Polish in Orlando

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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.

    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.

    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

    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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