Podhalanka serves up hearty, homemade meals in old 'Polish Triangle'

CHICAGO (WLS) -- It's not too hard to find hearty, homemade Polish food in Chicago. But while most of the restaurants are concentrated on the Northwest or Southwest sides, don't overlook the old "Polish Triangle." You'll find some of the best pierogi and blintzes in town.

A hundred years ago, most polish immigrants settled in and around what is now Wicker Park. Later waves moved to South Archer near Midway Airport, and northwest along Milwaukee Avenue, pushing into the suburbs. But you can still find delicious, homemade polish food in the old neighborhood. You just have to know where to look.

The regulars at Podhalanka have been coming for years. Decades, actually. And they're not coming for the decor, although one could argue whether pictures of Pope John Paul II and Dan Rostenkowski complete the Polish experience, which hasn't changed much near the intersection of Ashland, Division and Milwaukee - the area once known as The Polish Triangle.

"Early 80s, my uncle opened this place, he run for three years, then my aunt took over and she's been here for 33 years," said co-owner Greg Jamka.

And she's still back in the kitchen that looks like your grandmother's kitchen, pretty much everyday. Whether it's boiling her handmade pierogi, which come in about a half-dozen flavors, typically dressed with caramelized onions, along with sour cream and applesauce. But before the dumplings, potato pancakes and blintzes! The former are scooped out into vegetable oil, and fried until crisp; the latter, cylindrical crepes wrapped around farmer's cheese, fried to order, then showered in powdered sugar. No surprise, they both come with the same garnish.

"Applesauce with potato pancakes. Applesauce and sour cream also comes with cheese blintzes. It's just a culture thing that we took from Poland," Jamka said.

The menu is loaded with heavy, hearty starches but also soups - at least three or four everday. Jamka says he and his aunt have somehow managed to stay afloat while the neighborhood has changed all around them, and they're not going anywhere.

"You have to be stubborn, and good homemade cooking. It's a tradition and we gonna keep it for a while," he said.

1549 W. Division St.
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