Twice a week — only once a week during the summer — the Polish Home Association on Capitol Hill, or Dom Polski, operates what it claims to be the only Polish restaurant in the Seattle area. Called the PB Kitchen, set up in the home’s main hall, and run by chef Barbara “Basia” Patrick, the restaurant serves a modest number of simple entrees every Friday night to a mixed clientele of Americans and Polish immigrants.
Counter to the generally held perception about food served in social halls, the dishes at the Polish Home — the blintzes, pierogies, stuffed cabbage, roast pork — measure up to those served in full-time restaurants. There are ancillary reasons to eat dinner at the Polish home, for the charm of eating at a social hall, for the cultural immersion, for the self-satisfaction of dining off the radar. But the reason to go can be far simpler. PB Kitchen is one of the very few places, if not the only place, around where you can sit down and be served this type of eastern European cooking.
The food is inexpensive (all entrees cost less than $12), prepared informally and served by waiters and waitresses who speak Polish. Many were born in Poland. They are friendly and helpful to outsiders, by which I mean Americans who are not of Polish descent nor members of the Polish home. To eat there, non-members must pay a temporary “membership” fee of $1. Some nights, most of the customers are non-members.
The menu is written in both Polish and English. The food is savory and hearty, made from pork, potatoes, and root vegetables, particularly beets and cabbage. Those who have eaten German, Czech, or Russian food will find Polish food similar and unintimidating. Polish food is not exotic in a Western sense. It is basically meat and potatoes. In cities like Chicago or Detroit with larger numbers of Polish immigrants, many restaurants serve this kind of cooking, but in Seattle it is unique. Here the Polish community is small and cannot muster the patronage of a full-time restaurant. Even a weekly restaurant can sometimes be a challenge.
This month will be the PB Kitchen’s last month of operation for the summer. It will close in August, resuming its Friday dinners Sept. 10 and resuming its twice-weekly schedule of Friday dinner and Sunday brunch in October.
“Summers are slow, but usually in September, we’ll see a line of people waiting out the door,” said Konrad Palubicki, one of the dining hall’s waiters and a student at the University of Washington.
Food served in social halls is not usually held to a high standard. Typically, dishes are made in mass, and made to be filling. They can be overcooked, served sloppily, and rendered cold or dry or crusty by the time you eat them. The food at PB Kitchen is made to a restaurant standard and served in a restaurant setting. What is supposed to be crunchy is crunchy. What is supposed to be warm is very warm. The food is plated gracefully, although it is more home cooking than high end.
The Polish platter ($12) is the best way of getting a broad taste of Polish cooking, a plate of pierogies, stuffed cabbage, half a sausage, a scoop of mashed potatoes sprinkled with dill, shredded beets, and sauerkraut. The kitchen serves three varieties of pierogies (potato, cabbage, and meat), which can be ordered in any combination. The stuffed cabbage is smothered with a creamy tomato sauce and can be an entrée in itself for $10.
Breaded pork chops ($12) and fried trout ($12) are regular menu items. Ordered with eggs, the pork chops make a perfect brunch dish. The PB Kitchen also has at least two rotating specials, the roasted pork tenderloin ($12) among the best of them. The tenderloin is cut into medallions and covered in pork gravy. Patrick’s borscht ($4.50), served warm, is a flavorful counterbalance to the meat- and starch-heavy menu.
The PB Kitchen is as much a gathering or happening as it is a restaurant. Some regulars show up every week, not just for the food but to drink at the bar, which serves beer, wine and liquor. There are sweethearts and parents and godfathers, a web of people that make up the small and centralized community of Polish immigrants, who continue to leave Poland for more prosperous destinations including Seattle even though communism rule ended there in 1989.
The immigrant communities of Seattle are spread around and away from the city, taking up whole neighborhoods in some cases, in others a few blocks or maybe an entire shopping center. The Vietnamese community runs through the Rainier Valley. The Ethiopian community has diffuse borders in the Central District. The Chinese and Korean communities are largely decentralized with various outposts in Seattle and the suburbs in all directions. The Norwegian community still has Ballard, although its hold there has weakened considerably.
But the several generations of Poles who have moved to Seattle over the decades have just one building, located where it has stood for almost a century, at East Olive Street and 18th Avenue, surrounded by various apartment buildings with few restaurants nearby. It is far removed from the trendy eating and carousing the neighborhood is known for along 15th Avenue or 12th Avenue.
During dinner at the Polish Home, you might hear Polish music being played upstairs where teenagers learn traditional folk dances. There are book clubs, language classes, church clubs, dances, musical performances, and birthday parties. The Polish Home has grown over the years and its building has lost almost all of its original features, as rooms, facades, and an elevator have been added on. It looks like a large apartment building of undetermined vintage. The property, which includes a large parking lot, is host to a number of activities beyond eating, most of them hidden from view.
This corner is far from the start of a Little Warsaw. But for a few hours, posted in front of a plate of pierogies and a mug of Polish beer, with people chattering in Polish in the background, Poland does not feel so small or far away.
If you go: PB Kitchen, 1714 18th Ave., Seattle, 206-320-3020, www.pbkitchen.com. Open Fridays 6-11 pm through July 30; Closed for six weeks starting Aug. 1, re-opening Sept. 10. Starting in October, the kitchen will be open Fridays and Sundays from 1-4 pm. Cash only.
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