Phoenix is not Chicago.
Nor is it Buffalo or Minneapolis or Milwaukee.
We just don't have the large communities of Eastern Europeans that our cold urban cousins along the Great Lakes do. This explains why we have such a dearth of Czechoslovakian, Hungarian and Polish restaurants--not to mention Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Russian and German.
Yep, if you want to eat Polish piroghi at a full-service, sit-down restaurant in Phoenix, you're pretty much out of luck. But things are not entirely hopeless. We do have a smattering of Polish outposts selling pastries, sausages, sandwiches, soups and the occasional hot food item. I thought I'd round them up for you. Best of Europe Meats & Deli is shiny and new and the food here is very good. Jack Mazur, the man behind the counter, is outgoing, insistent and persuasive. "What can I do for you?" he asks. "You want lunch? I give you a nice stuffed cabbage roll with some rye bread on the side. It's hot out of the oven and very nice. How does that sound?" he says to me. Then he nods at my dining accomplice. "I recommend you have one, too, sir."
"What about soup?" I ask. "What do you have?"
"I recommend the vegetable soup. It's very nice. Very good."
"How about the borscht?"
Jack Mazur looks down at the glass cases of homemade cold cuts in front of him. "No, I don't have that today. Only vegetable. You'll like it," he says, definitively. "You want some? With the two stuffed cabbage rolls?"
My dining accomplice pipes up. "Uh, we'd like to try different things. What could I have besides the cabbage roll?"
Our salesman falls silent. Either he doesn't know what to suggest or he's already exhausted his list. "Go over to the cooler and bring me the soup," he tells me. "I fix these things while you think." I hand him the Styrofoam container of soup and he disappears into the back.
While he's gone, we examine the shelves of imported soup mixes, jams, hard candies, pickles, tea and mustard in this tiny store. We ogle the homemade lunch meats. In the cooler that housed the soup, there are Styrofoam trays of piroghi--ready to take home and cook--as well as containers of mysterious food items called bigos and flaczki.
"What's flaczki?" I ask, when Jack returns.
"Soup made from beef tripe. It's a gourmet item," he says, with emphatic nonchalance.
My dining accomplice does not feel like eating beef tripe today. "I'll have the sample sandwich," he announces, pointing to an item on the menu.
"On rye bread?"
"What kind of meat you want?"
This conversation confuses me until later, when I look at the menu more carefully. The two "sample sandwiches" listed are merely suggestion; you have to tell Jack what you really want. No wonder our host is asking so many questions.
But the end result is good. My accomplice receives a Dagwood-size sandwich of cold cuts I couldn't even begin to recount, with Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. It's very good.
The stuffed cabbage is also good--and large. It's cut open length-wise, exposing a meat-and-rice filling that reminds me of hash. The cabbage roll is served with slices of rye, a slice of tomato and a pickle.
My vegetable soup arrives midway through our meal. I like its lightly creamy consistency and its ingredients--spaetzle, celery, dill and carrot, but I'm disappointed that it's only tepid. And there's so much! One container of soup is really large enough to be shared by two people. We sit at one of the two red-and-white-checked tables and eat. We have come at the right time. Within minutes, the deli fills up with people looking for lunch. Unfortunately, not all of them want it "to go." "Oh, I'm so sorry," says our guy to one woman. "There's no place for you to sit down. Let me find you a chair in the back." Fortunately, by the time her companion's lunch order is prepared, the party occupying the one other table leaves. Phew!
On my way out, I purchase some foodstuffs to try later at home. Bigos, a dish traditionally served during hunting expeditions, is wonderful. Basically a sauerkraut soup with smoked sausage and other meat, it is hearty and satisfying. I take home a tray of cheese-and-potato piroghi and sautee them in a little oil until they're a light-golden brown. The delicate half-moon dumplings are delicious--even after spending a week in the freezer.
Finally, I love the Polish treat known as paczki, which looks like a jelly doughnut sprinkled with powdered sugar. What makes it exceptional is the rum-flavored dough and the unusual rose jam filling. These particular paczki are delicious and probably addicting.
Best of Europe is a fine addition to Eastern European eating alternatives in Phoenix. My only advice to Jack Mazur is to buy some more tables and chairs. Soon.
Europa Pastry Cafe is a sweet little place. It reminds me of an old-fashioned, small-town bakery--but without the flies, the screen door and that mandatory wedding cake in the window.
The setup is pretty standard. There's a glass counter filled with all sorts of tempting pastries. There are wire racks behind the counter filled with rye and pumpernickel. In between the counter and the wire racks is a very nice woman, Anna Makowski, who will describe just what it is you're drooling over.
