Beyond the pierogi
Comfort food at Polska Chata
Poland is a country that has been conquered, divided, and put back together more times than most, a fact reflected in its cuisine. Polish food has many aspects that seem German, Austrian, and even Turkish. Still, its identity is unmistakably its own.
Polska Chata (literally, Polish cottage) is tucked away on a quiet side street off bustling East Ridge Road. The former house is divided into a deli area, a frozen food/grocery area, and a dine-in area. (Since this article was written during the coronavirus pause, I did not get to sit down at Polska Chata.)
One of the unique aspects of Polska Chata is its focus on vegetarian and vegan dishes. Polish cuisine is often meat heavy, and there usually aren’t many options for those who don’t eat meat. Polska Chata has a dedicated vegan menu and several vegetarian options on its regular menu. It also does a great job with well-known Polish classics such as pierogies and kielbasa (roasted and smoked!), too.
Where does one start to navigate this menu? Start with the familiar—the potato pancakes are a must-try at Polska Chata. They have a crisp exterior with a slightly dense inside. They are seasoned well and are perfectly delicious by themselves but come with the traditional side of sour cream, and applesauce is available upon request.
Next, try beef stew’s close cousin, bigos. Polska Chata serves the traditional version (a meaty stew with sauerkraut and sausage) and a vegan one. Since bigos translates to “hunter’s stew,” I was curious as to what the vegan version would be like. It consists of sauerkraut, tomatoes, cabbage, mushrooms, and peppers. It is a comforting and lighter version of its meaty original that will satisfy even the most dedicated meat lover.
Not in the stew mood? Give the schabowy with fries and pickle salad a whirl. Who doesn’t enjoy a breaded cutlet (it is usually pork, but occasionally there is a chicken version), crisp fries, and a refreshing salad made of thinly sliced pickles?
The marinated salads at Polska Chata are the bright and pleasantly acidic sides that the rich and hearty stews, fried dishes, and buttery pierogies call for. Each fresh, crunchy bite will help cleanse your palate and savor the next forkful of your main dish. If you are wondering which marinated salad to try first, you can’t go wrong with the sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is coleslaw’s fermented, long-lost relative. It may sound unusual, but you will be surprised at how similar it is to a coleslaw made with vinegar. Polska Chata’s version is mild and tasty—perfect for sauerkraut noobs and aficionados alike.
If you go on a Friday, you are (more so) in luck! Polska Chata has a fish fry on Fridays. Naturally, I decided to try the least fish-related dish on the menu, the butterfly fried shrimp with fries. Growing up on an island, I am a snob about seafood. The shrimp here was fried perfectly with light, crunchy breading and juicy on the inside. I especially loved that it came with a vinegary slaw and cocktail sauce. Perhaps it is not the most Polish dish, but it was one of my favorites.
The vegan platter features (you guessed it) the vegan versions of pierogies, bigos, stuffed cabbage, marinated salad, and a hefty wedge of bread. The pierogies taste remarkably similar to the regular pierogies—pillowy half-moons of potato dough with sautéed onions. The stuffed cabbage is a hearty and comforting bite made of lentils and mushrooms. I did not miss the meat (the regular version features beef and pork).
Polska Chata also serves an amazing variety of desserts made in house. I love the pierniki—it is the gingerbread loaf we all know but elevated with plum jam and chocolate chips. Each bite is gingery, fruity, and moist. There also are well-known Polish desserts such as pączki (Polish donuts) and chruściki (very thin pastry with an abundance of powdered sugar). Occasionally, they have vegan chocolate cake and other vegan desserts. The selection of desserts changes, so if you have your heart set on a specific one, give a call. In addition, Polska Chata carries a variety of Polish specialty foods, drinks, and, most importantly, housemade (frozen) pierogies in various flavors.
Whether you are looking to get takeout, eat in, or whip something up in your own kitchen, Polska Chata has just what you need.
Naz Banu is a software engineer by day and a food appreciator by night (and day). She is often seen trying to convince people to try the spicy salsa for once. Follow her on Instagram at @tablefornaz.