A taste of Poland on a chilly winter day

December 23, 2011 (WOOD DALE, Ill.)

This being Chicago, finding hearty polish fare is not that difficult.

You can head to N. Milwaukee Avenue for tastes of Krakow and Warsaw. Closer to Midway, on S. Archer Avenue, you will find the highlanders and their wild game dishes.

But for Polish food that breaks away from the pierogi-and-borscht stereotypes, you've got to head to northwest suburban Wood Dale, where it is all about pork, potatoes and sauerkraut.

When was the last time you saw smoked salmon wrapped up around salty farmer's cheese and fresh dill in a Polish restaurant? Or what about thinly-pounded and fried pork tenderloin, topped with melted gouda cheese, served with potato dumplings buried beneath mushroom sauce? These are just a few of the items at U Gazdy, an unassuming Polish restaurant in northwest suburban Wood Dale, featuring dishes from the southern part of the country, known as the Highlands.

"I opened this restaurant with the mindset of starting a business and showing that Polish food can be different. It's not just the bigos and the pierogi and the standard stuff, the potato pancakes, that people think of," said owner Betty Pierscionowski.

There are pancakes, of course, albeit covered in a hearty goulash. Another hearty option: a Fred Flintstone-sized pork shank slow-roasted for hours, served over a bed of sauerkraut, then topped with an onion sauce that's amplified by Polish beer and honey. Even the bread service is different.

"Smalec, for instance, is a really big Highlander thing, which is pork fat with bacon and a bunch of other stuff, which I always say is healthier than butter, because it goes bad," Pierscionowski said.

Pork rears its head everywhere here, with sandwiches, and especially on the chicken "paw," which resembles, well, a paw, as the bacon is wrapped around the fingers of chicken breast; the dish is served on a sizzling platter with vegetables and fried potatoes. Sides of pickled beets, sauerkraut and apple-studded carrots are everywhere, and, speaking of sauerkraut, it shows up in one of the restaurant's signature soups as well.

"It's served completely different. It's served with potato and bacon - smoked bacon in there. Where a lot of parts of Poland you would see maybe a sauerkraut soup where you have potatoes and vegetables and a lot of sauerkraut in it," she said.

The highlight at U Gazdy is definitely the soup. They make several different kinds, all of them delicious.

U Gazdy
270 W. Irving Park Rd., Wood Dale
(630) 694-5840

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