Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Taking a Pole
Halina's is that Good

We used to eat Polish food about twice a year, but lately, we have found ourself returning quite often to a small cafe on the far West side of Chicago called Halina. We never much set out to find Halina. Rather, Halina found us. Most people associate the process of eating Polish food in Chicago to be all about all-you-can-eat CHEAP buffets. Halina taught us otherwise. Few people at Halina, especially the staff, speak English well, but they all try to make your dinner enjoyable, and they food coming out of the kitchen helps too.

While I do not go wildly exploring the menu at Halina, like I have never attempted anything not translated, I have never found a poor choice. Mostly, I make my choices with the soup. I am not sure anyone has polled a top ten soup listing, but Halina surely laddles out some of the best soups in Chicago. Some soups are thin yet flavorful, the chicken noodle the kids always get, and the peppery red borsht, but others are wildly thick and murky. The latter soups all seem to balance expertly vinegar sour with creamy richness, ideal soups. I find myself at Halina ordering soups I would never touch in a million years. Would you ever try a hot cucumber soup. Delicious. Tripe, from the fattier gooier part of the guts, delicious. The only thing that sometimes clouds up my decision making process, the chance to get the "eggroll" that comes with the red borsht. This is a meat filled pancake noodle, breaded and fried looking, well like an eggroll. So, yes, occasionally I pick my soup based on side.

I like to center my ordering at Halina by side too, side order. Some but not all dishes come with the "side order", a plate of cold, sour salads. You pick from beets spiked with horseradish, yellow sauerkraut and white cole slaw. I always go for mix, a bit of all three. Some of the things that I like that come with the sides include Chicken Kiev with rock solid crust, rainbow trout with head but without bones, and ground pork patties. If I can stand to skip the sides, I focus on the large potato pancake encassing beef gulash (a/k/a Hungarian Pancake). Pierogi are not the most ideal, truly perfect pierogi would get a final saute in butter, crisping up one side, but these just boiled dumplings with assorted stuffing do just fine for the kids or as a side dish. Desserts are not worth ordering but the appetizer heerings are, if you can find a bit of spare gullet space.

Halina is BYOB, but I rarely see people drinking hard stuff there. Instead, most of the customers (and nearly all the customers are Poles), drink a pink fruit drink called Kompot. The ultra sweetness does cut the rich food, but a liquor store across the street will supply you with Polish beer that cuts the food even better.

5914 W Lawrence Ave
Chicago, Il 60630

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