Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Around the World in 10 Dishes: Dumpling Edition at Eater Denver

In the second installment of my Eater series Around the World in 10 Dishes, I tackle the tricky subject of dumplings—a word that means way too many things to way too many people in way too many languages. But in the end, it all translates as “yay for dough lumps.”

Read the article here! Then feast your eyes on 9 of the 10 examples below. As for the chicken and dumplings at Tom’s Home Cookin,’ I thought I had a decent photo, but no dice. Gotta remedy that situation stat.

Kreplach at The Bagel Deli

Pierogi at Belvedere

Wontons at China Jade

Pelmeni from David’s Kebab House

Matzoh balls at Ella Fine Diner

Czech bread dumplings at Golden Europe Restaurant

Gnocchi al pesto at Il Pastaio

Xiao long bao at Lao Wang Noodle House

Ham sui gok at Star Kitchen

Intrigue—Culinary & Otherwise—at Cracovia

In the photograph I’m holding, it’s 1982. A young, bearded man stands alone in a parking lot, looking for all the world like a bon vivant in slim pants and boots.

“That was all my belongings,” Lester Rodzen tells me.
“The clothes on your back?” I ask.
“Well, I had a pack of cigarettes & a bottle of vodka.”

Thus was the figure in the photo equipped to escape his Communist-run homeland with less than 24 hours’ notice after being identified as the printer of an underground newspaper. Spending a year in an Italian refugee camp while the United Nations processed his paperwork, Rodzen eventually made his way to New Jersey; from there, he planned to join some friends in San Diego, but “my car was broken in Denver & I stayed for the next 26 years.” Now the former petroleum chemist is the owner of Westminster Polish restaurant Cracovia.

You think all that’s exciting? Try the food.

Okay, Polish cuisine isn’t really known for its pizzazz; rather, its hallmark is homestyle comfort, all meat & potatoes, dumplings & root vegetables, boiled this & pickled that. But if you’ve got a taste for such substantial stuff, then exhilarating it most certainly is. And while the likes of pierogi & kielbasa are celebrated worldwide, it’s the lesser-known kiszka that gives me a thrill.

Put gently, kiszka is black pork sausage; put bluntly, it’s blood sausage. Compared to much of its firmly packed ilk, the forcemeat (that is, the ground, spiced mixture inside the casing) is loose & grainy. And though well-seasoned, kiszka is surprisingly mild—nutty with whole kernels of barley & devoid of the iron-tinged aftertaste you might expect.

It comes with mashed potatoes & warm sauerkraut—which is strikingly sour indeed, but also richly brothy & studded with caraway seeds. It does not, however, come with the homemade mustard that Rodzen pairs with his white sausage—understandably, since the almost orange, tangy sweet-hot condiment could easily overpower its own delicate flavor. But I request a side of it anyway to polish off (no homonym intended) with a spoon. It’s that good.

Also pictured are zupa ogórkowa & mizeria, both bound to be acquired tastes for many Americans. The former is described as “pickle soup with potatoes”; more accurately, it’s potato soup with shredded pickles—milky on the one hand, sharply sour on the other. Being staunchly pro-pickle myself, I get a kick out of it, though skeptics aren’t likely to be swayed. The same goes for mizeria, the classic salad—which is more like a cold soup—of sliced cucumbers in sour cream, seasoned simply with salt, pepper, & dill. Though refreshing, the ratio of dairy to veggie might come as a shock to leaf-eaters.

Then again, such specialties just go to show that Rodzen & his co-owner, wife Maria, aren’t dumbing their cookery down a whit for the uninitiated. This is a very good thing. Go in with an open mind and you’ll be rewarded with a delightfully expanded belly.

Cracovia: 8121 W. 94th Ave., Westminster; 303.484.9388; Lunch and dinner daily; $7.95-$20.95.

Cracovia Polish-American Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

This Week on Gorging Global: Sausages, Sauerkraut & Suspense at Cracovia

As you’ll see over at The Mouthful, Cracovia is a trip & a half. Not only is it way to hell & gone out in a Westminster strip mall, but owner Lester Rodzen is a hilarious character with stories about the Old Country galore.

The place is also a sanctuary for such stuff-stuffed stuff as kiskza, Polish blood sausage. It ain’t pretty—

but then, few great eats are. (Think about it—gorgeous presentations usually involve disguising their ingredients beyond all recognition, while more straightforward ones are usually pretty chunky & brownish-green.)

I urge you not only to read the post but more importantly to make the trek, because this joint is the kind of gem the burbs have far too few of.

Scrounging around Kinga’s Lounge for something like Polish grub

***I’m in one of my fits of existential pique, the kind wherein blogging feels like anything but its own reward. I’m going to do it anyway, because I generally believe in acting as if. Wish me luck.***

Ever since my always-on-the-move pal Larry asked me about it last fall, & my pal Beth of Living the Mile-High Life‘s husband Todd wrote a review of it on his blog, Broomfield Restaurant Reviews, I’ve been meaning to get over to Cracovia for some pork fat to slather all over my face. After Westword reviewed it last week, the craving really kicked in—but dreading the postreview masses, I opted instead, at Beth’s suggestion, to check out Kinga’s Lounge on Colfax with her, Todd & the Director in tow.

I don’t know how I knew that the nondescript-bordering-on-divey bar area in the front wasn’t all there was to the place (genius?!?), but I did, & kept going, through an utterly quaint dining room

Kinga's3

& on into the even more charming fireplace lounge in back, all carved wood & stained glass panels, oil paintings & antiques, leading in turn to a cute little smoking patio overlooking the side street.

