When the Polonia Polish restaurant sign went up on US 17-92, old fans breathlessly hoped that it was the same folks who had won their hearts and bellies at the similarly named restaurant from Winter Park. It is.
Owner Rob Plummer told me by phone that he had to close the restaurant on Aloma because his chef went back to Poland. But the chef is back and all is well again.
You don’t have to be Polish to admire Polish food. You need only an appreciation for hearty fare whose origins come from the necessity to make do with what the earth and the seasons give you. This is farmland food, Eastern European style, where root vegetables like beets and carrots, and cured meats like kielbasa are used in abundance. And simple ingredients like flour, water and potatoes can be turned into something as splendid as pierogi.
And this is where something with a reputation as unflattering as a stuffed cabbage can be made into a delicacy that will change your mind about it forever.
Golabki, pronounced gowamki, is the name for the stuffed cabbage ($7.95). The pungent leaves were filled with a mixture of ground beef, pork and rice and covered with a tangy sauce of tomatoes. If you prefer, a mushroom sauce may be substituted.
Polonia features two types of pierogi ($7.50), the filled dumplings that are a staple of a Polish meal. You can get them with sauerkraut and mushroom or with potatoes and farmer cheese. Either version will be served topped with butter and covered with sweet caramelized onions and finished with a creamy dollop of sour cream. I liked both versions although I would probably tip the scales in favor of the potato filling because it seemed like a more substantial entrée.
One of my favorite dishes was the veal cutlet ($12.95). My guests and I could hear the cook in the kitchen pounding the cutlet, which was then coated with a breading and sauteed. The breading came out as crisp as you please, and the buttery taste was a perfect accent to the creamy veal.
Both the beef goulash ($11.95) and chicken paprikash ($9.95) were mildly flavored. That’s not so unusual for the goulash but the paprikash should show more seasoning. The goulash featured chunks of beef simmered in red wine with carrots and shallots. The chicken was simmered with vegetables and was sufficiently moist and tender.
If you have a hard time deciding what to order, consider the big Polish platter ($9.95), which isn’t really all that big but does tender ample portions of stuffed cabbage, kielbasa and pierogi with mashed potatoes and Polish kraut.
Other entrees come with a choice of two sides. The beets were fairly mild and the carrots rather dull. The sauerkraut was good and so was the cucumber dill salad with its sweet sauce. My favorite was the potato dumplings, dense rolls of potato flour with a smooth texture.
If you really want beets order the borscht ($3.50), arguably Poland’s most popular soup, with its red beety broth and shreds of the root vegetable. The soup is served hot with a plop of sour cream.
Zurek ($3.50) is another popular soup from Poland. Known also as Easter soup, it has sour rye flour as its base and is seasoned with fresh garlic and marjoram. Two halves of a hard-boiled egg float in the murky broth and feathery leaves of freshly chopped dill float on top.
For dessert there poppy seed cake ($), a multi-layered affair of chocolate with sweet vanilla frosting and hundreds of poppy seeds. Apple strudel ($) and blintzes ($) are as equally good as the cake.
Polonia is housed in a standalone building that at one time was a fast-food restaurant of some sort. (The abandoned drive-through lane is still there.) Most recently it was home to an Asian restaurant, and there is what may have been a make-do sushi bar next to the deli counter. The small dining room is rather plain, with white walls decorated with a couple of colorful Polish costumes and undistinguished paintings. The center of the room has what appears to be a dance floor, although no one moved the tables away to polka to the music that was playing. Tables are uncovered and napkins are of the paper variety.
No, this is not a fancy dining experience. But for those who enjoy good Polish food it’s as fine as it gets.