Podhalanka, 1549 W. Division St., (773) 486-6655, MenuPages
God bless our (former) roommate’s soul. He lived with us for a whole year having only one simple request (not counting his girlfriend’s insistence that we “grow up”): To go out for Polish food with him. On his last night in hell, we obliged.
It’s not surprising that we’ve never made it as far east as Podhalanka on Division before, given that it’s adjacent to Evil Olive, the genital firebreathing mecca of the midwest. However, after downing our bottle of Chopin, it became clear that visiting this slice of the Iron Curtain was long overdue. Between the white pleather loveseat against the wall and the abundance of rye bread waiting for us when we walked in, this Soviet-era diner just oozes hospitality.
There is a somewhat traditional menu structure in place, ignore it. Have Helena, the matronly soap opera addict that answers the phones, waits the tables and scolds the local hoodlums, make a few suggestions for the table. Of the soups she was hawking that night, we favored the sour white borscht studded with kielbasa and dill. The potato pancakes are game changing; a pillowy, crisp wet dream of a latke served with generous helpings of sour cream and apple sauce. For a Polack (or just someone who happens to be lazy, unreliable, drunk, of no significant scientific achievements or any other common Polish stereotype we found through Google) this is comfort food at its finest.
Rather than filling up on the dense stuffed cabbage, leave room for dessert and get your ass some blintzes. And when that time of the meal comes to argue the merits of boiled pierogi versus pan-fried (they boil ‘em here, much to our roommate’s dismay), don’t say no to the Kompot. As local legend has it, the stuff is made by rehydrating dried fruits. The result is a refreshing blueberry-tinged juice that is a perfect accompaniment to vodka, no matter what Helena tells you. We’ll be making some Earl-level Kompot in the near future, incorporating the arbitrary collection of prescription drugs and over-the-counter PEDs our old roommate left behind.