Re: Expectations About Polish Food In Chicago

Last Friday, we wrote about our sticker shock when we saw the price of a certain (tasty-looking) main course at Szalas on the Southwest Side. We argued that we’ve come to expect Polish food in Chicago to be cheap, and we’re somewhat suspicious when it’s not.

This generated the slightest pique of ire from Louisa of Movable Feast, who was concerned we were reopening the X-food-is-meant-to-be-cheap message board war (veterans of which are currently suing for more generous meal stipends).

But we never meant to imply that there’s a reason inherent to the cuisine itself for it to be universally inexpensive, or that we would not be willing to pay a lot for imaginative, high quality Polish food served in a sophisticated restaurant. It’s just that, since such a venue empirically does not exist in Chicago, and because the overwhelmingly vast majority of Polish restaurants in the city are conspicuously inexpensive, that we’ve come to view Polish as a “value” option. In fact, we think there should be a temple to fancy Polish food in Chicago, and that there’s a market for it.

However, commenter “Bart” disagrees:

There are no good Polish restaurants in the Chicago area, and I doubt you would find one in the US at all. Simply this kind of cousine doesn’t sell, and is not existent except withing old country. For real taste of Polish cuisine try some more upscale restaurants in Warsaw, Krakow. But don’t expect the bill to be running under $40-$50 per dish.

But truth is, Szalas is still serving it right, even if their menu is bit on a countryside - but you are served a traditional stuff.

We love Bart’s absolutism and willingness to admit that Szalas is, indeed, alright. But what of his claim of $40-$50 entrees in Poland? Well, the most expensive restaurant in the country is Wierzynek in Krakow; coincidentally it is also the oldest restaurant in the country, dating back to 1364. In an extremely helpful turn of events, Wierzynek’s menu is online — translated into several languages — and includes prices.

The set menu (like a prix fixe except you don’t have any options) includes pierogi, sour soup with smoked bacon, beef roulade in mushroom sauce with buckwheat and warm beetroot salad, “cream cake on the mirror of strawberry sauce” (!) and a glass of cherry vodka, and is 175 zloty, or $80, a person. That’s not insignificant in a country with a per capita GDP of $16,600, around half that of the United States.

But only tourist eat set menu, yes? Should we ever find ourselves in Krakow, we are ordering: foie gras in wild rose and apple preserves ($42), crayfish soup with sour cream and dill ($16), and the roe deer and quail duet served with wild rice
and many-colour pepper sauce for $50. Ooh! Or maybe the veal leg stewed in dark mushroom sauce, served with roasted potatoes and sweet pea, a hefty $57. And we can’t say we’re not intrigued by the apple strudel with linden tree ice cream for $15. All this comes to upwards of $130 or so before beverages (tax and tip are mostly included, in all likelihood), which is nothing to sneeze at.

While an opulent, 650 year old Polish restaurant that regularly plays host to visiting foreign dignitaries may not be in the cards for Chicago, surely there’s still room for something special, eh? Something with foie gras…

Szalas [MenuPages]
Szalas [Official Site]
Wierzynek [Official Site]

[Photo: Daniel Matysiak/flickr. That “GRILL” awning is atrocious]

Re: Expectations About Polish Food In Chicago