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The Dormouse, having told his story, had closed its eyes by this time, and was going off into a doze; but, on being pinched by the Hatter, it woke up again with a little shriek, and went on...

When the first course arrives, I am instantly put at ease. Bowls of soup: one chicken (made from scratch, built up from a good stock and gentle on a gray day) and one czerwony barszcz, which is nothing more than beet soup, crimson like a flawless ruby and warm and carefully set with a half-dozen tiny pierogis. One spoonful and I am in love. It's thin and deeply flavored and carries that strange, sweet vegetable savor unique to red beets fresh from the earth. It stains my lips, my shirt when it drips off the spoon.

"Try this," I say to Laura, and when she does, she smiles and closes her eyes.

Location Info

Map

Cracovia

8121 W. 94th Ave.
Broomfield, CO 80021

Category: Restaurant > Polish

Region: Northwest Denver Suburbs

Details

Cracovia
Chicken soup $3.75
Beet Soup $3.75
Placek $9.95
Pyzy $9.95
Pierogi $12.95
Mielony $12.95
Schabowy $14.95
8121 West 94th Avenue, Westminster
303-484-9388
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday

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The food comes in three removes; we have apparently ordered quite a lot. A very nearly heroic amount, certainly more than one table can hold. And save for the pierogis, every plate is something of a surprise. The placek are potato pancakes, the potatoes shredded fine and fried in the pan, tasting of butter and starch and onions and the sour cream with which they are served. We eat with our fingers, tearing off chunks and shoving them in our mouths while our waiter walks past the table with a platter of cabbage rolls, steaming and stuffed with pork and rice. For an instant, I want to tackle him — take him down at the knees, grab the golabki with my teeth and drink the tomato-mushroom gravy straight from his tureen — but I'm distracted by the timely arrival of a platter of pierogis, the handmade potato dumplings stuffed with more potato, with cheese and ground meat and cabbage and mushrooms and offered beneath a veil of melted butter and caramelized onions. Laura pulls the platter to her side of the table and hoards the pierogis, eating them whole whenever my attention is distracted by the black barley sausage and pickles, by the chicken roulade (devolaide in Polish, I think...) stuffed with cheese and more pickles, and the grilled, scratch-made kielbasa on its bed of cabbage.

Plates are juggled, shifted, condensed and taken away. A trencher arrives filled with peas and carrots, boiled to mush and served in a glaze of butter and sugar one step shy of cake icing. We duel over the pyzy — small, round, steamed potato dumplings stuffed with ground pork, drizzled with butter and napped in a pork gravy that settles into all the little indentations. The schabowy (a pork cutlet, pounded and soaked and breaded and fried, served with mashed potatoes and sweet cabbage) sends us both off on a spiral of reminiscence, remembering breakfasts back in Pennsylvania made of veal cutlets, similarly handled, touched with lemon juice and eaten with our morning coffee when we were newly together and, like Lester and Maria, young-in-love. And then the Cracovia mielony shuts us right up again: It's a beautiful schnitzel (kinda...) of spiced ground pork, shaped into a patty, breaded and fried to a perfect golden brown — so peasant-simple, so traditional, so perfect. It is not a beautiful plate (two patties, mound of mash, bunch of pickles, natch), not the loveliest of presentations, but it is warm and filling, both physically and spiritually. If our mothers had been Polish, if they had spent their lives cooking the foods of the old country, working their schnitzels and pyzy and pierogi until their hands knew the work by thoughtless reflex, this would've been what we ate growing up. This tastes like home cooking in the best possible way, tastes of time and care and experience and love made manifest over dinner, with a side of pickles and potatoes.

Though we haven't noticed it, the room has filled up around us, the floor growing crowded with others looking for a hot meal on a gray day. And as Laura and I rise to leave — to pay the bill and step out into the rain and falling dark — we look around and see that same hunger for something beyond dinner in the eyes of many of the customers. This one Polish restaurant in the middle of nowhere is the closest they're likely to get to home any time soon.

And I've been happy to share it with them, even if just for one night.

To get a visual taste of Cracovia, go to westword.com/slideshow. Contact the author at jason.sheehan@westword.com.

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