The restaurant round-up that follows Omnivorous this week is “Twenty-four restaurants south of 52nd Street,” so themed because Gary is…south. But why 52nd street in particular, we wondered? A quick check of the addresses reveals the northernmost restaurant to be Szalas, a Goralean restaurant in Brighton Park. Come again? They’re Polish highlanders, they eat veal goulash, and on the weekends, they dance. If the column was named to accommodate this particular restaurant, you know it must be good.
The Highlanders Special, pictured above, consists of potato pancake topped with pork goulash, sprinkled with mozzarella cheese and a fat dollop of sour cream. It’s clearly a large portion, but we have to admit to a double-take when we saw the price: $15.50. If we give them the benefit of the doubt that it’s delicious — the Reader certainly seems to think so, as well as the photographer — that is still a lot of money for an entree at a Polish restaurant.
Right or wrong, Polish food is simply not a cuisine we expect to pay a lot of money for; Chinese and Mexican are also in this category. Thai and, say, Greek, are not anymore, because the gentrification of Thai and Greek food have inured us to $15 and up entrees. Which is not to say there aren’t plenty of places to get delicious and cheap Thai and Greek food! But we’re fine paying a little or a lot for either. Of course, Chinese and Mexican have been making inroads, too — witness Shanghai Terrace and Topolobampo.
As for Polish food, though, there’s really only one “expensive” Polish restaurant in the area (Lutnia). This doesn’t need to be the case! Any cuisine can be elevated to gourmet heights; all it takes is one enterprising and aesthetically gifted chef. But that hasn’t happened yet in Chicago, which is why a $15.50 entree at Szalas is jarring. But hey, if they can get away with it — and again, this looks pretty tasty — more power to them.
Okay, have a good weekend then!