When it's time to feast like a king, or at least where kings have dined, Wierzynek is the place. And be sure to set aside at least a few hours to soak in the history.
In this old Polish city, the fascinating Wierzynek restaurant dates to the mid-14th Century and the tenement-type building that houses it probably goes back another hundred or so before that.
Named after the original owner of the building, the restaurant is conveniently near the city's bustling medieval marketplace and can trace its roots to a feast thrown by its owner in 1364.
That was when Mikolaj Wierzynek, a wealthy investor, decided to put his eatery on the map by hosting a bash that included the likes of several European monarchs. Since then, both heads of state and gourmets have found their way to one of Wierzynek's elegant rooms, including then-President Gerald R. Ford, members of the Kennedy family and Fidel Castro.
Menu favorites include trout, venison and a variety of Polish specialties of the house which, for example, may be planned around tenderloin of beef or scallops of veal.
Interestingly, visitors to other restaurants might encounter shortages, such as in finding certain cuts of beef. But we were assured by Wierzynek's impeccable waiters, most of whom understand either some English, French or German, that this was not the case in Krakow's premier restaurant. At least as far as our experience went, they were right.
While dining on rolades au Wierzynek (meat rolled around thin strips of ham and topped with a whole boiled egg) and salmon in aspic, we enjoyed the atmosphere of one of the many dining rooms.
There is, to name a few, the Portrait Room, with appropriate royal personages gracing the walls; the Knight's Hall, whose armor recalls another age, and the Clock Room, housing a collection of antique clocks. Each room, plus a mead cellar with its ancient walls, recalls the nation's rich history.
Following several courses that included a bottle of wine came the inevitable check. But certainly there must have been some mistake! How could we have had such an elegant multicourse dinner for the U.S. equivalent of $3 a head? But given the vagaries of Poland's economy, that was the right amount, the waiter assured us.
In Tartar Footsteps
On a pleasant summer night, what greater after-dinner pleasure is there in all of Krakow than to stroll out of Wierzynek and into historic Market Square? Through this massive square, in 1241, ran the wild Tartar hordes, quickly reducing Krakow to ashes and rubble. From these ruins was rebuilt the largest marketplace in medieval Europe.
And it is here, from the towers of the Church of Our Lady, that a solitary, haunting trumpet call is still sounded on the hour, harking back to a centuries-old warning that the city was under attack.
But unfortunately, it wasn't a pleasant summer night. In fact, it was a bitter cold evening. Visitors had to wait in line for almost an hour on a nearby windswept corner for a taxi, an elusive commodity at night here.
Still, it was worth the bone-chilling wait. For in the words of the current management, "There has never been an occasion when we have been unable to satisfy the demands of our guests . . . our place is their place. . . ."