Kinga's1 Kinga's2

Couldn’t be nicer for knocking back some vodka, I figured, & it wasn’t. For one thing, our waitress—a pretty young thing who, we came to understand, was family (to the owners, I mean, not to us)—missed nary a trick; as friendly as she was knowledgeable about the menus, she led me to Zoladkowa orange-clover vodka, which I got with an OJ chaser, not expecting just how sweetly spiced it would be all on its own.

Kinga'sorangeclovervodka

She also talked Beth into a shot of my beloved Zubrówka bison-grass vodka (more of which here), & Todd into 1 of the more pilsnery of their dozen or so Polish beers.

Kinga'sbeer

Love me those full-on red leather boots beneath the bowtied braid, peasant blouse & flouncy apron.

That Kinga’s is an American bar 1st, Polish eatery 2nd was, however, clear from the menu, which is about 3 parts standard grub to 1 part Old Country cookery. We nonetheless made do, starting with new-to-me zapiekanka, apparently a popular snack over there, here topped with sauteed mushrooms & onions, what seemed to be provolone, & a yummy, slightly spicy sauce that the waitress said was the chef’s secret but then confessed that it was probably just a mix of household condiments X, Y & Z. Anyway, it was perfectly good as French bread pizza–like items go. One can’t help but wonder what it would be like with a quality baguette, but one also realizes that the cheap stuff is likely more appropriate from the standpoint of tradition.

Kinga'sbread2

My so-called meatballs were really juicy patties—mainly lighter meat like pork & veal, I think, & topped (though I’d asked for it on the side—our waitress’s 1 minor slip) with some sort of enjoyably gross cheese sauce. Beth nailed them as “differently flavored Salisbury steak” (she’s good, that one!). The fried potato disks & cucumber salad (which, despite appearances, proved somehow lighter & more refreshing than its counterpart at Café Berlin) were also perfectly respectable.

Kinga'smeatballs

Ditto the Director’s pierogi stuffed variously with potato, cabbage & meat; though dribbled with some sort of butter sauce, they were relatively light, resembling ravioli more than anything that might have missed its calling as empanadas.

Kinga'spierogi

Beth’s wienerschnitzel was certainly a honker, & not bad, though a bit dry.

Kinga'sschnitzel

Of the two kinds of kielbasa on offer—smoked red & boiled white—Todd opted for the former, which came with a mess o’ sauerkraut; he wasn’t wild about it, however, declaring Cracovia overall preferable.

Kinga'skielbasa

I don’t doubt it, but I remain enchanted enough by the backroom vibe to plan to kick it there more often.

Kinga's Lounge on Urbanspoon

Ick, been in Berlin (er, the Cafe)

Ha! Sorry you had to read that.

Surrounded by ceramic bric-a-brac & Kirchner imitations, served by a goofy-as-hell but sweet-as-pie Aryan youth straight out of Goebbels’ wet dreams, sipping from a great big goblet of Riesling while my friend MO (whom you last met at Big Mess Bar-B-Q) worked her way around a beer sampler that was more like a beer hose-it-down-her-throater,

CBbeer

Warsteiner Pils, Paulaner Oktoberfest, Paulaner Munich Lager, Paulaner Hefewiezen, Paulaner Dopplebock, in some order or other

I was sufficiently charmed by Cafe Berlin to hope the indifferent bread basket, lined with a napkin that was trimmed with more crust than the factory-sliced bread it contained & accompanied by ice-cold foil-wrapped butter pats, was a fluke.

It wasn’t.

While my throwback garden salad was palatable enough thanks to a zesty if oddly orange & not especially mustardy mustard vinaigrette, MO’s gurkensalat wasn’t even close, suffocating almost audibly under a deluge of sour cream no less plain for being dilled.

CBcukes

cf.

MolassesFlood

the Great Molasses Flood of 1919, in which nearly 2 dozen people drowned after a rum-distillery tank burst near Boston Harbor, just like those poor floppy cuke disks

Lo, though, a ray of hope shone briefly but brightly in the form of this wurstteller,

CBbrats

combining coins of 3 types of bratwurst—all rich & tender, especially the palest variety—with vinaigrette-slicked tomato wedges over warm, deeply caramelized sauerkraut.

Then came the cloud that was my rouladen, obscuring all in the darkness of sloppy execution.

CBroulades

Even creamed, the beef was dry & tough. The bacon & sauteed onions supposedly wrapped thereup were scant if that; only the presence of the dill spear—yes, the beef is stuffed with an intact pickle—was obvious, not to say vaguely obscene. The dumplings were nothing but gummy. The pickled red cabbage was just fine, as was the bewilderingly incongruous salad of papaya, green apple & grapes, but I didn’t come to a German joint to get my RDA of fruits & veggies, dammit, I came for frischfleisch.

MO fared better with jagerschnitzel—the cutlet fairly tender & breaded gently enough, the mushroom-cream sauce a bit gloppy but plenty mushroom-creamy. Fried potatoes were no better or worse than they would be at your average truck stop. The spaetzle, however, was a shame, clearly storebought. Like gnocchi, spaetzle’s just got to be homemade; its virtues—a sweet lumpy shape & a doughy bite—are such that it’s pointless otherwise.

CBschnitzel

& so, I fear, would be another evening at Cafe Berlin, where even complimentary parting shots of apple schnapps, lovely though they were, couldn’t quite dull the bitter taste of disappointment. (Though someday, when it’s finally dissolved, I may take my chances with the lunch menu, as I also fear, deeply, that I’m a sucker for currywurst.)

Cafe Berlin on Urbanspoon