Snarled Saturday morning traffic on 93S caused us to abandon a plan to visit relatives for lunch in Canton, a disappointment which ended up leading to an amazing food discovery. We exited the highway somewhere in South Boston, and while we were navigating back towards Somerville, I noticed a fork-and-knife icon pop up on the Google map (Ah, the era of smartphones). We were just a street away from Café Polonia, a restaurant I’d heard friends rave about as one of the only places to get good Polish food in Boston. A minute later, we snagged a parking spot right in front of the tiny, signless restaurant and headed inside to find seven tables, most of which were filled. We were seated, but several parties that arrived right after us were turned away. Reservations are apparently a good idea at Café Polonia.
The ambiance immediately made us smile: the walls were beautiful white stones in some places, bright red paint in others, and light wood everywhere else, a perfect match for the sturdy and glossy wooden tables and chairs. Bunches of garlic and grains decorated the walls and doors, and a row of Polish beer bottles was on display – Tyskie, Lomza, Warka, and more. Before we had even ordered, my dining companion decided that he definitely wanted to return to Café Polonia. (Fortunately, the food didn’t change his mind.)
A bread basket arrived with a couple toppings, one of which was lard, studded with bits of what seemed to be pork. “Lard” is still a dirty word in American food culture, but as it turns out, it’s considered to be a tiny bit healthier than butter – it has less saturated (“bad”) fat and more monounsaturated (“good”) fat. But when you add pork into the mix, I suppose that tilts the scales back the other way…
We shared the beef tripe soup as an appetizer, a somewhat risky choice since neither of us are particularly enthusiastic about tripe. When “strange” meats are offered, though, it’s often the best way to experience a restaurant. After enjoying a few big spoonfuls of the broth, we hesitantly started on the tripe (which was better than expected).
“How’s the tripe soup?” asked the waiter.
“Great!” we responded enthusiastically.
After looking at our bowl of tripe, minus most of the broth, he asked, “Have you tasted the tripe?” Amused but a little embarrassed, we tried more, and it actually grew on me as I ate more of it.
The entrees were heavy and heavenly. “I could see surviving a Polish winter on this,” said my dining companion as he tucked into his stuffed cabbage. As for me, I immediately fell in love with the pierogi, which were on the same level as – or maybe even better than – the legendary pierogi at Veselka in Manhattan’s East Village. Fortunately for me, South Boston’s a bit closer than NYC.
We will definitely return, and we will definitely make reservations.
Hours: Mon – Thurs 11am – 9pm;
Fri – Sat 10am – 10pm;
Sun 10am – 9pm
Rachel Leah Blumenthal is a Somerville-based writer, photographer, and musician. She writes about food on her blog, Fork it over, Boston!, and runs Boston Food Bloggers, a networking community. For more information, visit RachelBlumenthal.net.