Sunday, July 20, 2014

Polish Triangle

Podhalanka, with Greg out front
Podhalanka is a little dive of a joint, on Division Street right in the heart of Chicago's historic Polish neighborhood.

In the same block as the Chopin Theatre, it looks like it's been here forever. Go inside, and it reminds you of someone's grandma's parlor. There's a long bar down one side, formica tables and cheap chairs ranged down the other side, laid with flowered placemats. Funky prints on the wall, Christmas lights. The Polish flag. A blunderbuss hung on the wall for decor; odds and ends.

The waiter introduced himself as Greg, put three menus in front of us and then asked, "Your first time here?" We said yes. "Are you hungry?" he asked. We said yes.

Cabbage and sauerkraut soup,  Kapusniak
"I'm going to bring you a sampling of our menu, to introduce you to our food," he said, whisking the menus out of our hands. "First, I'll get you some of our special juice."

A pitcher of what looked like Kool-Ade was placed on the table. It was a kind of watery cherry juice, not too sweet.

Then came three different bowls of soup. Before me, a creamy white soup with barley and chicken, festooned with sprigs of dill. Before [The Man I Love], a hearty orange cabbage soup. Before our son, another creamy white soup with slices of sausage. This, we learned, was a Polish specialty called zurek, made with a soured mash of rye flour.

We passed the bowls around, letting one another taste them. The chicken barley soup was what you'd expect, good and hearty. The sour rye soup had an interesting flavor, and the sausage slices were good. My favorite was the cabbage soup, with bits of stewed pork and a good orange greasy mouth-feel.

Add caption
"Eat the blintzes right away while they're hot," said Greg, and he was right. These were the most delicate blintzes I've ever eaten, stuffed with a lemony cottage cheese. The browned edges of the crepes were crispy and delicious.

Potato pancakes came next, and they, too, were hot and crispy, delicious with apple sauce.

Stuffed cabbage
By this time, I was feeling full and satisfied, but there was more.  Stuffed cabbage in dilly tomato sauce, served with homemade mashed potatoes. A good porky blend in the stuffing.

Thick chunks of meaty kielbasa. A huge platter of mixed pierogi - meat, potato, and cabbage - served with a dollop of sour cream and garnished with sauteed onions.

Greg also brought out a dish of beet and horseradish relish.

Hearty and wonderful, it stuffed us to the gills. We were torn. It was too delicious to abandon, but we were checking into a hotel. We asked for a to-go box for the pierogis anyway, hoping that somehow we could eat them later.

"Come back for dinner," said Greg. That's when we serve the really filling stuff."

If you visit the Yelp page for Podhalanka, you'll see that this treatment of new customers is not unusual. It's a good scam to make a sale. But who could argue, because the food is just so good.

Alas, when we found our fancy hotel, we had to leave our bags with the concierge while they made up our room, and it didn't seem wise to check a bag of food along with it.

And, truly, the wait gave us time to walk off the meal on the streets of Chicago.

Someday I'll go back to Podhalanka - I know I will. And I'll eat that cabbage soup again, and, just maybe one of those exquisite blintzes.


Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

By this time, I was feeling full and satisfied, but there was more.

And that is the essence of Polish cooking. I went to a Polish place in lower Manhattan for some takeout once, and ended up taking out the waitress for a year and a half.

Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

But but but ... I'll eat the pierogis! Mine! Mine! Mine!

I wonder if there are any Polish restaurants in San Diego. Must. Google.

This is great, Aunt Snow.

smalltownme said...

Husband and I were discussing our road trip. Pizza in Chicago was on the list, but we might have to change that!

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Those soups look delicious!

P.S. The 7 train. Is that the Flushing Line?

Yes. I used to live in Sunnyside, and would take the 7 to Grand Central. Then I'd catch the 4,5, or 6 to get downtown.