We're back from Chicago and Madison!
What, we've been updating so rarely that you had no idea where we had gone and had almost given up on our blog entirely?
Can I entice you with pictures of Polish and Lithuanian delights, with perhaps a cheeseburger thrown in for good measure?
I thought so! You're so easy.
When I was but a wee lassie, my mom's family used to get together on a fairly regular basis at a Polish/Lithuanian restaurant on the Southwest Side of Chicago, right in the flight path for Midway Airport. Since my aunt and I had a couple of hours to kill last Friday between the arrival of the plane bearing me and the arrival of the plane of my grandparents (awkward construction, I know, but I don't want to imply that anyone in my family owns a plane), I decided to drag her behind me down Cicero Avenue to said restaurant, Mabenka.
I don't think this place has changed a bit since I started going there in the mid-80s.
Their menu is still book-like, in Polish and English. Ads for Polish-speaking businesses ("Mowimy po polsku") are included, pages of them, in case you feel like doing some shopping while waiting for your dining companions to decide what type of dumpling they feel like trying.
The decor is still the same as I remember; chairs on rollers, and extra specials besides the weekly ones written up on a dry-erase board.
The blurry arm on the right was new, though.
Each meal can be ordered a la carte or as a full dinner; the full dinner is a yooge amount of food, including salad and soup (a bowl of soup!) and bread and coffee and dessert. And the heavy Polish or Lithuanian food you initially ordered.
I don't get back to this restaurant often enough to branch out too much on the menu; I ordered the same thing I get every time we go (about once every three years, at this point).
Even the a la carte meal includes bread.
My favorite of these breads has always been the raisin challah, on the right. The left-hand rye does not have a pronounced enough rye flavor for me, but I do enjoy the dark pumpernickley bread in the middle, which is moister and tastier than other breads of its ilk.
Also with the a la carte meals comes a cup of soup. (I know, I know - even the "a la carte" is a LOT of food!) I always work myself into a lather trying to decide between sauerkraut soup and beet soup, so my aunt kindly offered to order one if I'd order the other.
Betchu can't guess which is which!
The sauerkraut soup has a mild pickly flavor with a backbone made of ham, while the borscht has an earthy comforting creamy sweetness. They actually go really well together. The sides of baked potato soak up the soup broth especially nicely.
I'm already overcarbloaded, and my lunch hasn't even arrived!
Against my advice and pleading, Auntie ordered a cheeseburger. I tried to steer her towards sausage-stuffed potato or potato-stuffed sausage, or even potato and sausage dumplings, but nothing doing. The lady was adamant, I tell you.
Her burger did look good, though. I think that pickle might even be homemade?
Though she did seem happy with her decision, she didn't rave.
I, of course, with the blood of Poland and Germany and England and Sweden and Norway coursing through my veins, ordered dumplings. Pierogies, that is. Two kinds, even - one with "meat" and one with potato and cheese. You can also get them filled with fruit or just potato or mushroom and sauerkraut.
So, it's probably a good thing I don't have much access to this kind of food in Austin, given that my cholesterol already appears to be higher than it should be. You have to admire the fancy plating, though! Crumbled bacon, and little plastic cups of real Wisconsin whipped cream for dipping.
OK, fine - that's actually sour cream. Party pooper.
Wanna see some innards?
I really enjoyed these, - however, it seemed to me that they were not as perfectly tenderly cooked as usual. The skins on several of the dumplings were a bit dry, unfortunately. Still really tasty, though, and they definitely satisfied my Chicago dumpling fixation. I was really happy to make it back to Mabenka for a meal, and I would tell you to do the same if I knew you were taking a trip to Chicago anytime soon. Are you?
I have a Laotian meal and a Cambodian meal left to blog... along with family fun and Tommy Bartlett's water show! (Which was also family fun, but of a cheesier sort. Have you ever heard the phrase "more ornery than a roomful of beards?" Well, now you have, courtesy of Tommy Bartlett!)
7844 S. Cicero Avenue
Burbank, IL 60459