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Restaurants specializing in Eastern European cuisine no longer seem content simply to attract homesick expats pining for a hearty meal. Judging from the popularity of such places as Polonia, Lacomka and Chef Hans Café, it appears there are more than a few diners with a proclivity for stuffing their gourds on meals that no one could describe as 'light.� Polish food, like the cuisine of other Slavic nations, is about as glutted as Coach Ditka's arteries, and Anna's Polish Restaurant will certainly help nurture a bay- windowed frame.

Case in point: a platter of smoked kielbasas ($10.99), flown straight in from Chicago, grilled and served with plenty of sauerkraut and sautéed onions. Sorry, dieters ' they don't offer the low-fat I Can't Believe It's Not Polish Sausage option here. A plate of pan-fried potato-and-cheese pierogies ($4.99) help enrich any meaty dish, and these pillowy dumplings, handsomely primped with fried onions, were damn near perfect. For as hearty (but not as filling) a side, try the red borscht ($3.29 cup; $4.79 bowl) ' a crimson-colored beet soup not acidic in the least. With fava beans, carrots and potatoes, the chunky concoction makes a great option for those looking to up their vegetable intake; a white borscht, made from fermented rye flour, smoked sausage and eggs, will certainly speak to the Bob Swerski (George Wendt's SNL 'superfan� character) in you.

Of the mains, I couldn't get enough of chef Anna's specialty ' a Cracovia chicken cutlet ($15.99) crusted on both sides with a healthy coating of Parmesan dough. The fried slab was at once juicy, tender and crisp, and the steady downpour outside made me want to curl up with the cutlet on a sofa in my jammies and watch the rain hit the window.  The defining characteristics of Eastern European cuisine ' substantial, comforting, bloat-inducing ' made an order of the beef goulash ($13.99) a no-brainer. And it looked inviting: beefy chunks slathered in a thick brown sauce blanketing kopytka (potato 'finger dumplings� similar to gnocchi). But like the 1986 Chicago Bears, the dish comprised an impressive assemblage but didn't come through in the clutch. Compared to the goulash at Chef Hans Café, Anna's was an unseasoned disappointment. A side of red cabbage salad, on the other hand, was refreshing, while the beetroot salad went a little too heavy on red peppers. Potato pancakes, another letdown, were brushed to the side after a couple of bites ' even apple sauce that tasted like grandma's apple pie couldn't redeem the flat, lifeless patties for me.

And then came the strudel ($4.29), a late-game neutralizer that put the kitchen back in our good graces. Another dessert, the walnut extravaganza known as pychotka ($4.29), is a must for nut-lovers, and crepes 'Nalesnikiâ?� ($4.79) is a winner, even with Reddi-wip and strawberry topping from a jar. Service deserves special mention: Our server couldn't have been more charming or pleasant, qualities that were reflected in the restaurant's dining room.

The space once housed Polonia, the reigning champeen of Polish cuisine in this town, before they moved to larger digs up in Longwood. With a little time and some seasoning, Anna's should give them a run for the title.

I have a secret to tell you, one that might shake up everything you think you know. We did not invent good food. The concept of interesting flavors and combinations of ingredients did not appear full blown with our generation, or the one before us.

We have become so accustomed to "the next great thing", so enamored of trends, that we overlook cuisines that have stayed the same for hundreds of years. Often they are the products of hardship and necessity, but they've survived – and this is a pretty radical notion – because they are good.

We have become so accustomed to "the next great thing", so enamored of trends, that we overlook cuisines that have stayed the same for hundreds of years. Often they are the products of hardship and necessity, but they've survived – and this is a pretty radical notion – because they are good.

Shame on those monolithic tourist-trap facades claiming to be restaurants, with blazing microwaves and lowered opinions of their guests, able to provide neither the steak nor the sizzle. I would challenge any nouveau-cuisine kitchen Wunderkind who slaps a truffle on a shrimp and calls it "fusion" to dine at Chef Henry's Café and say afterwards that they can prepare a more satisfying dinner.

