Thursday, March 3, 2016

Greenpoint’s Culinary Ghosts via Eat By Francis Lam

When I moved to Brooklyn in 1999, I’d never heard of Greenpoint — a working-class Polish community out past Williamsburg with questionable subway access — before the apartment broker sold me on it. My landlords lived upstairs, among clear vinyl tablecloths and a shrine to Pope John Paul II. I ate bigos, a savory, tart stew cooked so long that its many meats fell to nearly spreadable shreds, and incredibly cheap pirogi in fluorescent restaurants, where I would laugh in amazement at how much pork and potatoes five bucks could get you. I walked around my new neighborhood, looking into shops filled with sacks and sacks of rye bread and hundreds of sausages dangling in the windows, wondering how long it would take me to learn all their names. I wanted to be a part of the community, to integrate, but I never became anything more than an interloper. The cold looks I sometimes got on the street confused and bothered me, until I realized that I wasn’t just a new neighbor, that by paying more in rent than the families around me, I’d made living in Greenpoint just that much more expensive for them. I realized those fluorescent dining rooms were populated mostly by single men, men who’d left their families back in Poland while they tried to make some money in America. I realized that, when I was amused by those massive plates of food, I’d never really thought about how hungry I’d be if I spent the day building furniture, or moving it, as many of them did. By the time I moved away a couple of years later, I hadn’t learned the names of any of the sausages. So I was glad, a few weeks ago, when Monika Woods showed me how sweet her life in the old neighborhood had been. Woods also landed in Greenpoint when she first arrived in New York City, about half a dozen years after I left. With her stylish, oversize glasses, she might also be taken for an outsider. But she moved to the neighborhood because she was born in Poland and missed hearing strangers talk to one another in Polish; because the first restaurant she went to used the same plates her grandmother kept in Poland. Woods agreed to show me how to make her mom’s bigos, and we ambled to her favorite meat market. Walking the main drag of Manhattan Avenue, she pointed out the places that always transported her back to Poland: an entire shop devoted to her favorite brands of Polish candy; a storefront completely obscured by its selection of Polish bottled waters; a store that carried Polish beers that are hard to find even in Warsaw. She pointed to a liquor store that once featured live bunnies and chicks in an adorable Easter window display. She’d come back a few weeks later and asked what happened to them. ‘‘To eat,’’ she remembers the owner saying, with Old World matter-of-factness. But her Greenpoint is changing, in the way I think my old neighbors feared. The candy shop now sits empty, for rent. The restaurant that had her grandmother’s plates closed; next door is a new location of an Anthony Bourdain-approved Chinese noodle shop. When we walked by a hip new restaurant, the kind whose dishes feature swooshes of purées and swipes of sauce, we noticed an odd postscript on the menu: ‘‘Owned and operated by residents of Greenpoint.’’ The story of gentrifying communities is always about the dynamic between the new and the old, the outsiders and the insiders, but that friction is palpable when you feel as if you need to stake your claim to the neighborhood on your restaurant’s menu. ‘‘It’s funny,’’ Monika said. ‘‘I moved away a few years ago, but now, when I come back with my baby and go to a cool coffee shop, the people look at me like: ‘Great. Here come the stroller people. There goes the neighborhood.’ ’’Inside the Polam International Meat Market, though, you could easily be convinced that nothing had changed on these blocks for decades, and that nothing should. There were curtains of smoked sausages, tray upon tray of unidentified cured, smoked, roasted, poached, emulsified, rolled, cased, cubed, caul-fatted meats. It’s a museum of meats, and just 20 minutes inside the store will leave your clothes smelling of salt and smoke for hours. That old pang of wanting to know what all this stuff was hit me, and when the kindly counterwoman offered to slice some chicken-and-parsley sausage for me, I thought it might not be too late to start finding out. We bought ribs and wonderfully smoky kielbasa, and, back in my kitchen, Woods showed me her mother’s method for a bigos that marries butter-soft cabbage with the tense pop of sausage in its skin. Hours later, I supped on silky broth rich with fat and gelatin, kept lively by tart sauerkraut and the sweet, almost floral taste of caraway. What should have served eight was just enough for my brother and me. Woods didn’t have any, though — it turns out that she doesn’t eat meat. But she wanted to show me what a proper bigos is like, from the inside. The New York Times Magazine

Op-Ed. Back home near Chicago, we have the best Polish Bakery, "Olympia Bakery", and Polish Deli's. I'm in search of more than one Polish Restaurant, although the one I think of is the Prime Rib of Sunday Brunch. A Banquet Hall catering to the whole population. What's especially appealing about the Polish is their work ethic. And everything they set their hearts on is successful. Including, most importantly, their families. My parent's church is home to three Polish Masses every Sunday, with people travelling up to 15 km to be at Mass. The Bakery is one of my first stops when I arrive in my hometown. And although the Polish candies are tempting, it's more about the Kolackies and sweet & nutty coffee cakes. As I'm not the biggest fan of pork, I do instead love a meal of Polish Kraut and Pierogi's made with potato. Chicago can be proud of its Polish Community as they are meticulous in their business endeavors and never cause a fuss for anyone. And yep, the Millennials are pushing strollers now. Maybe the Polish moved out of New York City to be with their compatriots in Chicago. As per my take on bigos I would prepare the dish with a Beef Chuck Roast with Kraut, simmered with a lil wine and onions, and served with a German Spätzle. To the Polish, I'd say, "Nazdarovya", to a great many years of Polish neighbors, businesses and cuisine. Eat your hat Greenpoint NYC. Our Chicago Polish are here to stay. Photo