A couple of months ago I had a free weekend, so I decided to head north to visit the fam. Specifically, to visit Grandma. She gets lonely sitting in the nursing home even though Mom and everyone else tries to pop in on her as often as they can. If I’m away too long, Grandma starts to bug Mom about whether I’ve called or not. So, it just makes everyone’s life easier when Grandma is happy. I don’t mind though, she keeps me on my toes.
Unfortunately, Lindz wasn’t available for this trip (Grandma wasn’t happy about this, she likes it when Lindz visits). But just to let Lindz know what she was missing out on (food-wise, that is), I sent her a picture of a snack I cobbled together out of the fridge.
Lindz was amused, she sent back a picture of pizza rolls and juice and told me that I was missing out. Although, I did get the impression that she didn’t feel like she was missing out on anything with my snack.
Several weeks ago Lindz found a Groupon for Nye’s Polonaise, the premier Polish restaurant here in the Cities. Which is located in the Nordeast section of Minneapolis (you know, where the Polacks have lived for generations). I’ve been itching to go there for years. The urge gets worse when I’m working out in the western ‘burbs because I drive right by Nye’s on the way home. Anyway, the Groupon was getting close to expiration, so we made plans to make a date night out of it. After the usual bit of “What time do you want to go?”/”I don’t know, what time where you thinking of going?” we decided that sooner was better. This turned out to be a good idea. There weren’t many table filled when we got there at a quarter to five, but when we left around 6:30, there were people waiting at the door for their turn to be seated.
Based on the recommendation of my boss, Steve-O (also a Polack), we started the meal off with a Polonaise Martini each (Chopin vodka, dry vermouth, and olives). As much as I secretly yearn to be James Bond, I really need to come to accept the fact that I’m not a martini drinker. I can appreciate the quality of the drink, but it’s just not my cup of tea, so to speak. After the round of martinis, Lindz switched to her standard Bombay Sapphire G&T (gin and tonic) and I tried a Polish beer that I haven’t had before. Okocim O.K. Beer is a full bodied pale ale that is really good. Not too light and crisp, but also not too dark and heavy. All in all, a very nice beer for all occasions.
For our appetizers, I ordered the pickled herring. Hey, I’m a Polish kid in a Polish restaurant in the Polish section of town, what did you expect? Lindz got the Cheese and Potato Pierogi. The herring was very good, if a bit overpriced. I do consider it a worthwhile purchase because it was emotionally comforting to be eating herring in that atmosphere. Herring always reminds me of my Grandparents, Nick and Bert (really it’s Enoch and Bertha, but we’re all about brevity and nicknames). Grandpa and Grandma have both made and purchased an obscene quantity of the pickled fish over the years. Combine that with the mid-20th century decor of Nye’s (it’s not retro, they just haven’t changed it in 50 years) that I’ve seen in countless places with my Grandparents and you’ve got yourself a very nostalgic Polack on your hands.
Lindz and I both thought the pierogi were good. Though she prefers the ones at Longfellow’s Grill (which I haven’t had yet). I really liked the fried onions that came with the dish. I thought they added a nice savory/sweet taste to the pierogi.
For our entrees, Lindz ordered the special of the evening, creamy pesto shrimp linguini. Even though the shrimp were a bit overdone, Lindz did like the dish. Sorry, I didn’t get a picture of it. I’m trying to find that delicate balance of doing a decent job of documenting these dishes in public without being that annoying prick of a food blogger at the next table who does a full photo shoot with the flash going off like a thunder storm.
Lindz and I both opted for the house salad over the soup with our entrees. That was a mistake. The veggies were fresh and the dressing was good, but the salad consisted of lettuce and a wedge of tomato. Soup would have been better.
I was having a hard time deciding what I wanted to eat until I saw one item on the menu that was an answer to all of my prayers. The Polonaise Platter (sensing a theme yet?) under the section labeled Polish Specialties. It came out on a small serving platter (the kind that you put a full roast on). I just want to say that again to emphasize the amount of food that was placed before me. It came out on a small serving platter. It comes with a link of kielbasa (sausage), golabki (cabbage roll), three pierogi (filled dumplings), kluski (potato dumpling), zederka duszone (braised spare ribs), and of course kapusta kizona (our beloved sauerkraut, i.e. fermented cabbage). I’ve got a lot of ground to cover here, so I’m just going to take one item on the plate at a time.
First up is the Polish sausage. I’m heavily biased with quite a few foods because my family has been perfecting certain items over generations. At the head of that list is sausages. Grandpa Nick would make his own every year and I’ve had very few that comes as close to the perfection of his version. The ones served at Nye’s are good, but not outstanding, even though they come from the Kramarczuk’s, a well known and well regarded deli in town.
