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The Case for Polish Vodka

28 Mar


Who do those Russians think they are meddling in our affairs? They fixed the election for their comrade Trump and now they are trying to disrupt all of Europe with their hacking and spying. Enough is enough, I say. No more borscht. No more blinis. No more Baltika beer. And most importantly, no more Russian vodka. Sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the sake of patriotism. I plan on doing my part by boycotting one of my favorite beverages. That means no Caucasians(white Russians), no martini’s with Stoli, and worst of all, no shots of lemon infused Russian vodka at the incomparable Russian Samovar. But I can only sacrifice so much, so instead of the Russian stuff, there is always our friends’ from Poland. They wouldn’t dare try to influence our elections. They have no aims to dominate the world. And they love America. In return, we love them. And now I plan to love their vodka.

I’m not sure Gerry shared my reasoning. Though he might not have been as passionate about my anti-Russian fervor, the prospect of a meal cooked by Polish grandmothers in the old-school cafeteria called Pyza, located a block from the liquor store on Nassau Avenue in gentrifying Greenpoint Brooklyn, was incentive enough for him to make the trip from Westchester.


And he wasn’t complaining when he also agreed to accompany me to the Greenpoint Wine and Liquor store on Nassau Avenue where there was the opportunity to purchase budget priced but underrated Polish vodka. The store had a huge selection of vodkas including many Russians. There was Stoli. There was Imperia. There was Russian Standard and there were other, pricey Russian vodkas. There was no Putinka, however, the vodka named after the man behind the current mess we are in. Before we knew he was influencing our elections, I once bought a bottle of Putinka vodka and wrote about it in these pages  where I discussed the bizarre commingling of what was known as the a “vodka pizza” (On Pizza, Pomodoros, Putin, and Putinka).   Now, if I ever dare to order a slice of vodka pizza I’ll need to ask the pizza maker if Russian vodka was used in preparation. If so, it’s a no go.


Soft vodka named after a hard man

At the liquor store I now defiantly bypassed the Russian stuff  and grabbed a bottle of Wyobrowa and another of Stravinsky while Gerry nabbed a Lukosowa.


The menu at Pyza

With our vodka stash in hand, we headed down the block to Pyza. The inexpensive meals were posted on the restaurant’s menu on the wall near the cashier. Both of us decided that the Polish plate, a combination of goodies such as pierogies, kielbasa, sauerkraut, stuffed cabbage, and potato pancakes, would give us a representative sampling of what grandma was cooking back in that kitchen. And we were not disappointed. Could there be a heartier food to line our stomachs while navigating the snow mounds that remained from the previous week’s blizzard? The only negative was that we couldn’t crack open the bottles just purchased and wash down the meal with a shot of the clear Polish stuff.


Two Polish plates

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And the Answer is…

7 Jan

On Friday I presented you with multiple photos of a restaurant and challenged you to Name That Place.  To revisit the photos, you can click here: Name That Place, or you can scroll down these pages.

I’m relieved to report that one well traveled eater was able to correctly Name That Place as:

Cafe Edison


That’s right, the Cafe Edison, also known as the “Polish Tea Room;” its nickname derived when a patron, of which there were many from the nearby theaters; playwrights, directors,actors,  producers, and stage hands, deemed the decor and food superior to the much more expensive and haughty Russian Tea Room.

Cafe Edison

228 W. 47th Street

See if the you can get goulash and noodles, cup of soup and a beverage for $16.95 at the Russian Tea  Room.

See if the you can get goulash and noodles, cup of soup and a beverage for $16.95 at the Russian Tea Room.

If the matzoh ball soup I had at the Cafe Edison wasn’t the “greatest soup in the history of soup”, as proclaimed by the New York Times, then it was certainly in the top 50.

Cafe Edison

But at the Cafe Edison, those who know don’t flock to it just for the outstanding soup. These sandwiches are pretty good too.

