Fresh dill, kielbasa, mushrooms, sauerkraut, and cheesecake are some of the hearty flavors of Poland.
However, there's no need to travel to Poland to find such flavors. Robust Polish dishes can be enjoyed locally at Polish Cottage.
Tucson's dropping evening temperatures have a way of welcoming guests across the threshold with the lure of warmth and comforting food.
Polish Cottage owner and chef, Robert Stawicki grew up in Warsaw, Poland. While living there, he attended culinary school and operated a restaurant.
In 2001, Stawicki moved to Tucson with his family and in 2008, he — and a business partner — opened Eastern European Amber Restaurant and Gallery. After a few years, however, he decided to branch out on his own.
In 2010, Polish Cottage was established — even the name evokes a sense of warmth and comfort about the place.
According to Stawicki, it’s far more common to eat out in Tucson than it is in Poland. “Here, people go out for lunch every day. But in Poland, people only go to restaurants for special occasions, like weddings. Most of the cooking is done in the home,” admits Stawicki.
The restaurant’s interior is vibrant. Polish memorabilia hang on bright walls in the intimate dining space. You’ll find wooden Russian nesting dolls in various colors and shapes and a child’s size traditional Polish dress with sequins.
Stawicki admitted that most of the restaurant’s decor was gifted from customers with a connection to Poland. “They bring more and more every year,” he said.
When seated, you'll notice the waitress walking around with small woven baskets for the tables, carrying two small pieces of epi bread — a baguette-like bread cut to resemble a wheat stalk. It has a crispy exterior and chewy interior like sourdough.
Upbeat Polish music plays overhead — akin to the music that would be playing during a Polish dance.
Stawicki believes that his customers enjoy the Polish cuisine because it’s made from scratch and something different for them to try.
Popular dishes at Polish Cottage include Perogi, Pork and Rice Stuffed Cabbage, Hunter's Stew (a blend of shredded cabbage, meats, and a piece of sausage), and Potato Pancakes.
The crispy Potato Pancakes are served with a side of applesauce and sour cream. A half order gets you two pancakes and the whole order includes four.
The well-liked pierogi — traditional Polish dumplings — include Beef, Potatoes and Cheese, Sauerkraut and Mushroom, or Sweet Farmer’s Cheese. The pierogi are served traditionally with a side of sour cream as well as toppings of bacon and caramelized onion.
The Beef Pierogi are stuffed with shredded beef. The savory, meaty filling in a soft and chewy dough is satisfying.
The Potato and Cheese Pierogi — with mashed potatoes and farmer’s cheese — are lighter and pair well with sour cream.
Of all the house-made edibles at Polish Cottage, the farmer’s cheese stands out.
The cheese — a mild, dry-curd cheese with a creamy texture similar to ricotta — requires a four- to five-hour fermentation process. It is used for various dishes on the menu, including pierog fillings, crepes, and cheesecake.
Stawicki’s favorite foods include pork cutlets, chicken marsala, and Zurek.
Zurek Soup — or “white borscht soup” — is a sour North Slavic dish. Stawicki states that the “base is a fermentation of bread” — rye, to be precise. Add in sausage and a hard-boiled egg to create a dish that is unique and appetizing.
You should also give the six-ounce Breaded Pork Cutlet a try — it’s served with a choice of fried or mashed potatoes and a cucumber salad. It’s a simple, delicious meal that gently introduces European cuisine.
From the bookshelf showing off beautiful Polish places to the folk-style atmosphere, customers will likely be inspired to plan a trip to Europe to see the medieval castles in Krakow for themselves. If not, locals have the luxury of trying authentic Polish food without leaving the city.
While thinking on far-away lands and savoring final bites of a cozy meal, give the dessert menu a browse. The traditional Polish Apple Cake is the one to try — you won’t regret it.
Hours of operation are 11:00 a.m. - 8 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 11:00 a.m. - 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Polish Cottage is located at 4520 E. Broadway Blvd. For more information, visit polishcottageaz.com or call (520) 777-5407 to make reservations.
[This article was written on December 20, 2018.]