Eating like a Silesian
I eventually gave up and have since taken matters into my own hands, which involves conducting periodic searches for possible contenders on LTH Forum. Randy's brother was in town last week, so we decided to take him to a place called Zascianek. Nothing like showing an out-of-towner the excitement of a Friday night in Chicago by taking him to a Polish hole-in-the-wall way out west of the expressway. To get there, we followed Belmont Avenue until every sign lining the street was written in Polish, and then we parked.
Zascianek is humble but well-scrubbed, which is just the way I like it. It's definitely not a fashionable scene for you hipsters, but I had just come from silkscreening class and was attired in inky jeans and a tattered t-shirt, and the waitress didn't make me feel like a jerk. Of course, that may have been because she was too busy talking on her constantly and loudly ringing cell phone the entire evening to notice my nasty outfit (or our dirty dishes, or the fact that we were waiting ages for our check, for that matter), but so be it.
I had done my research, so I was prepared to order the official LTH recommendations: Silesian dumplings, potato pancakes and borscht with meat dumplings. Before he had a chance to peruse the menu and opt for something safe, I hastily informed Randy that he would be ordering a dish called the Contractor's Special.
"What's in it?" he asked warily. He and his brother had already eaten Dunkin' Donuts and Italian beef earlier that day, and he turned a few shades paler when I told him that the Contractor's Special was comprised of a breaded and fried pork cutlet topped with mushroom gravy and melted cheese, straddling a hefty potato pancake. Sometimes it must be hard on him, dating a food fascist and all.
His brother would not be dominated so easily and decided on a dish that I believe was called the Roman Feast. That was all the information that the menu provided, but it was enough. Neither Romans nor Silesians nor Contractors were any of us, but lo, that night we would dine as if we were.
My borscht came first; it was clear and bright and sweet. The dumplings were the best part, but it wasn't bad for $2. Then the potato pancakes and Contractor's Special arrived alongside the Roman Feast, which turned out to be a type of meat loaf served with two scoops of heavenly mashed potatoes. A mountain of Silesian dumplings came last.
The Contractor's Special. Don't you love the hopeful sprig of lettuce?
Note to self: Silesian dumplings are not a main course. They are a hefty side dish comprised entirely of mashed potatoes and potato flour that have been formed into pillowy patties and smothered with bland, creamy mushroom gravy. They actually have a surprisingly light texture as you eat them before quickly hardening to cement-like boulders in your stomach.
A Polish woman at the next table saw what I had ordered and nearly fell off her chair laughing. I suppose it was a bit like tucking into a casserole full of Thanksgiving mashed potatoes intended for a family of five. Then again, I had just watched this woman consume a platter loaded with another type of dumpling surrounded by great quantities of greyish, fatty meat, so I'm not entirely sure that she needed to guffaw as loudly as she did. Harumph.
Anyway, my tablemates were more than happy to send some cutlets my way. And the potato pancakes, with their generous dollop of thick sour cream, were delightful - some of the best I've had.
I'm not quite sure whether our dinner was representative of a typical Polish meal (if so, I don't know how they get anything done in that country - they must have to take very long naps), but the price was right and the portions were massive. And really, when you're just a hard-working Roman that's been out on a Silesian contracting job all day, what more can you ask for?