Eat like you’re Polish in Greenpoint
That’s how to say “Let’s eat” in Polish.
You can have an ethnic-food adventure in Greenpoint, even if you didn’t know that.
The neighborhood’s commercial corridor, Manhattan Avenue, is dotted with Polish bakeries, butchers and restaurants. They are living reminders of the neighborhood’s history as a Polish enclave.
It’s true that lots of customers in these restaurants and shops speak the language. But the people who work in them will still be nice to you if you don’t.
It also doesn’t matter if you know next to nothing about traditional Polish cuisine, like me.
My late granny was half Polish, but I only learned a couple Polish swear words from her. And my pronunciation of them is so bad that people who actually speak Polish can’t figure out what I’m saying when I try them out.
Sadly, my Nana died when I was young. She never had a chance to give me Polish cooking lessons – or Polish eating lessons, for that matter. She spent so much time feeding her Irish husband and his Irish kinfolk that her Polish recipes fell by the wayside.
So on Wednesday, I decided I could remedy my ignorance.
I invited myself to the Polka Dot Café at 726 Manhattan Ave. Don’t let the English-language name fool you. The menu is Polish from top to bottom.
Recipes from 100 years ago
Though I showed up with no advance warning, café owner Marzena Parys kindly gave me a tutorial in How To Eat Like You’re Polish. Which, of course, I partly am.
Until five years ago, she ran Polski Meats, a business her late husband had launched. Then she decided a restaurant and prepared-food shop made more sense than a meat shop because of the influx of young residents to Greenpoint.
“Young people don’t have time to cook,” Parys told me.
The Polish fare she sells is traditional.
“These are recipes people knew 100 years ago,” she said.
Whenever the café owner needs to hire a cook, the candidate doesn’t have to be a professional chef. Invariably, they’ve always learned about Polish cuisine at home.
“I know she can cook because she has family,” Parys said.
Pork cutlets and potato dumplings
I asked Parys to pick out a typical lunch a restaurant would serve me if I went to Warsaw. She said a pork cutlet, sweet cabbage — which is minced up and tastes really good — mashed potatoes and cucumber salad.
At Polka Dot Café, customers are more likely to order chicken cutlets.
Also, it’s very Polish to go meatless for lunch. (Off in the distance, I can hear applause from the city Department of Education, with its Meatless Mondays.)
An appetizing and very Polish meatless lunch would include the sweet cabbage with a serving of kasha with finely minced vegetables such as peppers and corn in it plus a serving of beet salad.
Parys patiently spelled out the Polish-language names for many dishes. I’m afraid I might type them wrong and embarrass myself, so I left them out of this story.
A meatless lunch could also include pierogi – a pocket of dough with filling. The potato and cheese variety is the most popular at Polka Dot Café. And potato dumplings are a big Polish thing.
She showed me a vegetable salad that everybody serves at parties.
Café manager Agata Podgorska pointed out that if I had arrived in time for breakfast, pancakes filled with chopped apples would be a perfect Polish menu choice.
Also, there are Polish doughnuts called paczki. They have rose jelly filling in them and are served as dessert.
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