My family rarely made cabbage rolls, so Nye’s is fighting a fair fight here. In fact, Nye’s stands out quite proudly. This was by far the best item on whole platter. It was meaty with a nice flavor of caraway and garlic. The cabbage leaf cover added a sweet note to each bite.
As far as I can remember, no one in my family has made pierogi, so once again Nye’s has the edge here. At this point I had already tried the cheese and potato pierogi appetizer, and those were good, but not great. The ones that I had on my platter were much better. The one with sauerkraut was okay. The one with mushrooms was quite tasty. But the standout one was the one with a cranberry filling.
Kluski is a vague term that can apply to anything between a solid dough dumpling to noodles. The kluski served at Nye’s was a flour and potato dough made into a dumpling slightly smaller than a baseball. It was good, but like all the kluski that I’ve had, it is a really dense dough, so the bigger the dumpling, the harder it is to cut and eat. Which is why I prefer the kluski Mom makes (around the size of the top two sections of your pinkie finger). Flavor-wise, there really wasn’t any difference between Nye’s and Mom’s. In short, it was a good dumpling, even if it was a bit large.
Growing up on the farm, I’ve eaten a lot of ribs over the years. My desire and taste for them have grown and ebbed many times over the years. Currently I’m in a pro-rib phase, so I really enjoyed the ones at Nye’s. There was no dominant spice flavor which leads me to suspect that they were boiled with the kraut that it was served with. Which isn’t a bad option if the kraut is good.
Which leaves me with the kraut. I’ve never really appreciated kraut until I was in my twenties. Now I crave it on a regular basis. I’m not talking about the weird overly processed stuff you find at the grocery store (although Frank’s is pretty decent). I’m talking about the stuff that is made in 30 gallon crock jars sitting in the basement of your grandmother’s house. The kraut at Nye’s is arguably better then the stuff I grew up on. It is less sour (less fermentation) and heavier on the caraway seeds, which I’m a fan of. This was the other stand out item on the platter.
As I was explaining to Lindz earlier today. I had a great time at Nye’s. Even though I had never been there before, I felt totally at home. A super casual atmosphere and a lot of dear-to-my-heart comfort food is available. Plus our waitress was super awesome. I really look forward to making more stops here.
I’m going to leave with a saying that I saw on the menu: Jedzcie pijcie i popuszczajcie pas (Eat, Drink, and Loosen Your Belt).
P.S. For those of you going “This place sounds really familiar, where have I heard of it before?”, the answer you’re looking for is that it was featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives with Guy Fieri.
I wasn’t planning on doing a two parter, but Lindz took a really cute picture of Ophelia and me.
For some people, it’s music. For others, it’s snow, or even the neighborhood lighting up. But for me, Christmas is finally here when I get my hands on some smoked fish.
This urge I can trace squarely back to my grandpa Nick. When I was little, he would always buy smoked fish around this time of year. It was usually smoked whitefish. Which I do try and pick up on a regular basis. The other one that he would buy (when he could find them) is blind robbins. Blind robbins are small herring fillets that are so salted and dried that they turn into a jerky version of a salt-lick. My saliva glands are going into overdrive just thinking about them.
While wandering around Cub Foods today, I ended up at the seafood counter. This is an area that I tend to avoid because I’m weak willed and usually end up buying something from there. In this case it was a surprise package for Lindz (post coming as soon as I make it) and a pack of whole smoked herring. I’ve had one already and it was quite good. A little heavy handed on the salt, but it had a nice strong smoke flavor.
So, I say to you, Happy Holidays and eat some fish!
This happened awhile back. Lindz sent me out grocery shopping by myself (an iffy proposition at the best of times). I managed to mostly stick to our list. The two items that I splurged on were a pint of pickled herring for myself and some scallops for Lindz. I thought it was a pretty fair deal even though her treat cost about twice as much as mine (the scallops were even on sale).
To cook them, I went with the simplest approach I could. I melted a couple of tablespoons of butter in my trusty cast-iron and fried them for a couple of minutes on each side. The seasoning was barely a sprinkle each of salt and pepper.
I got a great caramelization on the scallops, but I think I overcooked them by about 30 seconds. They were a bit chewier than I was hoping. One thing that I’ve been trying to work on is my timing with seafood. As near as I can figure, there is about a 30 second window between under cooked and overcooked. And I always seem to be on the plus side of this ideal temperature.
Despite the half minute of extra heat, Lindz did enjoy eating five of them. Well, I had to try one of them. Research you know. I was trying to figure out what I need to improve upon for the next time. No, really. I was. I read it in a book somewhere. Towards the back.
Addendum: Last night Dave pointed out that his dad only grills scallops for around ten seconds on each side. He also said that since they are so delicate, it is better to err towards sushi. Which got me thinking again about how long I cooked the scallops. It probably was closer to a minute a side rather than a couple. They were over cooked, but not by that much.