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A Taste of the Old Country


My life was not truly complete until I ate a pierogi. I don’t know what took me so long; the filled dumpling family is a particular favorite of mine. But the moment I bit into a potato and cheese pierogi at Cracovia in Westminster, I knew I would never be the same.

You see, I’d never really had the opportunity to sample Polish food before, despite having grown up with lots of friends from the region: Russia, Poland and Ukraine. Barszcz (also spelled Borscht) was vaguely scary, looking like a steaming bowl of beet blood, and frankly, there aren’t exactly Polish restaurants on every corner. But when I moved last year to a neighborhood with one literally on the corner, I knew Polish food was in my future.

The little strip mall in which Cracovia lives is more than a little sad and about three-quarters empty, but hopefully with Cracovia as an anchor, it will find a new life. Inside, the restaurant is a beautiful slice of Eastern Europe. On Saturday nights, the space is filled with live music and dancing, but on a chilly, rainy weeknight when we visited, it was quiet and calm.

The menu, while calling everything by its authentic Polish name, is blessedly specific in describing each entrée. A little overwhelmed, my husband and I decided on the platter for two. It seems specially designed for those of us not hip to the lingo, to provide a guided tour of Polish cuisine.

The platter was huge, but our server was happy to explain everything. We started with two cups of barszcz—rich and complex with an almost vinegary flavor; a croquette stuffed with meat to dip in the soup; a cabbage roll filled with ground pork and rice called a golabki and drowned in our choice of tomato or mushroom sauce; and selection of three different kinds of pillowy pierogi. The food was rich and warming, filling our bellies and those parts of our souls that knew what we were missing.

That might even have been enough, but there was more to come. The second course consisted of amazingly tender braised short ribs called ziberka that absolutely fell off the bone and melted in the mouth smothered in a homemade barbecue sauce. In addition, we had to fight over the Kielbasa, served with homemade hot mustard that cut through the rich flavors like a knife. I felt like someone’s Polish mother was in the kitchen, coaxing us to eat just a little more by sending out dish after dish. “Have them try a little ziberka… And they must have some mizeria with that…” We were only too happy to oblige.

As someone who loves food, I’ve had to learn when to say enough is enough; I’ve had to try to train myself to remember that it isn’t a mortal sin to leave something on the plate. Cracovia pushed my resolve to the very limit. I was so enamored of the first course, that I completely cleaned my plate; and that would have been enough for me—if the second course hadn’t looked so amazingly tantalizing. So, I was a little uncomfortable as we left that night, but in the best way possible.


Lacy is an award-winning food writer and blogger. She lives in Westminster with her family. Google

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