Restaurants & Bars

Russian / Polish Paradise - My people are here at last

Stanley Stephan | Jun 23, 200301:58 AM     3

It can be lonely being of Eastern European ancestry and living in the Bay Area.

There is one mediocre Polish restaurant, one limited Polish deli and the stale and flavorless Russian grocery. There’s a kielbasa, here, some pierogi there.

I heard that San Jose has been gaining a Polish population in recent years. The proof of it is the terrific WinMart European Deli on 833 West El Camino in Sunnyvale which opened about eight months ago.

Worth a trip from San Francisco. It would do Chicago, Cincinnati and Buffalo proud.

I am usually of the belief that Eastern European food is an acquired taste. Not at WInMart. I think anyone would love the fresh delicious flavors at this store. There are well over 50 deli items. I would say that the deli far outclasses Whole Foods or any other deli in the Bay Area.

Just up the road from CJ Olson Cherries, across the street from the Pho place that once was a IHOP many previous lives ago. It looks like a 7-11 from the outside. Clean, bright and spotless inside one entire wall is lined with the fabulous deli counter. The back wall holds more sausages, and hams than I’ve seen in a long time. I would estimate there are well over 100 types of meats .

A huge case of the most amazing smoked fish takes up another corner. There were two foot long smoked mackerel, firm, plump and so golden they almost looked gilded. Some of the smoked fish was selling for as little as $4.99 a pound.

The dairy case is astounding. I eyed a rich and beautiful sour cream. There were also about six other types of sour cream, none of them Knudson or Clover. There were over a dozen butters I’ve never seen before. Real farmer’s cheese. Poles are big on dairy.

You can have lunch on the samples alone. It was like being at my grandmother’s house. Have a little of this. Try some of that. Here, please, take a little more. Not stingy little samples either. The potato salad, ah, the potato salad. Lots of vegetarian selections as well.

I settled on the stuffed cabbage. The perfect beef/rice filling surrounded by savory cabbage with a dash of pepper. As good as the stuff some of my aunts made. With it I had this wonderful cold potato, beet, red cabbage salad. I’ve never had this before. Diced beets and potatoes, it is a pretty beet color. I just can’t describe how delicious this is … and different, in a very good way. The mild roasted beet flavor predominated.

Eggplant is not a typical Polish dish, but there was a delicious ratatouille type dish that I was encouraged to try. Delicious.

There huge jars of pickles, pickled green tomatoes and pickled mushrooms.

It’s not part of the Polish culture , but there were about twenty of those Russian cream cakes in the bakery case.

There was about a half dozen types of bottled horseradish, some with beets. None were the usual types of horseradish sold in the Bay Area. They even carried Bobak franks which promised a snappy casing.

They even had four kinds of salt pork. Ah, salt pork. Last time I had that I was a child. Fried up with potatoes and onions where it was crispy golden outside and juicy inside. It’s been so long since I’ve had salt pork I’ve forgotten how it was used other than with fried potatoes. Four kinds. Creamy white and fresh looking.

Jars and jars of pickles. A long aisle of candies, cookies and biscuits. Dried mushrooms from Poland. Polish cherry jams. Eastern European grains. It goes on and on.

The one think that was lacking was good bread. However, it was late Sunday afternoon and the bread shelves were not full, so maybe there’s hope for some good rye in the area.

I do the store no justice. I was overwhelmed. I look forward to exploring the goodies on the shelves in future trips. I will be making special trips here at Christmas and Easter.

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