Polish food in Boston: Cafe Polonia!
This is my first post to Chowhoud, so be gentle.
611 Dorchester Ave.
South Boston, Boston
"It filled a void in my soul that I didn't know I had."
Okay, first of all, I love Polish food. I can't claim any great connection to the Polish people, other than the fact that I have an uncle by marriage who is Polish. Other than that, I was born in Pittsburgh, which has a very large and vibrant Polish-American population.
So when I heard that there was a new Polish restaurant in Boston, my wife and I jumped at the chance. Well, "jumped" isn't quite the word, since it probably took us 10 months to get there (eating out isn't big on the list of priorities for a couple with a new baby), but we finally got out to go there tonight.
And it was fantastic. Incredible. Everything I wanted. It filled a void in my soul that I didn't know I had.
It's exactly what a chowhound searches out-- it is cheap, it is in a neat little hole in the wall place, and it is real food. It hasn't been fancied up (although there are tablecloths on the tables), it is just good.
We started with the house wine and a bottle of Okocim (pronounced "oko-tsim", I think) beer from Poland. The wine was dry and matched the upcoming food well, and the beer was great. And cheap-- $4 for a big bottle (0.5L).
We asked for some bread so that Peter, our 10 month old son, could get a little bit of an appetizer. The bread was unimpressive, but came with a small dish of a spread that seemed to be a combination of lard with little bits of bacon. It was considerably better than it sounds, but I want a bit light on it.
We ordered three dishes: the pierogi plate, the "Polish plate", and the Hungarian Goulash with potato pancakes.
The pierogi plate seems to be a combination of whatever pierogis they are serving that night, and we drawn from (according to the menu): meat, potato, onion, sauerkraut, or fruit. Tonight, we got a combination of meat and sauerkraut. They were fantastic. Obviously very fresh dough, with very flavorful fillings, boiled to perfection, with a bit of drizzled oil and little bits of bacon on top. Wow. If you've only ever had pierogis from the freezer, you just don't know what you are missing. Peter enjoyed the pierogis a lot. $6 for a plate of about 8 pierogis.
The Polish plate included pierogis (again, meat ones and sauerkraut ones), kielbasa, sauerkraut, and stuffed cabbage with tomato sauce. The pierogis were again great. The sauerkraut was very meaty and very good. The kielbasa was just okay-- but I'm not sure what would have made it better. The stuffed cabbage was yummy. Peter actually ate some of the sauerkraut, which surprised my wife, but it wasn't as sour as most commercially prepared (out of a can) sauerkraut. He really liked the stuffed cabbage-- I put a bit on a spoon and fed it to him and he looked at me for more! $8 for the whole plate.
Lastly, though, was the Hungarian Goulash. This was a special that night, so I'm not sure if it is always on the menu. It was nothing like I expected. Take two or three big potato pancakes (freshly cooked, with crispy crunchy edges), and then pour on a smallish amount of a brown sauce with melt in your mouth beef cubes. I was expecting more of a stew/soup, but I quickly warmed to this dish. Highly recommended.
Unfortunately, by the time we were done with the meal, it was already 7:30pm, and that is really getting to be Pete's bedtime, so we were unable to sample any dessert or other after-dinner treats. Total bill-- $35.
If you go: Cafe Polonia is a bit small. There are 4 tables of 4, 1 table of 2, and 1 table of 6. When we got there at 6pm on a Saturday, there were two tables of 4 each available, but it very quickly filled up-- we heard a couple who came at around 7 that there would be at least a 30 minute wait. I think they do take reservations, however, but I'm not sure of the minimum party size. They have beer (mostly eastern european selections) and wine on the menu, but no full bar.
I noticed that they serve brunch on Saturday and Sunday, which sounds great!
Glad to hear you enjoyed Polonia too. I ate there months ago and your post makes a great reminder for me to go back. They serve different dishes everyday, based on a rotating menu e.g. Hungarian Goulash every thursday (assuming my takeout menu is up-to-date). There's a different goulash on Sunday (goulash delight). Anyone know how that's made?
Greg, the place sounds great. That goulash-and-potato-pancake dish is a big fave of mine. Thanks for contributing your notes (for some other dish reports, see thread linked below). A few things:
"combination of lard with little bits of bacon"
The Czechs call that "shkvarky" (say that ten times fast!) and I think the Poles call it something similar. Good stuff, and hard to find!
"The sauerkraut was very meaty and very good"
are you sure this wasn't bigos (also spelled bygos), the saurkraut stew? were there also mushrooms, etc? Was the broth watery (if so, saurkraut) or more of a sauce (if so, bigos)?
"It's exactly what a chowhound searches out-- it is cheap, it is in a neat little hole in the wall place, and it is real food"
Greg...one correction. Chowhounds aren't looking for cheap hole-in-walls specifically. We're looking for the real-deal good stuff at every price range and in every genre. We don't, however, share the snobs' aversion to eating sans linen tablecloths, nor do we eat at four star places to bask in the prestige and status of it all. Whether we're grabbing a slice of pizza or of braised foie gras, we're in it for the deliciousness, the magical ability of talented, caring people to turn ingredients into inspiration.
in addition to link below, also see: http://www.chowhound.com/newengland/boards/boston/messages/25320.html
I was thrilled to find your review regarding this restaurant. I had come across information regarding it this summer yet have never been able to get there. Having grown up with a lot of this type of food I've excitedly looked forward to dining there and your wonderful review is a reminder to not waste anymore time but make and effort to go there within the next week. Thank you.....
I'll be back to let you know if I agree....
Great review. I've also been there. They're from the same general area that my Grandmother came from in Poland so it was very familiar. I do a lot of Polish cooking myself and my results are remarkably similar to theirs. They also operate a deli across the street where you can pick up many Polish cold cuts and other Polish food products. If you like liverwurst, try the paszkatowa (not sure of spelling but pronounced "pahshkatova". It's outstanding.
Just had our first meal there with Polish friends. What a treat to have someone familiar say "try this" or "this is usually served like..." etc. etc. We were surprised, delighted and stuffed, having eaten our way through as many "typical" dishes as we could.
Recommend this spot. Very easy walk from Andrews Sq. T.
Cafe Polonia Rocks- great review. I can count on a few fingers restaurants which would be worth seeking out in Southie, the gastronomic wasteland that it is (unless you you are heavily into sub-par pizza and greasy chineese),sadly, my neighborhood of residence.
Every time I have been there I walk away with a huge smile on my face and a doggie bag. Sorry to hear about the bad experience w/ the bread, usually it is wonderfully fresh rye (also available at the aforementioned Baltic Deli, (owned by the same family), across the street. My wife and I love the spread as well, she is a little squeamish about some foods so I have not told her that it is lard based. One night they ran out and gave us butter and she was devestated.
One must have, if available as a special...now hear me out, is the pickle soup, it is a bowl of heaven, especially in winter. If you look up comfort food in the dictionary, there should be a picture of Polonia's pickle soup next to it. I'm not a huge pickle fan, but it just works.
One of my favorites is the Vienna Schnitzel-An Austrian spin on the traditional pork cutlet served with melted cheese and a sunny side up egg.
Potato pancakes are wonderful and made fresh, so there is a little wait if ordered.
Unfortunaly I have never had enough room for the deserts, but I am dying to try the blintzes.
During the colder months they serve a warm mulled beer and wine which is delightful, but might not be everyone's cup of tea.
If ever making a trip to Southie, Polonia is a desintation to seek out, as is 224 (224 Boston St.) which may technically be in Dorchester.