Greenpoint’s northeastern frontier sustains a half-dozen Polish restaurants so far from the subway that they’re known only to residents of this close-knit community. Old Poland Bakery and Restaurant has a facade that features a canvas rendition of a castle and a mustachioed knight on horseback; his sagging lance suggests he’s just eaten a heavy meal and can’t quite get it up. There’s no such thing as a light meal here, or an expensive one, either.
Inside, find a bakery counter to the right, opposite tables corralled inside a wooden fence. Beyond that is an order counter and a pass-through into the kitchen. Wearing a kerchief and a billowing apron, the cook occasionally appears at the square window like a housewife in a Vermeer painting. If you crane your neck, you can see the largest collection of steam table fixtures in the city. Surrounding the window are myriad boards that colorfully chalk the day’s offerings in Polish and English. No Eastern European café has a longer menu.
Poles often begin their meal with a soup. The tripe ($2.60) is a wonder, slightly acidic and dotted with herbs, its strips of beef stomach long simmered to complete softness. Another good choice is sorrel—the fresh leaf greets boiled egg and tiny bits of vegetable in a broth barely touched with sour cream. A side of potatoes and lardons is provided with all soups but the tripe, with the expectation that you might dump them in to make a full meal. Just recently the cold summer selections appeared, including a refreshing buttermilk soup ($1.70) enlivened with shredded red radish and chopped green onion, which give it a Christmassy air.
Main courses are served with two D-cups of mashed potatoes, seemingly made with no milk or butter. This blandness is routinely addressed with the gravy boat, unless you request different. Almost unbelievably, the entrée price begins at $3.50, which gets you sautéed chicken livers in abundance, while an additional 50 cents buys not one but two hefty pork shanks, skin on and boiled into oblivion. Peel away layers of skin and fat (most patrons devour them) to find thick shreds of deep red meat, and plenty of it. If you want to maximize your ratio of food volume to money, a good choice is the lima bean stew ($4). This thick concoction, made smoky with nuggets of kielbasa and ham, gangs up on the potatoes and threatens to overwhelm them, so that the vegetable accessories must be exiled to a separate plate. A splurge of $5.20 secures the veal cutlet, a plate-flopping wienerschnitzel fried to order. Pounded chicken and pork cutlets receive similar treatment. When tired of the overboiled approach, lovers of Polish food request such cooked-to-order entrées.
Sides include the usual. The worst is unadorned canned peas, and the green salad is not much better, but the shredded purple slaw—made with parboiled cabbage—raps and rocks. The cold beet salad—mildly flavored with horseradish and only slightly sweet—also triumphs. Wash it all down with the oversized bottles of cheap Polish suds magazined in the refrigerator case, and you’ll ride away stuffed like the knight and slightly tipsy.