Sometimes it's nice to go back to the classics, to return to the tastes of one's childhood. You don't have to be Polish to taste the homespun comfort of the stews, sausages, dumplings and roasts at Polka Polish Cuisine. You just have to be willing to travel to a quirky little eatery on the outskirts of Glendale.
Polka is a haven for old-world Polish dishes and the old world Poles who enjoy them. There are peirogi (dumplings), golabki (stuffed cabbage), klopsy (ground steak in gravy), and nalesniki (sour cherry crepes), to name a few. I doubt these recipes have changed in decades, perhaps centuries. This food brought me hurtling back to my childhood. In the '60s, my mother typically made Irish-Germanic food: stews, buttered vegetables, iceberg salads and mashed potatoes, similar to what you'll find at Polka. Just like hers, these recipes are made with great care and little hurry.
The beef stew (gulasz) is heartwarming, stick-to-your-ribs comfort food. The peirogis are fluffy and light. The stuffed cabbage is filled with plainly seasoned beef, pork, onions and potatoes, topped with a simple tomato sauce. It's the kind of authentic, nutritious food one would eat after a long day in the fields around Krakow or, when my mom would make them, after a long game of Hide & Seek. All of these dishes were satisfying but nothing brought the sparkle to my eye quite like their kielbasa.
Kielbasa. Polish sausage. I'd come to think of it as just another hot dog, larger than most, but no more special. At Polka, the kielbasa is a taste explosion. First off, it's probably a foot long, curving around your plate like a bend in the Gdansk River. It's grilled to a golden-brown and topped with pan-fried dried red peppers. The typical tight, thick outer layer is absent. Instead my knife slides right in to the delicate membrane, revealing a multi-hued, moussey, meaty filling. The taste is a revelation: tender, full of spices, juicy, and light as a feather because it was just made. If you come to Polka for nothing else, come for the kielbasa.
The decor at Polka has the soul of an elegant nobleman on a peasant's budget. Linen tablecloths, fancy flat wear and dishes served en flambe mix with a seedy strip mall exterior and aging decorative touches. These things only add to the charm. Why else would the place be packed on a Thursday afternoon? Pride of ownership is evident in the friendly service as well.
Healthful teas such as melatonin tea, St. John's wort, dandelion and burdock root (all $2.99) fit the restaurant's proud motto: "So Healthy, Nutritious, Delicious Polish Dishes." All in all, Polka is not a symphony of complex, modern flavors, but it is a fun step out of time and place to the comforting, nutritious food of old Europe.
Where: 4112 Verdugo Blvd., Los Angeles
When: Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Prices: Entrees (including soup, salad and Polish chocolate) $11.99 to $15.99 lunch; $15.99 to $19.99 dinner
More info: (323) 255-7887, polkarestaurant.com