The first Polish restaurants to open in north Brooklyn were known as jadłodajnie, cafeteria-style establishments that served a wide selection of Polish dinners, soups, and salads. “There were no waiters. You would order your food, get it yourself, and bring it back to the tables,” says Antek Wołowicz, 61, a long-time Greenpoint resident. “There was no alcohol, just soda and water.” He remembers that there was a jadłodajnia on the corner of North 7th and Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg and one on the corner of Nassau Avenue and Newell Street in Greenpoint. “Only workers came here to eat dinner after work,” he says. Dinners, which included a soup, cost “three or four dollars.”
Pierogi have always been a staple of the jadłodajnia. They’re hearty but heavenly pillows of dough stuffed with traditional fillings like meat, potato and quark cheese, or sauerkraut and mushroom. Typically, they’re boiled in water (and then sometimes fried) and served with sides of sauteed onion or sour cream. In the United States, new twists on the old recipes have seen pierogi stuffed with everything from broccoli and cheddar to feta and spinach to mozzarella, tomato, and basil.
Recently, I—along with three other reviewers: Ania, Martyna, and Paola—went to each of the six restaurants that serve pierogi in Greenpoint (plus a bakery and a deli) to do a taste test. Where can you get the best ones? We have the scoop right here.
8) Lomzynianka: A local favorite partly because of the surly service and unironically ironic decorations—deer heads, plastic flowers, large prints of the city-center of Łomża, Poland (the restaurant’s namesake), and frilly Polish curtains in the windows—Lomzynianka was “temporarily closed for renovations” when we were on our tour. So: disqualified!
646 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint
7) Królewskie Jadło: Legend has it that pierogi first came to Poland in the 13th century, brought from China by way of Russia to the dinner plate of bishop Jacek Odrowąż (1118-1257) during the the Battle of Kijów. Bishop Odrowąż was a missionary who, once he became infatuated with the taste of the dumplings, (the legend goes) helped spread the dish throughout Poland.
Królewskie Jadło, which roughly translates to “food of kings” unabashedly harkens back to the times of bishop Odrowąż and the handful of centuries after—when monarchs ruled the land. The restaurant is decorated with knightly armor replicas, crossed swords, paintings of Polish kings, and a large castle mural near the bar. It was so full when we entered—with just two waitresses running food from the kitchen to the roughly seven booths, nine small tables, and three bar stools—that we took our pierogi (six for $7.50) to go.
Verdict? All four reviewers thought that the dough was too thick. Paola and Ania did not like their potato and sauerkraut and mushroom fillings, respectively, and both Ania and I thought that the bacon and pepper topping made the pierogi too greasy. Although, I heard once that, in times of yore, only Polish kings and nobility could afford to smother their pierogi in bacon.
694 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint
6) Restauracja Relax: Like any jadłodajnia, this establishment has no waiters, and thus you place your order towards the back at the register (the menu is on the wall in both Polish and English). The faux wooden tables, giant wall mirrors, kitschy paintings, and big screen television make it feel like a cross between a cafeteria and your weird great-aunt’s house. The waitress yells out your order when it’s ready—in our case, a “mix” of meat, potato, and sauerkraut and mushroom pierogi with a side of sour cream.
I brought our order to the table, and we dug in carefully. While the prices here are great—seven pierogi for only $7.75—Ania wrote that her meat-filled pieróg (singluar) had “too little filling.” Martyna and I felt like the dough was a little overcooked, and thus too chewy, and Paola loved her her cheese pierogi (“It was wonderful!”). Everyone agreed that the sauteed onion was made just right.
68 Newell Street, Greenpoint
5) Pyza: This jadłodajnia always seems to be half-full of customers sitting at the pink table tops, some watching the giant television that is forever tuned to a Polish news channel. We placed our order for another “mix” plate of pierogi at the register (here, too, the menu on the wall is in Polish and English), and I brought over our food once it was ready.
Fun fact: Pierogi used to be prepared only for holidays or celebrations, and each occasion called for a varied shape and filling. For example, wedding feasts included big pierogi called kurniki that had a chicken-based filling, knysze were served after funerals, and sanieżki were made for Name Days.
