Let’s get this out of the way first. Paul Zakopane Harnaś restaurant is a cash-only operation. So don’t rely on a credit or debit card when you visit this homey restaurant on North Milwaukee Avenue. Owners Paweł (Paul) and Stanisław Hanusiak will treat you like their long-lost relatives from the Tatry mountains, but it’s cash on the barrel head. A minor inconvenience when you dine on food that would bring tears to any Polish Highlander or góral’s eye.
The Hanusiaks have been filling the tummies of diners in-the-know with their authentic cuisine from the Zakopane region of southern Poland since Aug. 2, 1991. Zakopane is mountain country where men AND women have hearty appetities to fuel the hard work they do raising sheep and farming.
Hearty appetities usually are sated by comfort food and that is represented on the menu in stuffed cabbage, kielbasa, potato pancakes, bigos, and American favorites executed by chef Marek. But there are more elegant offerings like Fish à la Zakopane — sautéed Lake Superior white fish on a bed of melted leeks with white-wine cream sauce, mushrooms and green onions — which is a real wowzer. You’ll find Polish-style chateaubriand, veal, roast duck, beef tenderloin and more.
But I get ahead of myself. For starters, try one of the eight soups served daily. I had the zupa ziemniaczane (potato soup) and it was fabulous — potatoes, dill and chunks of sausage in a not-so-thick broth. If you can handle a plate of pierogi (dumplings) before your actual main course arrives, go for a half-and-half combo. Since I make homemade pierogi, I consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur and the sauerkraut and meat ones topped with skwarki (bacon bits) more than met my expectations. Janina, the cook, makes dozens of pierogi and other dumplings, like kopytka, by hand every day.Full dinners include soup, salad, vegetable, potato (or kopytka), rye bread and butter, dessert, and coffee or tea, so pace yourself.
I graciously declined the offer of rice pudding and whatever else they were serving that day and went straight for an order of naleśniki (Polish crepes). They come three to a plate and I chose two cheese and one apple. Served with sour cream and applesauce (which is more American or Jewish style than Polish), this could definitely be an entrée all on its own.
So does it sound like I enjoyed my meal? I did and the icing on the cake was a complimentary glass of wiśniak (low-alcohol cherry liqueur) from Paul. You simply have to go. It’s one of the last holdouts on once-predominantly Polish North Milwaukee Avenue, Local delivery is available. Oh, and if you’re lucky to be there on a Saturday, the ever-helpful Lucas might be your server.
Paul Zakopane Harnaś restaurant
Address: 2943 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago 60618
Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily