Ive been to Mabenka on a weeknight; Ill have to stop by some Monday (but the daily specials are kind of weak).
Yes, some of the waitresses are remarkably beautiful, something I also couldnt help noticing at Bobaks on Archer.
re: Rene G
Mabenka is on Cicero Av at 79th St, i.e., 4800 west and 7900 south. Thats 6 miles west and 10 miles south of the Loop, or a mile or two south of Midway Airport, so a cab from downtown would probably be well over $20 each way.
You could catch the CTA Orange Line in the Loop and take it to Midway (end of the line; Cicero/59th). Then either a cab or #379, 383, 384, or 385 bus south on Cicero (these are not CTA buses so you have to pay another $1.50).
Dont forget Healthy Food, a smaller, homier Lithuanian restaurant in Bridgeport (3236 S Halsted; 312-326-2724). That would be a much cheaper cab ride. Be aware they close at 4pm some days.