***Thanks to Diane for guest blogging for Why CLE? while I’m on vacation! I love finding out people’s unique answers to Why Cleveland?***
I realize this is the Why CLE? blog, not the Why DOESDIANNECOOKWHATSHECOOKS? blog. You come to this space to read about what is fabulous about Cleveland, not to learn about what sort of gluttonous thing I cooked or baked last week. As such, when I volunteered to guest-post for CLEgal while she is away on vacation, I had to refocus what I usually write when I write a blog post. More Cleveland goodness, less of my own recipes. You see, I blog over at A Stove With A House Around It, where I write about food, people and places that have great meaning to me, and the stories that connect all three. Most often those places include Cleveland, but not always.
Even so, I figured I could shoehorn my own voice into the Why CLE? aesthetic – after all, I was born and raised here in good old Northeast Ohio. I have plenty of reasons to love Cleveland. I spent the majority of my college years in Chicago answering the incessant question of “Why CLE?” usually uttered by friends from bigger cities, often incredulously. I had no problem explaining what a great place Cleveland really is, and considered myself somewhat of an ambassador for the city back when we had a good baseball team but before we had our very own Iron Chef. So. Demonstrating enthusiasm for the Cleve is not a challenge for me.
But I have to do it through the lens of food. What can I say; most everything I view, I view through the lens of food. I can’t help myself.
Rather than spill more ink on the growing and top-rate food scene in Northeast Ohio – full of James Beard nominees and Food & Wine Best New Chefs and delectable craft breweries and inventive menus and a historic food market so excellent and relevant that it can draw an international conference on public markets – I thought I’d focus on home-style Polish food, something that Northeast Ohioans know well and cook with pride. Potatoes, pierogi, noodles, sour cream, cabbage. My mother is Polish, and as such has never met a plate of Polish cooking she didn’t like. I called her up the other day. “Mother,” I said, quite seriously. “You are going to Babushka’s with me.”
“OK,” she hastily replied, with the gravitas appropriate to discussion of Polish food. “Should I get the gołąbki?”
Gołąbki, if you don’t know, is stuffed cabbage, dense torpedoes of seasoned meat and rice wrapped in cabbage leaves and drowning in a rich tomato sauce. You might know it by its phonetic pronunciation, “go-lump-key.” It’s one of many home-cooked specialties on the menu at Babushka’s Kitchen, an unassuming but growing Polish food enterprise situated in Northfield, with new locations in Independence and Columbus.
Mom and I had lunch there on Saturday, a good day to visit, incidentally, as the restaurant has infamously limited hours (they close at 7:00 p.m. but are open until the late hour of 8:00 on Fridays for those of you who like to party at week’s end).
After a lengthy study of the menu – which includes such wonders as “The Warsaw,” which is a pork sandwich ON POTATO PANCAKES INSTEAD OF BREAD, chicken paprikash and, of course, smoked kielbasa – I ordered Grandma Olga’s Special: two potato and cheddar pierogi, grilled onions and sour cream with a choice of two sides. I chose mashed potatoes with pork gravy and chicken soup with homemade kluski noodles as my sides, which is a little like having beef Wellington with a side order of steak. Potatoes in the pierogi, potatoes next to the pierogi.
Babushka’s takeout menu proclaims: “REKINDLE YOUR MEMORIES AND REUNITE YOUR FAMILY.” They’re not kidding. Within moments of placing our order and sitting down at a table underneath the Polish flag, Mom started talking about her mother’s recipe for lady locks, a delicate pastry filled with cream that my grandmother used to shape around a set of forms she made herself from disposable pie plates. I asked if Mom still had the recipe. “No, I don’t, but Aunt Dolly might.” She picked up the phone and called her sister, who has not only the recipe, but also the original handmade forms my grandmother used. Memories, rekindled; family, reunited. Well, reunited with old disposable pie plates, anyway.
Why CLE, for me? Because of places like Babushka’s. If there’s one thing Cleveland does well (and we all know there’s more than just one thing), it’s Eastern European ethnic meals and the enveloping security the pleasure of such food brings. We ate a great deal of that comfort food on Saturday, then bought two sweet lady locks to polish off the Polish lunch. We left Babushka’s, drove about three miles down the road, then realized that it would be courteous of us to take some carryout back for Dad. (He is Italian, but that’s no reason to deny him pierogi.) So we turned around. And while we were back inside, Mom proceeded to order four dozen pierogies for Easter Sunday. There are six adults in my family. You do the math.
Babushka’s Kitchen is located at 9199 Olde Eight Road in Northfield Center. You can visit them at www.babushkafoods.com or call 330-468-0402. They also cater, and make a mean kolachky.