Shame on those monolithic tourist-trap facades claiming to be restaurants, with blazing microwaves and lowered opinions of their guests, able to provide neither the steak nor the sizzle. I would challenge any nouveau-cuisine kitchen Wunderkind who slaps a truffle on a shrimp and calls it "fusion" to dine at Chef Henry's Café and say afterwards that they can prepare a more satisfying dinner.

The Café itself is unpretentious, harbored in a strip mall just past the point where you figure you must have passed it, there's nothing out here, when there it is next to the 7-11. A storefront establishment, the simple decor done up in sherbet colors of salmon and green does nothing to distract from the quality of the food. This is Henrich Brestowski's other place, a scant 2-1/2 miles down Howell Branch Road from the Tip-Top Bistro, where he updates classic European dishes with great results. Here Brestowksi barely swerves from tradition, making flour spaetzel dumplings by hand and slow-simmering split pea soup.

The Café itself is unpretentious, harbored in a strip mall just past the point where you figure you must have passed it, there's nothing out here, when there it is next to the 7-11. A storefront establishment, the simple decor done up in sherbet colors of salmon and green does nothing to distract from the quality of the food. This is Henrich Brestowski's other place, a scant 2-1/2 miles down Howell Branch Road from the Tip-Top Bistro, where he updates classic European dishes with great results. Here Brestowksi barely swerves from tradition, making flour spaetzel dumplings by hand and slow-simmering split pea soup.

Hungarian and Bohemian specialties like golubky – cabbage rolls stuffed with beef and pork and served with sauerkraut – or veal bratwurst cooked in mustard sauce (both $9.95) are prepared faithfully to tradition. This is a restaurant that is proud of the food it makes; nobody would stew dark chicken meat for the chicken paprikash ($11.95) until it falls apart at the touch of a fork unless they truly wanted people to enjoy it. The Café focuses on schnitzel, either pork or veal pounded thin and quickly sautéed, by serving it several different ways. Depending on the accompaniment, cream or wine sauce, simply breaded or topped with cheese, the meat takes on totally different flavors (the dishes range from $10.95 to $13.95).

Hungarian and Bohemian specialties like golubky – cabbage rolls stuffed with beef and pork and served with sauerkraut – or veal bratwurst cooked in mustard sauce (both $9.95) are prepared faithfully to tradition. This is a restaurant that is proud of the food it makes; nobody would stew dark chicken meat for the chicken paprikash ($11.95) until it falls apart at the touch of a fork unless they truly wanted people to enjoy it. The Café focuses on schnitzel, either pork or veal pounded thin and quickly sautéed, by serving it several different ways. Depending on the accompaniment, cream or wine sauce, simply breaded or topped with cheese, the meat takes on totally different flavors (the dishes range from $10.95 to $13.95).

If you enjoy fine cooking, you will be pleased enormously by these dishes. If you have any Slavic blood deep in your heritage, this food will nourish your psyche like mothers milk. The tang of sour cream and the mellow taste of paprika will stir some genetic memory of evenings in Prague or Lubin, places you've barely heard of. Your great-grandmother's voice from the Vast Beyond will resonate in your brain and ask if Estera Brestowski's apple strudel is better than hers, and with regrets but deep satisfaction, you will have to answer yes.

East Winter Park is home to a growing number of Polish transplants who shop for staples at Europol Polish Deli – the former home of Warzawa. Neither the plain storefront (buried in the plaza at the juncture of Aloma Avenue and S.R. 436) nor the spare interior (a shotgun space anchored by a butcher's case) indicates the wealth of stock inside. Here's what you need to know.

Sausage: The main event. Ask for Polish sausage and be prepared for the follow-up question, "What kind?" Old-fashioned? Smoked? Beef? Pork? Made in Chicago, they're sold by the stick and are all lean and delicious. Pierogi: Homemade varieties are packed by the dozen and sold frozen. There's no going wrong with cheese & potato or onion & potato. Beer: A separate refrigerator case stores a selection of potent brews from Poland and Russia. Other: Fresh rye bread, Polish butter, currant juice and baked confections.

