Celebrate Pulaski with a Polish feast

The state holiday honors Casimir Pulaski, a Polish cavalry officer from the Revolutionary War.

The holiday has been on the books for 30 years, always falling on the first Monday in March. It's a big deal in Chicago, with county buildings and libraries closed. But it's also a time to relish our wealth of polish culinary talent. There are dozens of choices on North Milwaukee Avenue, South Archer Avenue, even West Belmont. But don't rule out a Norwood Park favorite on Elston Avenue, known for its homey atmosphere and large portions.

Polish tradition - and its affinity for starch, butter and potatoes - is alive and well at Smak Tak in the Norwood Park neighborhood on the city's Northwest Side. Meaning "taste, yes" it certainly delivers on that promise.

"Yeah, mostly this is traditional Polish restaurant and food. Everything is made here, everything is homemade," said Piotr Lakomy, the owner of Smak Tak.

The pierogi are made every week in the tiny kitchen, containing both savory fillings, such as mushroom, potato or beef, as well as sweeter ones with fruit. They're served eitherboiled, or lightly fried with bacon and onions.

Cabbage plays a big role in Poland, so sauerkraut or borscht shouldn't come as any surprise. You can bet they're usually sharing a table with mashed potatoes and a pork cutlet of some kind. The Hungarian Pancake is a sight to behold. Taking that base of potatoes once again - this time, in the form of a pancake the size of a frisbee - it's actually stuffed with a pork-laden goulash.

"The goulash is made like, for four hours. They bake this with pork, onion, mushroom and green or red pepper with tomato sauce. So they bake it for four hours and then the pancake it stuffed with this goulash and they add some sour cream and some salad," said Lakomy.

And those salads make nice, crisp counterpoints to those heavy, pork dishes. From seasoned carrots to vinegary coleslaw, even crunchy beets. The soups, main courses and side dishes here will be hard to finish, so don't feel bad if you have to take some of it home.

"Mostly they take everything to go. They can't eat it," Lakomy said.

And plenty of other great polish restaurants in our area, including the Cavalier Inn in Hammond, Szalas on the Southwest Side near Midway, and on the busy Northwest Side, Barbakan and Sami Swoi are two of my favorites.

Smak Tak
5961 N. Elston Ave.

Other good Polish restaurants:

5214 S. Archer Ave.

Cavalier Inn
735 Gostlin St., Hammond, IN

3145 N Central Ave.

Sami Swoi
3550 N. Austin

1549 W Division St.

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