Sikora’s Polish Market in Northeast Minneapolis

 

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table
Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Sikora’s Polish Market in Northeast Minneapolis is a true Polish market: Not Eastern European. Not Ukrainian with an offering of a few superb sausage varieties. True Polish.

“We get our food directly from a distributor in Chicago, where there are almost a million Polish-Americans. They know how to do it right,” says owner Maciek Sikora. “You can’t fool the old Poles.” But the young Poles know quality and authenticity, too. “Look at the coarseness of the grind for this sausage,” says deli manager Alina Jambor, who is many decades short of being an old Pole. She holds up a wonderfully garlicky slice of sausage with discernible chunks of meat and fat. “You don’t want meat that is all the same color, like a hot dog. A fine grind like that allows you to put in fillers. Good sausage doesn’t have filler.”

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table
Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

The Moscow ham is another example of identifiable food. A cross section reveals large cloves of garlic that were pushed into the meat before processing. It is then garnished generously with even more garlic. It’s moist, rich, and centerpiece worthy.

Another sign of Sikora’s being a truly Polish market is the remarkable selection of pierogi, nineteen in all including plum and blueberry. To Northeast resident and Sikora’s customer Diana Rajchel, it’s this variety that marks the store as “a real Polish place.” Diana puts a lot of care into her selection of food: “While I love Kramarczuk’s, there are differences between Ukrainian and Polish fare, especially when it comes to pierogi versus varenyky,” she says. “It was nice to find a place where I get exactly the right type. For me this distinction is important because it’s an act of ancestral connection: pierogi is a Lenten dish and must be vegetarian; there is a lot of folklore around Polish food and it’s important to me to see that honored.”

People unfamiliar with fruit pierogi may be hesitant to try them. But you need only add a little sugar to the sour cream, and then prepare and serve as you would the savory variety. Cooking and serving advice comes free at Sikora’s. If Maciek, his wife Jacie, or Alina can’t help you, Maciek advises, “Ask a customer with an accent and you’re set.” Customers readily share advice and recipes and there is no shortage of strong opinions, including those on how to use the nine varieties of flour carried at Sikora’s. “Polish bakers want specific flours for specific recipes,” Maciek says.

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table
Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

The frozen pierogi and dumplings have received the ultimate seal of approval: The grandmother test.  After sampling the uszka from Sikora’s, a venerable customer — and the cook for multigenerational holiday dinners — resigned as the family’s maker of uszka (the savory mushroom dumpling that goes in barszcz, a beet soup served on Christmas Eve). She declared that all future Christmas-Eve dumplings will come from the store. (Anyone from the generation that invariably received The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas as a wedding present will recognize uszka as the two-page recipe that even Thomas calls “a long trip.” So who can blame Grandma?)

sikoras-interior-detail
Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Sikora’s has been open since March and already has a devoted following. “We have people who come from other parts of the state with coolers so they can stock up,” Alina says. Sunday is a busy day, with many customers stopping by after mass at Holy Cross Catholic Church. The days before Easter were really bustling for Sikora’s; be prepared to rub elbows with other customers crowding into the store before a holiday.

Weekdays are quieter and a good time to visit if you want to find the perfect sauerkraut — the selection is impressive — or a good stock for your borscht. Take advantage of the deli manager’s knowledge of her products. Alina is happy to give samples and explain the differences between the bacons, sausages, hams, and cheeses in the cases. “Gypsy bacon is smoked twice. Any meat called ‘gypsy’ is moist, smoky, and very dark. It was developed to be stored safely and travel well,” she says. It is also a technique that intensifies the flavor, making a little bit of the gypsy bacon feel like a decadent treat.

sikoras-chocolate
Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Leisurely browsing leads to the chocolate section. The vodka-filled chocolates are hard to miss, and the idea of a bit of actual vodka, rather than vodka-flavored cream, as a filling immediately brings Ogden Nash’s “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker” to mind. Now you can have both, and in sparkly packaging. Sikora’s stocks a full selection of E. Wedel chocolates, a brand well known in Poland, including hefty bars with whole hazelnuts.

For those who want immediate food gratification at the market, a lunch of a kielbasa with Polish mustard and sauerkraut is $4. For $5, you also receive a Kinder Bueno chocolate bar, all to be enjoyed at a sidewalk table under an awning adorned with a Polish eagle. Grandmother would approve.

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table
Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Sikora’s Polish Market, 1625 Washington St NE, Minneapolis, MN 55418;
612.789.0907

Lebanese Lubia, Baked Tilapia, and More: Our Lent Wrap-Up

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

If you are considering a Lenten fish fry pilgrimage in 2015 – take note of these three very distinct events as you map your course. The deep-friers will start heating up again on Friday, February 20, 2015. (Also see the first part of our Lenten roundup.)

Lebanese Food at Holy Family Maronite Church

The flyer at Holy Family sets the tone for the dinner: “Come for the fish. Stay for the garlic.” There’s a touch of levity and some real truth-telling in that phrase. Garlic is the loving kiss of flavor that permeates the food at Holy Family. “Skip the fish. Go for the side dishes. You can get fish anywhere. But you can’t get Lebanese food like this!” says Carolyn Marker, who grew up in Holy Family. It would be a shame to pass on the fish, which is fried perfectly, but Marker is absolutely right about the side dishes. This is Lebanese home cooking, done with pride.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

The lubia is the heart of this meal. Green beans are cooked with tomatoes, garlic, and seasonings and served with buttered rice. The flavors are rich and subtle, and the green beans have a satisfying al dente quality to them. The dressing on the crisp lettuce (there’s no shortage of textures at this dinner) is garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and “a handful of dried mint to make it marvelous,” says Marker. Small cups of garlic sauce await guests at the end of the buffet line. It’s best used on everything. Generously.

The Cod, Meatballs, and Enchiladas of Lent: A Survey

Robyn Priestley
Robyn Priestley

Early Christians spent Lent, the roughly 40-day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter, eating simple meals in community with one another. Church traditions have changed over the centuries, but meatless Lenten Fridays and eating in community have continued into this age. The tone of the meals is lighter now, with church basements becoming ecclesiastical pop-up restaurants serving fried fish, meatless enchiladas, falafel and hummus, dessert carts, and endless coffee by armies of volunteers who pride themselves on turning out good food along with good cheer.

Below is a look at three Lenten Friday meals in the Twin Cities; we’ll wrap up another three meals at the end of the season.

Enchiladas at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church

The prep work starts well in advance each week for the Lenten dinners at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. Each Friday sees roughly 800 people come for meatless enchiladas (in fact, they’re vegan — the beans contain oil instead of lard). The day before, a dedicated team of women comes to chop vegetables and prepare the sauce. Rebecca Arellano Montez oversees the project. “The ladies chop all the vegetables by hand,” Montez says. “No machines, because then the onions get too watery and lose their flavor.”

The Arellano family started the dinners 15 years ago, contributing all the ingredients and doing all the cooking. The dinners became so popular that it was necessary to make them a parish project, and now many families pitch in.

“It’s important that the young people learn how to make the dinner. Many Mexican families aren’t making enchiladas anymore and the next generation learns here,” says Montez. “I’m 80 and I won’t be around here cooking forever. Many of the ladies here have been cooking a long time, too. We like getting to know the young people and teaching them how to do this.” Montez shares the treasured recipe with the up-and-coming cooks of the parish, but not with anyone else. “Every week it seems someone asks for the recipe. I just say it’s a well-guarded family secret,” she says.