Everyone talks about the plethora of Vietnamese cuisine in Orlando, the wide variety of Hispanic restaurants or the strong Indian presence. Now add to our multicultural mix the words "vareniki" and "piroshki," foods from Russia.

The Lacomka Bakery & Deli in Winter Park is serving up potato dumplings and borscht worthy of a stay at the Summer Palace. Born in Georgia in the Ukraine (did you know that in Soviet Georgia they grow peaches and eat grits?), Luboi Vyazhvich is eager to serve up her handmade cakes or wrap up whole smoked herrings so tender that they spread like pate. Pick up a box of Csar Nicholas Royal Tea or take home some meat and cheese blintzes. The meat case holds authentic Russian sausages and homemade eggplant relish, and the taste of a "Russian melt" chicken sandwich will make you dance the "kazatski" all the way back home.

As one might expect, the N. Park Ave. Deli & Food Mart is on the famous Park Avenue in Winter Park. But it's on NORTH Park Avenue, the more unsightly other end of the spectrum than the chichi shops. For years, the previous owners – Anna Federer, a native Hungarian, and her husband – made their mark by offering hot goulash, among the other ethnic recipes, in the deli behind the counter of what's really a convenience store. Now retired, the Federers still own the building but a new couple is carrying on the tradition, sans goulash.

Still, the deli carries an interesting menu of cheap sandwiches and subs. A healthy egg salad on wheat with lettuce and tomatoes costs $3.19. Or take home a pound of the egg salad for $4.19. The hefty hummus and tabouli on a wrap was $4.99. The tabouli tasted a bit different than the typical varieties sold about town; this version was thick with moist bulgur wheat and thoroughly infused with the lemon juice and olive oil. It was full of flavor.

The deli also prepares the usual varieties of cold or hot sandwiches ($4.79-$5.19), from a fried chicken sandwich with fries to a tuna melt on pita. The Reuben sampled was prepared and heated in style, but there was a non-discussed substitution of cheddar cheese for Swiss. The fries were a wonder, though, thick and crispy, cooked in an auto-fry machine just for me.

The deli sits a block before North Park merges into U.S. Hwy. 17-92, near Maitland, so it's tucked off the main road and looks a bit junky, unless you're a local who knows better. And after hours, don't be shocked by the sight of the metal security gates that all but obscure the front of the store.

Forget “Macho Man” Randy Savage. The real Slim Jim is a kabanos, a cured and smoked pork sausage from Poland, and the best place in Orlando to get them is Stanpol Polish Deli in East Orlando. Lying in a deli case next to dozens of other encased meats (polish sausages, kielbasa and thick-sliced Danish bacon, just to name a few), the kabanos ($3.99 per pound) are a perfect afternoon snack when accompanied by one of Stanpol’s 14 imported Polish beers ($2.49 for
most bottles).

The little storefront deli, owned by a diminutive but gregarious Pole with a wisp of white hair, is also a café serving every permutation of boiled meat and cabbage imaginable. The braised pork short ribs ($6.99) are meltingly tender; when accompanied by the milder Polish version of sauerkraut, they are true comfort food. The kielbasa and cabbage ($6.99) is a combination of briny and smoky flavor sure to please any fan of stick-to-your-bones goodness. Finish off the Eastern European feast with a doughy paczki ($1.50), the traditional Polish pastry iced with sugar and perfect for
coffee-dipping.

Stanpol is also a well-stocked Polish grocery store, filled with delicacies from sheeps-milk farmer’s cheese to smoked whitefish ($8.99 per pound) to an impressive spread of Polish and other European varieties of cookies and candies.

And now we’re officially in sweltering summer, Polish meats are classic grill fodder. The snap of a kielbasa and the soft meat of a butterflied Polish sausage are indulgent and elegant choices for the carnophile. Stanpol’s reasonable prices and abundant variety will keep your grill pit, and your stomach, full indefinitely.

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