I’m trying to clean up my folders and I ran across a bunch of humorous memes and one pic.
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.
BRINNER (brin-er) noun; (1) An evening meal that consists of breakfast menu items. (2) A contraction of the words breakfast and dinner.
Usage: Man, I love having pancakes and bacon for dinner! It’s my favorite brinner!
Origin: I heard it from Matt D. sometime last year (see above usage). I have no idea where he got it from.
One evening, I was rooting around the kitchen looking for ideas on what to make for supper and I was coming up with a complete blank. Out of desperation, I asked Lindz if egg sandwiches were OK. Fortunately, she said yes because we may not have eaten otherwise. She even threw in the idea of using some breakfast patties that we picked up at the store. Of course I had to one up her and found a partial bag of mozzarella that needed to get used and decided to throw that into the mix.
I toasted and buttered some bread, made a couple of over-easy eggs, and fried off the patties. The real stroke of genius (hey, it’s my story and I’ll tell it how I want!) was to pan fry the cheese so that it would melt and get a nice crust on it. Assemble the parts and enjoy with several napkins.
I’ve been digging through my backlog of photos and I’ve found a bunch of single random ones that more-or-less fall into the category of “fall harvest.” So this is going to be a bit of a hodgepodge of a post. (yeah, somebody’s gotten into the thesaurus again)
Throughout summer and fall, Lindz was making semi-regular stops at the local farmer’s market and on one trip she picked up some gorgeous sweetcorn.
The most consistent way I’ve found to cook sweetcorn is to get a pot of water boiling, add the corn, and let it come back up to a full boil. I then let it cook for about a minute and then pull it out. This way the corn is still nice and juicy but doesn’t taste raw either.
I think it was the same trip that Lindz also picked up some delightful green beans. These I steam for about five minutes (checking often) so they come out nice and al dente. Toss with a pat of butter and a pinch each of salt and pepper.
I enjoy sausages anytime that I can get my grubby little hands on them, but for whatever reason, I always think of them as cold weather comfort food. I think they are best with either a spicy mustard or some horseradish (preferably homemade).
My boss, Steve, has really been into canning the last couple of years. This year he was working on perfecting his pickle recipe. He found a spicy pickle mix (I think it’s this one) at Mill’s Fleet Farm and gave me a jar to try. It definitely packed a nice punch of jalapeno with a good and crisp pickle. It was one of those nice burns that wasn’t too overpowering, but stayed with you for some time. The more you ate, the more intense it got too.
Mom picked up a half bushel box of peaches this fall and make most of it into jam. It didn’t last very long once Lindz and I opened it and got a taste.
Along with the usual jellies and jams that Mom made, she also did some salsa this year. Generally, I’m not a fan because the flavor usually seems dull and overcooked. Probably the same thing. This primarily applies to store-bought salsas. I prefer a nice pico de gallo (fresh uncooked salsa) any day of the week. However, the recipe that Mom used has me hesitating on my anti-salsa stance. It was a bit sweet (from the tomatoes), a bit spicy (just enough to round out the flavor), and a whole lot of tomatoey goodness.
And now for something completely different: Oreos.
My family is Catholic (with the stray Lutheran or two), so when my Grandfather Mike passed away back in ’76, a mass was said for him. That has turned into a yearly tradition which has been going strong ever since. As other relatives have passed away over the years, they have been added to the remembrance.
The mass is held at my parent’s church (which also used to be my grandparents) and afterwards, everyone heads over to the farm to BS and eat lunch. So I thought it would be fitting to use this as a post on the one year (-ish) anniversary of starting this blog. The reasoning is pretty simple. Family gatherings like these have been a major influence on my life, both culinarily and communally. I look forward to this event each and every year because it’s one of the few times that I get to see a large portion of my family. That and the food. The Czecks love to eat. And they love to eat good food.
I just want to point out that the food has been scaled back significantly as the years have gone by. The food this year completely covered the kitchen table and the desserts took up a decent portion of a counter.
As noted in a previous post, my nephew Cole helped me make a kale salad (I really promise this post is coming soon). My aunt Rosie (and hubby Gary) went to the State Fair this year and she sat through a twenty minute demonstration in order to get this wild rice salad recipe (at least I think this is the recipe). I’m glad she was patient because it was very good. It had avocado, steak, wild rice, and all sorts of other goodies in it. One of my other aunties, Mary Ann, had a freezer full of pheasant, so she used this opportunity to get rid of some of it. Much to everyone’s delight I might add. She fried off the pieces, made a pan gravy, and finished it off in the crockpot. She had some of the younger kids come up to her and tell her how good it was. It was really cute. Some of those kids have never had pheasant before. It warmed my heart that they were willing to try something completely new and even more that they liked it.
Mom was the one who made the sausages. She picked up five pounds of the polish at Thielen’s (as usual) and it all disappeared by the time everyone was through eating. It really is that good. I can’t talk up that meat locker enough.
I think there may have been a riot if my sis, Chell, didn’t make coffee cake. (I’ve posted the recipe before.) I don’t even care that she didn’t make the poppy seed version because she sent a whole apple one home with Lindz and me. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m very easily bribed with food. It’s even easier when it’s really good homemade food.
I was joking with my cousin Jon about the popcorn balls that he brought. I asked him if he was trying to class up the Czeck gatherings by drizzling chocolate over them. He just smiled sheepishly and chuckled. Good enough of an answer because they were a chocolate-caramel delight.
I’ve tried for years to get Mom to sit down, relax for a minute, and grab a bite to eat. But she is having none of it. At this point, I ask the token question of if she needs help and then let her do her thing. For the record, I do gladly help when she asks for it.
As a final note, I am endlessly amused watching people on the farm. It started out many years ago with my cousins. They would run around like wild animals crawling over the hay bales, running through the woods, sitting on the tractors, chasing the cats, mooing at the cows, and spooking the chickens. Or what I would call a normal day. Now that my cousins are older and have kids of their own, I get to watch the next generation do the same thing. And you know what? It still hasn’t gotten old.
To make a very long and sleep deprived story short, Lindz and I spend the last day and a half in and out of the ER helping a friend because she broke her hip. Don’t worry, she is fine. Got some pins and a rod installed and on the road to recovery. Anyway, didn’t really have a chance or the energy to make anything resembling a meal today or even the desire to go out and get food. So Lindz ended up finishing off the leftover pizza in the fridge and I just operated on auto-pilot which apparently meant sausages and a quick homemade coleslaw.
Once again, I blame my upbringing.