Love however was not the only thing in the air, especially at Syrenka restaurant. Syrenka is an ode to authentic Polish cuisine. The 30-year-old staple on Allegheny Avenue has changed hands over the years, but never its commitment to every dish being made from scratch. Daily. No frozen blintzes or crepes here, it’s all being made in house, by the owner.
For my crash course in Polish delicacies I am in the capable hands of Monica Stczyinski. Monica functions as cashier, waitress and interpreter for novices and walks me through the basics of Polish food.
The classics include Golabki (stuffed cabbage), Placki (potato pancakes), Kopytka (dumplings), Pyzy (potato meatball), Bigo(a variation of sauerkraut), Kielbasa, and the specialty of house Pierogis. Pierogis are best described as the Polish answer to the Chinese dumpling. At Syrenka’s Pierogis come in four varieties: cheese, potato and cheese, pork, and sauerkraut.
It’s quarter to one and the lunch rush begins. Monica easily makes the transition from chatting with me like an old schoolmate, to efficient yet warm hostess and server. From the minute guests walk in they’re greeted with a friendly smile, and distinct personal greeting inquiring about one’s family, spouse, or well being.
This unique level of familiarity is because many of the customers are regulars, some since Syrenka opened. It is certainly a refreshing break from the "What kind of sauce would you like? No Miss you can only have two per order unless you pay. Thank you come again."
Some customers are fluent Polish-speakers, come into take in family favorites. These experts quickly assess the menu. Still others require some coaxing. Monica’s expertise in her home country’s food is put to the test.
I see three young men who look like first timers. I strike up a conversation. As they wait for their lunch they tell me Port Richmond has a number of cozy ethnic nooks which won’t disappoint my appetite or my wallet. When the dishes arrive I see what they mean. With an approving thumbs up, they dig in. The portions are more than generous, and the hearty nature of the food tells me those counting carbs or calories need not try. After a full day of watching people eat, and learning the secrets of the perfect pierogi I decide I’ve had my fill of wathcing, so I head for the door with a dozen pierogis for the road.
By Thandi Williams Group 12 Port Richmond