The Food Guy: A Taste of Poland at Smakosz in Jefferson Park

Rather than Krakow or Warsaw roots, the recipes at Smakosz in Jefferson Park come from a town between those two, on the Eastern edge of Poland

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With cool weather still very much a part of the next month or so, you might want to try warming up with a traditional Polish feast.

You know that means pierogis, but also lots of potato dishes and hearty soups.

Polish culture is as synonymous with Chicago as Malört, dibs and potholes. And you don’t necessarily have to lineup at a buffet. In fact, there’s a family-run restaurant on the Northwest Side where they make every customer feel like a long-lost relative, which means feeding them too much.

The cooks are sort of an extended family at Smakosz, a cozy, casual Jefferson Park restaurant that quietly makes some of the best homemade Polish food in the city. Rather than Krakow or Warsaw roots, the recipes come from a town between those two, on the Eastern edge of Poland.

“Lublin, we eat a lot of pierogies. A lot of beans, potatoes,” said Renata Kaminska, owner of Smakosz.

Besides mashed, they also appear in delicate, handmade pierogies, often served with caramelized onions or rendered bacon.

“Potato and cheese, meat, sauerkraut and mushrooms, blueberries, sweet cheese and our signature pierogi is buckwheat, farmer’s cheese and fresh mint,” she said.

Potatoes also star in pancakes, as wide as a CD and crisp as a chip.

“We grind the potatoes ourselves, by hand, so they’re really crispy,” said Kaminska.

Soups and stews are noteworthy. Take the Zurek, which is based on an all-natural starter, not unlike sourdough.

“Zurek is a soup that started with my father, who started zakwas, which is fermented oats, rye flour and garlic. Kapusniak is a sauerkraut soup with spices, potatoes, sausage,” she said.

And then there’s beet borscht – a clear, intensely flavored vegetable broth, embedded with tiny beef dumplings. More thumb-sized dumplings of the potato variety, served with the beef stroganoff. To balance the richness, salads: tart beets, sauerkraut, or finely-chopped coleslaw. To drink, try a fruit-forward kompot or a traditional Polish beer.

Kaminska says her entire menu – especially the soups – provides fuel for warmth.

“They have a lot of spices, a lot of herbs, so they keep you really warm from the inside,” she said.

This truly is "grandma's cooking," right down to the wood paneling and handmade pierogis.

If you like what you have, be sure to tell your server everything was “smaczne” – that’s delicious or tasty. Even though tradition from Lublin dictates you have something with potatoes, like the pancakes or pierogi, make sure you that you save enough room for coleslaw, sauerkraut or beets.

Here's where you can go:


5619 W. Lawrence Ave.


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