Goulash and cabbage and veal, oh my!
This authentic Polish restaurant is an excellent example of how small restaurants should work
611 Dorchester Avenue, South Boston, MA 02127
Monday – Thursday: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Friday: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Sunday: 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
After a short walk from Andrews station on the Red Line, you may find yourself thinking you are in Poland when you walk into the tiny room that houses Café Polonia. You will be greeted warmly by a strong Eastern European accent and menus written both in English and Polish. The Slavic comfort food delivers on authenticity as well as quality, making the quick trip down to Dorchester worth it any day of the week.
The way the dining area at Café Polonia is decorated evokes the spirit of a Polish home – including a fake fireplace that obscures the kitchen area and makes the restaurant look like a living room. The small room was nearly empty and very quiet, though I went on a Saturday night. Though the wait staff was friendly and helpful when asked questions about the extensive menu, I was surprised that I once had to leave my table in order to ask for a refill on my water.
Every meal here begins with a basket of dense but delicious bread with a spread on the side called Smalec — pork lard mixed with onions. While too greasy for my taste, this starter serves its purpose, reminding every diner that this restaurant is unapologetically Polish.
An excellent option to sample the culinary range that Café Polonia has to offer is the Polish Plate, an assortment platter of hearty choices. The kielbasa are perfectly grilled, and the stuffed cabbage contains a well-flavored blend of meat and rice that manages to stick together with a texture that is not too soggy. The plate also contains several pierogies, stuffed with either potatoes or sauerkraut and mushrooms, though they were blander than the other offerings.
The piece that held the entire dish together was Bigos, or Hunter’s Stew, a mix of cabbage and beef that is both sour and savory, making each bite in this generous portion surprising and delicious. This robust dish made me feel ready to stomp off into a dense forest in order to find a bear to wrestle.
The next oversized entrée I tried was the veal cutlet, which came with sauerkraut, roasted potatoes and a pickled beet salad. While the sauerkraut was not sour enough for my taste, the pickled beets were excellent. The amount of vinegar and sugar was exactly right to complement the inherent flavor of the beets without masking it entirely. But the highlight of the plate was the veal itself, which came in a fairly light batter whose peppery flavor made this cutlet much more than just a fried piece of meat.
The final savory option I sampled was also the one that impressed me the most. Though its name may not be the most politically correct, the excellence of the Gypsy Pancake more than made up for any offense taken. This combination of two enormous potato pancakes with hearty Goulash (a paprika seasoned beef stew) stuffed in the middle took up an entire ten-inch plate and will stick to your ribs for several days. The pancakes were cooked exactly right – crispy along the edges without being burnt. In the center, they soaked up the flavorful Goulash, creating a superb mesh of contrasting tastes and textures.
For dessert, I tried the Szarlotka, or apple crisp, which my waiter assured me was the Best in Boston. While I can’t really make a judgment on that claim, it was an excellent dessert. Coming with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, the top crust was pleasantly crunchy, while the inner apple filling was not too sweet, meaning it balanced the ice cream extremely well.
Café Polonia is a must-visit, especially for anyone hailing from Eastern Europe who wants a taste of home. The entrée plates are all under $20, and each comes with enough food that you will either leave overstuffed or with enough leftovers for a whole second meal. Its extremely convenient location right next to the Red Line and its friendly waitstaff are nice bonuses to the dining experience. This restaurant is doing almost everything right, and they will make you forget you are not eating a home-cooked meal.