I try several items and, without qualification, love them all. Curlers, or chrosciki, are light-as-air fried strips of dough, sprinkled with powdered sugar. It would be possible to consume, oh, half a dozen or so of these without even being aware you're eating. They are a sweet treat reminiscent of "fair food."
Kolaczki are a French-Polish hybrid. Actually, they look a lot like Danish, to me, but taste far superior. These flat, hexagonal-shaped delicacies are actually light pastry squares filled with fruit or cheese. Two corners of the square are folded to meet, producing the hexagonal shape, and leaving some of the filling exposed. I especially love the cheese kolaczki. I could easily eat one every day for breakfast.
But then, that would mean I would have to choose between the kolaczki and the "horn." This pastry is made of a buttery dough slathered with poppy-seed filling and rolled into the shape of--you guessed it--a horn. It's kind of a poor person's croissant, generous and plebeian.
Paczki here taste like regular jelly doughnuts filled with fruit filling. I like the ones at Best of Europe better. But Europa's light rye bread is excellent: firm-crusted and soft in the center.
The cafe has several small round tables, covered in attractive floral print and topped with glass. Coffee, juice and other beverages are available, and a sandwich menu has just been instituted. I learn the cold cuts come from Best of Europe Meats & Deli and Stanley's.
There are many things here I have yet to try--the sandwiches, the strudel, the form-cakes called babka--but there's plenty of time. I intend to become a good customer of this cute little bakery-cafe.
Stanley's Homemade Polish Sausage is the veteran of these three informal Eastern European eateries. This McDowell Road sausage shop and deli has been around for years. My dining accomplice and I stop in for a quick lunch to see how Stanley's stacks up to its new siblings in the Polish provisions biz.
Though I haven't been in for a year, Stanley's still looks the same: four tables for "eat in" customers; shelf after shelf of preserved fruit and syrups, pickles and mustard, tea and throat lozenges; Eastern European magazines; even Polish greeting cards. I notice the loaves of rye bread for sale are marked with labels from Europa Pastry Cafe. (Don't underestimate the power of the Polish network.)
Now that Stanley's no longer makes pizza, the menu consists mainly of sub sandwiches, the most expensive of which costs $3.25. Polish specialties are limited to a smoked Polish sausage sandwich ($2.95), a special polish sausage and sauerkraut dinner ($3.75) and four different kinds of piroghi. You can buy them by the dozen to take home or Stanley's will cook them for you while you wait.
We try the European sub, the special dinner and a dozen hot cheese piroghi. The sub is good-tasting and good-size. It is stacked with homemade cappacolla, meat loaf and three types of salami--Tirolska, Krakaw and ham. I would definitely order "Number 7" again.
I also like the special dinner, though it is larger than anticipated. I receive one fresh and one smoked sausage, two slices of fresh rye bread and a hearty helping of sauerkraut mixed with sausage and brisket meat--a.k.a. bigos. The sausages are very tasty. I prefer the more flavorful smoked sausage to the bigger fresh. They would taste even better if I had access to some good Polish mustard like Kosciusko. Plain old French's in plastic packets just doesn't cut it.
I'm a bit disappointed with our cheese piroghi. The cheese filling, made of farmer's cheese, is dry and has a grainy quality. I prefer the creamier potato-and-cheese piroghi from Best of Europe. We eat what we can and wrap up the rest for later. On our way out, I make one more purchase, a poppy-seed cake to share with my office-mates. We all agree the tort makowy is sweet but not overpoweringly so. I like the swirled poppy-seed filling which is moist but not gloppy.
I urge you to check out all three of these establishments. Who knows, if we give them enough business, maybe they'll pool their resources and open a full-service restaurant. Wouldn't that be lovely? Best of Europe Meats & Deli, 3202 East Greenway, Suite 1611, Phoenix, 493-1973. Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday and Friday; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday; noon to 4 p.m., Sunday.
Europa Pastry Cafe, 3633 East Indian School, Phoenix, 956-8958. Hours: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday; closed Monday.
Stanley's Homemade Polish Sausage, 2201 East McDowell, Phoenix, 275-8788. Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday.
MDBUbest of europe
"You want lunch? I give you a nice stuffed cabbage roll with some rye bread on the side," he tells us.
I take home a tray of cheese-and-potato piroghi and sautee them in a little oil until they're a light-golden brown.
MDBUeuropa pastry cafe
I especially love the cheese kolaczki. I could easily eat one every day for breakfast.
There are preserved fruit and syrups, pickles and mustard, tea and throat lozenges, Eastern European magazines and even Polish greeting cards.
THE FLAMBOYANT CLAIRVOYANT I SEE A STORY... v9-11-91
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Phoenix dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.