As we gear up for another Paczki Day — our local Polish version of Mardi Gras, this Tuesday, Feb. 24 — we thought it best to provide a listing of Eastern European restaurants. Some will serve the fabled paczek, some will not, but all will serve the sort of hearty, calories-be-damned fare that's a perfect complement to the deep-fried confection we can't resist.
Amadeus Restaurant 122 E. Washington St., Ann Arbor; 734-665-8767; $$: The hearty Polish menu features sauerkraut and kielbasa stew, pierogi and golabki-stuffed cabbage in tomato sauce. In additiont o the usual crumbly, fruit-filled pastries to accompany your coffee for the perfect ending, on Paczki Day, they'll have the appropriate confections, all made on-site, including the raspberry, cherry, apricot prune and plain varieties.
Bosnian Specialties 3028 Caniff, Hamtramck; 313-875-2722; $: Unpretentious in the extreme, Bosnian Specialties has seven round, well-spaced tables up a flight of steps, trying for a homey effect. Little rustic crosshatched roof effects adorn the windows and the corner table sits in a wooden bower twined with plastic grapevines. The food brings to mind Greek and Romanian dishes; gyros are on the menu, as are Greek salad and various shishes. The national food of Bosnia, though, and the most popular dish at Bosnian Specialties, is chevapi, beef ground with "secret ingredients" and made into sausage. It can be served on its own or between slices of lepina, a round, filling bread, sort of like a huge grilled English muffin, but spongier. Another interesting dish is the "burek" — layers of phyllo pastry filled with ground beef or cottage cheese. The cheese version is comfort food, mild and bland and very filling. Portion sizes are impressive.
Bucharest Grill 2040 Park Ave. (on Elizabeth), Detroit; 313-962-2933; $: This tiny takeout place attached to the Park Bar has affordable shawarma sandwiches and creative hot dogs. For the health-conscious, Bulgarian goat cheese replaces chicken on the veggie version of the shawarma — though some object to the use of mayo. On the board for hot dogs are the Hamtramck, served with sauerkraut, and the Romanian skinless sausage. The Park's barkeep can serve you and adult beverage to wash it down.
Hungarian Rhapsody 14315 Northline Rd., Southgate; 734-283-9622; $: Steve and Darlene Szatmari's downriver Hungarian Rhapsody is filled with families who want to eat food that tastes like grandma used to cook. Everyone knows that these cuisines are on the heavy side — not exactly suitable for a weight-reducing diet, but very delicious. The Hungarian combination plate lets you sample chicken paprikash, cabbage stuffed with pork, veal and rice, and a great breaded pork chop. However, the outstanding choices at Hungarian Rhapsody are the desserts — kremes (kre-mesh), puff pastry with vanilla custard filling.
Hungarian-American Cultural Center 26257 Goddard, Taylor; 734-946-6261; $: Though the HACC was founded by immigrants, you don't have to be Hungarian to feel at home here. The HACC's fare is like what many of us think of as the best home cooking: Rich, generous, with a health-take-the-hindmost kind of feel. Diners might find such made-from-scratch dishes as stuffed cabbage, chicken or veal paprikash, gulyas palacsinta, pork loin, breaded pork and porkolt. For dessert, you might find dios torta, made with ground walnuts, or dobos torta, a caramel-topped eight-layer cake, on the board. Open only noon to 6 p.m. on Friday evenings and Sundays, the HACC is open to the public Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with Wednesday being goulash night.
Ivanhoe Cafe at the Polish Yacht Club, 5249 Joseph Campau, Detroit; 313-925-5335; $: Legend has it that, in 1961, the club was invented so that reprobate husbands could tell their wives they were attending an important meeting rather than merely swilling boombas of beer at a tavern. Of course, the Ivanhoe does specialize in seafood served on tables covered with nautically correct oilcloth. The homely redbrick building housing the club is in an especially desolate area of Detroit. There is, however, a security guard who stands watch over patrons' cars during the brief business hours — 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, with last-call for dinner at 7:30. The dinners, served at lunchtime as well, come with a sour pickle and hot-pepper relish tray, crisp broad-cut fries, creamy coleslaw and soup. Appetizers include grilled Eckrich kielbasa or a platter of fried pierogies, both of which also appear on the dinner menu in a traditional Polish combo ($9) and entrées include grilled kielbasa. Not much here for vegetarians, aside from a platter of steamed pierogies with broccoli.
Polonia 2934 Yemans, Hamtramck; 313-873-8432; $: Polonia is full of history: The first-floor dining area looks like an old-fashioned beer hall, and, back in the 1930s, the second floor used to be a place where labor organizers would meet. Today, Polonia serves authentic Polish fare, taking special pride in its freshness. Their kielbasa, for instance, is made at the restaurant from their own special recipe. The almost-100-year-old restaurant was bought and remodeled in 1986 by Polish immigrant Janusz Zurowki. Feel at home amid the cozy booths, colorful Polish knickknacks on display and the aromas of Polish home cooking.
Polish Village Café 2990 Yemans St., Hamtramck; 313-874-5726; $$: Digging into a big plate at Hamtramck's Polish Village Café might have you suppose you're eating food prepared by somebody's Polish mother. That's because, essentially, you are. During peak dining hours, there's a steady flow of waiting customers first lining up at the bar and sometimes winding up the stairs and out the door. In a space with old-style character and a full bar, this Hamtramck staple serves a few pages of meat-and-potatoes Polish dishes and their accompanying sides. Most entrées run around $8, a trifle when you consider the asking price for a dreary meal at the corner suburban strip mall chain. Impressive soups, Polish standards, "city chicken," Hungarian pancakes, mushroom crépes, boiled ribs, fresh sausage in beer sauce, pan-fried chicken livers, plus a whole other menu page of such daily specials as stuffed green peppers and sauerkraut in crusty dough. Smoking permitted; cash only.
Two Sisters Polish Family Restaurant 121 S. Main St., Rochester; 248-656-3092; $: Hamtramck hipsters old enough to remember the Workmen's Co-op #1 restaurant on Yemans will feel right at home in Rochester at the Two Sisters, which offers down-home Polish cooking and the no-nonsense ambiance of grandma's kitchen. Specialties include pierogi, kielbasa, stuffed cabbage, and naleshniki (blintzes or crépes, depending on your ethnicity), as well as Polish-American hybrids like city chicken. The sisters (yes, they are real) cook up several rich, thick soups every day; a bowl can make a meal. Comfort food and comfortable prices in a comfortable setting.
Under the Eagle 9000 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck; 313-875-5905; $: Solid Polish fare is served by a staff in native dress in a room filled with colorful folk art. Amenities are extremely modest, from plastic tablecloths to paper napkins, but the value is outstanding for plates brimming with kielbasa and sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, stuffed cabbage, pierogi and blintzes.
Wawel 2975 E. Maple, Troy; 248-689-3636; $: This isn't just a commercial enterprise, "It's a labor of love," says Stanley Grot, the Polish-American Cultural Center's president. You can get most of your Polish favorites here, beginning with czarnina (duck) soup, which alternates with flaczki (tripe) every other Friday. Pierogi come in potato, cheese or kraut (five for $5.75). Kielbasa is tasty and fresh and is served with sauerkraut. Two kinds of Polish beer are offered, along with the usual American varieties.