The plate was heavy with pierogi: ten for only $7.50 (with a very generous helping of sour cream on the side). However, our group reaction split—over the dough. Ania deemed the dough to be “a little hard” (and I agreed), but Paola and Martyna thought it tasted “excellent” and “very good,” respectively. Ania’s mushroom and sauerkraut pieróg was also “on the sour side—I liked that, but some people may not,” she wrote. But between our debates, we finished all ten.
118 Nassau Avenue, Greenpoint
4) Christina’s: One of the first Polish restaurants in Greenpoint with table service, Christina’s was opened in 1993 by Krakow native Krystyna Dura. The inside is dark, with candles giving a pleasant glow to the wooden tables and real exposed brick walls. There are Tiffany lamps (or replicas) hanging over the bar and a mini waterfall towards the back, which also houses a corner filled with photographs that look like they were taken in the 1990s. We were there during a baptismal reception so part of the restaurant was crowded and part of it was “reserved,” and a saxophone player stood next to our table loudly playing tunes none of us had heard before.
When our waitress brought over our “mix” plate of pierogi (seven pieces for $8.50), we eagerly dove in. Everyone agreed that the dough was top notch: light, thin, and delicate. The potato- and meat-filled pierogi both were “flavorful” (Ania) and “very well seasoned” (Paola)—although word to the wise, the potato filling is sprinkled with a hearty dash of pepper. The decided un-favorite was the sauerkraut and mushroom pierogi, which everyone thought “had no flavor at all.”
853 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint
3) Northside Bakery: If you never venture towards McGolrick Park, you may be missing out on this small jewel of a bakery/jadłodajnia on the corner of Nassau Avenue and Humboldt Street. The pierogi are made fresh daily and run out quickly so they may not always be available or you’ll have to wait a few minutes. At roughly 80 cents a pieróg, or $6.50 a pound, the price is almost unbeatable.
“Light dough,” writes Ania, and Martyna agrees. “Lots of filling,” writes Paola, speaking for the both of us. The potato and cheese were a clear favorite, and the meat-filled came in second (the only negative, we all thought, was that the sauteed onion was undercooked).
190 Nassau Avenue, Greenpoint
2) Krajan Deli: Conveniently available in clear plastic containers, these delicious pierogi ($7 for twelve pieces) can be found in the fridge towards the back of Krajan Deli. They come pre-boiled, and only require some light cooking at home, either boiling in water for one to two minutes (until they are floating towards the top of the pan) or frying until they are golden-brown. The deli makes all three varieties—meat, cheese and potato, and sauerkraut and mushroom—but the sauerkraut and mushroom steal the show. “Very good for prepackaged pierogi,” writes Martyna, speaking for us all. “Very fresh,” writes Ania. But, these are definitely BYOO—Bring Your Own Onion.
160 Nassau Avenue, Greenpoint
1) Karczma Polish Restaurant: This restaurant is a relative newcomer on the Greenpoint scene, only opening in 2007 (for years, there was a jadłodajnia there under different management), but it’s already managed to get a good local reputation. Since Karczma is typically packed over the weekends, we saved this one for later in the evening just so we could get a table.
The inside of the restaurant is set up like a Polish rustic farmhouse dream; the walls are a warm yellow and decorated with reaping and sowing tools, pots, and thick wall tapestries. The bathroom area has an awning made of straw, and the menus are stacked on wooden barrels near a wishing well. There’s a lonesome wagon wheel leaning against one on walls in the back, and the waitresses take your order dressed like traditional Polish Krakowianki—in folk costumes from the city of Krakow.
Sometimes, too much by way of such “themed” decorations can mean that the food is on the questionable side. Here, however, the pierogi (six for $8) proved to be best on the tour, scoring a perfect 5 across all reviewers for both filling and dough. “The dough is light, the filling is flavorful, and the dumpling was full of the filling,” wrote Ania. I agreed—”thin dough, and lots of moist, sweet filling.” Martyna wrote, “There’s no competition. The pierogi here are veryyy good!” We all wondered if we should order another round, making Karczma the clear winner!
136 Greenpoint Avenue, Greenpoint