POLONEZ CAFÉ AND RESTAURANT 195 Roncesvalles, at Fern, 416-532-8432. Complete meals for $15 per person, including all taxes, tip and a bottle of Zywiec beer. Average main $10. Open daily 11 am to 10 pm. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
On a wretched Saturday afternoon, Polonez is crowded with multi-generational families all speaking Polish. It's impeccably clean, warm and minimally adorned, with heavy, highly polished wood furniture and tasteful dried flower arrangements on selected tables. Staff are helpful with pronunciations and sincerely interested in customer satisfaction without being the least bit fawning.
Three types of perogies ($7.25) - meat, cheese or cabbage and mushroom - can be ordered separately or combined. The plate comes loaded with a dozen of them, and the Polish tradition is to serve them boiled, not fried, with sour cream and a side dish of onion and bacon in oil to drizzle over top. The cabbage and mushroom dumplings are the most interesting, and the cheese version contains a hint of sweet apple. Twelve are a lot for one person.
The potato pancake stuffed with goulash ($9.95) is like a hungry man's crepe. The crispy quarter-inch pancake is folded in two over stewed pork in gravy, served with sour cream, delicious shredded beet and horseradish salad, coleslaw and boiled carrots. I'm proud to finish it. Returning for dinner, we opt for a bowl of tripe soup ($5.25) that arrives immediately after it's ordered, thick and hearty, with lots of perfectly prepared soft strips of tripe. A meal by itself, it comes with a basket of fresh rye bread.
A mammoth, tender, minimally breaded pork cutlet, Schnitzel Polonez ($13.95) comes covered with lightly sautéed mushrooms. We order potato dumplings as an extra for $1.50, soft pillows of dough served in a rich beef and tomato gravy. More of the wonderful beet salad, cole slaw and sauerkraut are included with the entree.
Cabbage rolls ($8.95), served with potatoes, coleslaw and mixed veg, fail to hit the spot. Their sweet, thin tomato sauce isn't the more acidic style I prefer.
But anyone yearning for some Old World big food won't be disappointed by this Roncesvalles gem. If you can't clean your plate, they'll happily pack up the leftovers.