If you’ve ever been to the Zakopane region in the Tatra Mountains of southern Poland, you probably came to adore the food. It’s no-nonsense, hearty cuisine laden with sheep’s milk cheeses (smoked oscypek is my favorite) that bespeaks the rugged terrain and living conditions in this beautiful area known as Małopolska or Lesser Poland. My father’s parents came from this part of Poland and my recent visit there revealed to me so much of why I like the food I do.
I can’t tell you how delighted I was to discover Szala’s Restaurant on Chicago’s Southwest Side. The name of the restaurant means chalet, befitting this quaint A-frame building that is a virtual clone of many of the Polish Highlander restaurants I dined in with food that is just as authentic.
You’ll be started with complimentary smalec (lard spread made with onion), moskole (an unusual type of potato pancake that is griddled, not fried), and bryndza (unsmoked sheep’s cheese). If you’re considering an appetizer, there are many on the menu, including herring, but sharing a platter of pierogi or fried potato pancakes is definitely another way to go. These light dumplings come stuffed with fruit, sweet cheese, potatoes and cheese, or sauerkraut and mushrooms,
Soup is included with dinner entrées and I heartily recommend the rosól (chicken noodle), mushroom , beet borscht and kwasnica (sauerkraut) soups. Then, I recommend everyone at your table choosing a different entrée so you can sample a lot of different things. Or, you can go with the Feast for 4, 8 or 12 persons, which includes grilled pork, grilled lamb, stuffed cabbage rolls, potato pancakes, potato dumplings, warm sauerkraut, and pierogi.
I recommend the schabowy (breaded pork cutlet), zrazy (beef roulade), gołąbki (stuffed cabbage), golonka (pork shank) and any fish dish. Each entrée is served with one choice
of the following: warm sauerkraut, red beets, cucumber salad, carrot salad with grated apples, coleslaw, or steamed vegetables, and a choice of potatoes, rice or dumplings.
There are offerings for light appetites like fried potatoes served with buttermilk ($4.95). This was one of my mother’s favorite meals for the fasting days of Lent. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. For dessert, don’t miss the cheese blintz served with fruit, whipped cream, and ice cream ($6.50).
Amenities include a full bar with imported and domestic beers and wines. There is a children’s menu (6 fruit dumplings for $4.50 or chicken tenders for $ 6.75), banquet accommodations for 120, and occasional entertainment. Christmas Eve or wigilia dinners are a highlight of December.
Address: 5214 S. Archer Ave, Chicago, IL 60632
Hours: Noon to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, bar open until 2 a.m. Closed Mondays.