If you’ve ever wondered what Logan Square or Wicker Park looked like before hipsters, all you have to do is spend some time in the neighborhood surrounding Kimski, a new Korean-Polish fusion counter at Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar in Bridgeport. There, you’ll find Section 8 housing, a metalworking shop, cops, politicians, blue collars and white collars—a true-blue Chicago neighborhood bursting at the seams.
The problem with the food at a lot of local Polish restaurants is one of gloppiness. So many places make pierogi or stuffed cabbage in advance, holding them in steam tables or buffets where the dumplings dissolve into various states of glop. This is not the case at Smak-Tak (the name translates as “Delicious, yes!”), a 10-year-old Polish restaurant in Jefferson Park. The owner, Piotr Lakomy, has a commitment to serving fresh Polish fare that is unrivaled in Chicago. “We cook everything to order,” he said. “We’re family operated and each member of our family specializes in cooking something different. We don’t use preservatives.”
Save a long tradition of ethnic jokes at their expense, the Italians and the Poles don’t have much in common. With his good work promoting interreligious harmony, validating Darwin and bringing down Communism (although Ronald Reagan might claim that all for himself) Pope John Paul II was probably the brightest spot in their shared history.
In 1977 Illinois enacted a holiday to commemorate Casimir Pulaski, a Polish folk hero and Revolutionary War officer considered the father of the American cavalry. As a result, every first Monday in March, schoolchildren and city employees have another government-sponsored day off. We figured there’s no better way to honor Pulaski than by throwing down at a generous Polish buffet. Here are the top nine, in ranking order from best to, well, still pretty good.
Blame it on my babcia (Polish for “grandmother”). Every addiction begins with a gateway, and my culinary marijuana to ethnic comfort food was my babcia’s pierogi, moon-shaped dumplings of potato and cheese pan-seared in a lake of scalding butter and topped with a porky hash of caramelized onion and bacon.