Polish food does not immediately come to mind when I'm trying to figure out where to go for dinner—but it must to plenty of other people, because on both of our visits to Polish Cottage, just about every table was filled with smiling, happy people—people who seemed like regulars at this midtown restaurant.
The "cottage" part of the name conveys so much here. The room is like a dwelling you might imagine coming across during a walk through a forest in Poland. The room is small, with a faux fireplace against one wall, and a curio cabinet filled with cheerful tableware against another. Pottery, silk flowers, a spoon rack, a child's brightly colored outfit and doilies are set comfortably about the room. Cut paper artwork hangs on the walls; more is tucked under the glass tops of the tables. The café curtains are made of cut paper and look so much like lace that I had to touch them to be sure. Even the music is Polish—an odd but interesting mix of polkas, new age, light rock and rap. (Yes, Polish rap.)
All the items on the small menu—there are maybe a dozen choices in all—are listed in both English and Polish. The imported beer menu is rather extensive, and there is a decent assortment of Polish vodkas and other alcoholic choices. We sampled only one beer, Okocim Palone ($4), which was dark and rich, but not chilled enough.
Pierogi are on the menu, of course (six for $5.65, or eight for $7.50). We ordered two each of the four kinds: beef; cheese and potato; sauerkraut and mushroom; and sweet farmer cheese. You can order toppings—sour cream, caramelized onions and bacon—for 50 cents each. We ordered only the sour cream on the side. The pierogi weren't much to look at, but they were all quite enjoyable. My fave was the sweet farmer cheese, followed closely by the beef.
We had the bigos ($7.50), a traditional version of the classic hunters' cabbage stew. It's made with a mix of meats, shredded cabbage, tomatoes, butter and seasonings. It's the kind of recipe that is basic, but differs with every cook. There could've been more meat, but the dish was sweet and tangy, and came accompanied by a chunk of garlicky Polish sausage. A roll was there for sopping up the juices. It was a nice touch, but rye bread might've been more fitting.
For cutlets, you have your choice of either breaded chicken or breaded pork ($9.95). Both come with pan-fried potatoes and a cucumber salad. We opted for pork, and the cutlet was cooked perfectly—crispy and brown. The wonderfully fresh salad was made with a sour-cream dressing. Sadly, although the potatoes were flavorful, they were woefully undercooked.
On our second visit, for a Sunday lunch, we ordered the white borscht ($2.95), the crepes ($6) and the stuffed cabbage ($8).
The borscht was a clear broth, lightly seasoned, with chunks of sausage and hard-boiled egg. An undertone of vinegar added a level of flavor to this somewhat bland soup.
The two crepes were filled with more of that sweet farmer cheese. These could easily have worked as a dessert or a breakfast dish with a cup of good coffee. They were light with golden-brown crispy edges. The large swirl of sour cream on top added a perfect bit of tang.
Stuffed cabbage is something I ordinarily would not order, but I did, because the menu is so small. Two rolls were so stuffed with ground meat and rice that the well-cooked cabbage leaf had a hard time containing the mixture. I had to salt them, unfortunately; otherwise, they were pretty good. It was the house-made tomato sauce, flecked with herbs and such, that made this dish.
Service was friendly, although a little shaky at times. But warm smiles made us feel at home.
Two desserts are available ($3.50): cheesecake and Polish apple cake. The apple cake was delish: a layer of dense, yellow cake; a layer of sweet apple slices; and a final flaky layer. We had that on our first visit, with plans on having cheesecake the second time around; alas, the cheesecake was all gone. We were assured it was homemade.
Polish Cottage is a charming little spot. So if you're craving some of your babcia's pierogi or stuffed cabbage, you might want to give this place a try.