Cafe Edison

I had one on my recent visit but it wasn’t roast beef, corned beef, brisket, salami, or pastrami.  For bonus points, I wondered if any of the food obsessed out there could identify what type of sandwich I ordered. Here’s a look again:

Cafe Edison

Now that you know I was dining at the Cafe Edison, perhaps you will realize that what I was about to enjoy a generously stuffed vegetarian chopped liver sandwich on rye.

That concludes this edition of Name That Place. Be on the lookout for another serious challenge in the near future.




The Pierogies of Old Poland

15 Feb

I had never been to Greenpoint, Brooklyn before our visit to Old Poland Bakery & Restaurant in early 2005. It was an eye-opener in some ways to me. First, it’s not easy to get there from Manhattan via public transportation. The closest train is the G train which has no Manhattan stops. You need to take either the L to Lorimer Street in Williamsburg and switch to the G or take the 7 to Queens where you can connect to the G at 45 Road. Maybe because it’s so inaccessible that it has remained a strong Polish enclave. At least it was that way in 2005 when I visited and wrote what appears below.

Old Poland Bakery: circa 2005

Old Poland Bakery & Restaurant
(Now Northside Bakery)
190 Nassau Avenue,

Rick deliberated long and hard before choosing the Old Poland Bakery & Restaurant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. And the fact that whenever he called the place and asked—in English—about a reservation and to make sure they would be still open when we got there they hung up on him, was either a very good sign or we were in big trouble. But when we arrived, saw the faces that populated the restaurant—yes we were still in New York—and noticed the prices of the food written in magic marker on cardboard, we quickly realized that we might just have hit the mother lode. That this brightly-lit combination bakery and Polish diner was exactly what we all yearned to discover.

Of course there was a television and of course on the television was a Polish station with Polish cartoons and news of the Polish football league. Both were watched silently and intently by men with ample guts, close-cropped hair, ruddy faces and wearing colorful sweaters. Rick and I hoped for some help with the menu and some guidance on what we should order but our request was met with a blank stare and then a shrug by the pretty woman taking orders behind the counter. There was no table service here; you had to go up and pay when you ordered. We decided we should take shifts in ordering. I had the first shift and choose a selection of pierogies; meat, potato, and sauerkraut, and cheese blintzes. Inexplicably, the same pretty woman this time had no difficulty understanding me. While waiting we sampled a variety of Polish beers that, beyond their colorful names and labels, were not worth remembering though they did add a balance to the density of the pierogies. This starter selection of starch was seriously testing our mettle.



The next round—and really the last included something called a “Polish Plate.” With a name like that how could we pass it up? We also agreed on pork tenderloin, lima bean stew, and at Eugene’s unexplained insistence, that old Polish favorite, roast beef. The Polish plate consisted of a variety of Polish favorites like grilled kielbasa, potato pancake, more of those feathery pierogies, and an excellent meatloaf accompanied by pickled beets and red cabbage. The pork tenderloin was cooked perfectly and smothered in a thick, but not overly rich gravy. The surprise favorite of our selections was the lima bean stew, with chunks of smoked sausage and in a dense cabbage broth it was most definitely a hearty meal. The roast beef? Think college cafeteria.

Zio, who in less than a week would become a nonno, braved the bakery section and ordered carrot cake and a chocolate-covered cream puff, that was rivaled only by the sauerkraut filled pierogi in its density-quotient. But food density had yet to thwart Zio.

Though I wouldn’t put the cuisine of Eastern Europe high on my very long list of ethnic food favorites, a visit to Greenpoint where the Old Poland Bakery & Restaurant was located was worth it for the “we’re in another world” factor alone. Not to mention the ridiculously low tab of $11 per person including beers.



But things change. Though still a Polish enclave for sure, gentrification has crept into Greenpoint despite how difficult it is to reach via public transportations. The growth of nearby Williamsburg has extended into Greenpoint with new developments and restorations of single and two-family homes. Old Poland Bakery is now called the Northside Bakery (a Division of Old Poland Foods) and when I recently visited, I noticed that the space had been compressed into half of what I remembered. There is a small food counter and bakery space with now just a few tables. There was a television, and the patrons and women behind the counter were glancing at it, but not Polish news, cartoons, or sports;  instead they were all watching “The View.”

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