With free admission as incentive and needing something to curb my appetite before being tempted by a chocolate tasting later that day, I drove down Interstate Avenue eager to taste some authentic Easter Bloc eats at this year's Polish Festival.
Food options were limited, but unlike many other ethnic festivals, all choices at the Polish Festival were actually Polish. A foodcourt near the Interstate entrance offered six menu items: pierogi ruskie, dumplings stuffed with potatoes, cheese, and onions ($5); pierogi z kapusta, dumplings stuffed with cabbage, mushrooms, and onions ($5); golabki, cabbage rolls stuffed with rice, beef, and pork ($5); kielbasa ($3); kielbasa with bigos, sausage with hunter stew ($5); and a combination plate of all of the above for $9.
I doubt it will surprise you to discover I chose the combo platter. They were out of the ruskie and I didn't want to wait for new ones, so I just got the kapusta. They were quite tasty, especially dipped in a side of sour cream. They were well-seasoned inside and the pasta wasn't overcooked. I didn't like the golabki, however. The Minute Rice quality grains were accompanied by too little meat and the whole mixture was rather bland. The kielbasa were enjoyable, cooked so that the skin was slightly charred and the juices burst in the mouth. The flavor was well-rounded and a bit of mustard did a nice job of cutting through the richness and balancing the sweetness. However, I wish they had more than yellow mustard. The bigos was a simple rendition, but tasty nonetheless, consisting primarily of sauerkraut and ham or bacon and perhaps some mushrooms. I thought it was a fair value at $9.
Next to the "foodcourt" (or still within it) was a busy stand selling freshly griddled placki, or potato pancakes. Some looked more well-tended than others. Volunteers flipped the spud-laden flapjacks, a few burned here and there. A hefty four came in a $3 order.
Just past a couple of high school girls selling snowcones was the entrance to the "European Cafe". Up a short flight of stairs people sat at tables watching a man and his accordian belt out tunes from the old country. They sipped coffee and ate pastries. The paczki and typical babka were gone by the time I arrived, unfortunately, but I bought a slice of dark babka that tasted like a cake made of gingerbread. It had a fruity icing that went well with the almost savory cake.
Outside and around the corner was the beer garden where imported Polish beers were being sold along with Polish mead, Nalewka Babuni liqueur, Widmer beer, and kielbasa and bigos.
Walking around I heard as much Polish as English. Few volunteers didn't have an accent. It doesn't have the enormity of the Mt Angel Oktoberfest or the Cinco de Mayo; it's closer in size to the Greek Fest. But it's a nice, family-friendly window into another culture that doesn't require a trip to Chicago.