Dining blind at Cracovia

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Bigos. Flaki. Czerwony barszcz, with or without uszka. Kapusniak. Pyzy, placek and kiszka.

I'm pretty good with languages, particularly on my favorite conversational topics of food, kitchens and cooks. My pronunciation might be embarrassingly bad, but I can say "please," ask after individual ingredients, order, appreciate and offer thanks with a modicum of confidence in German, Russian, French and Vietnamese. In Spanish, I can do a little more. At Indian restaurants, I confine myself solely to the words on the page, but at least I know the difference between my bhaji and bhajia, my dum aloo and my aloo paratha, so I'm not going to accidentally order fried shoes or a backrub from the cook's grandmother. But sitting in our booth in this quiet dining room, with the waiter standing over me and my eyes bouncing like pinballs all over the page, I am at a loss. Bitki, placek zbojnicki, schabowy and golonka? It's like I've fallen into some strange, expurgated chapter of Alice in Wonderland -- the one where she finds herself, in dusty pinafore dress and polished little shoes, forced to sit down in a lost restaurant in the middle of nowhere, to order using words that don't even look like any known language. The Mad Hatter's tea party writ even weirder.

This was at Cracovia, a lost-outpost Polish restaurant that opened last November in Westminster.

And though I spent all of a very long night there having barely the faintest idea of what I was ordering or what I was eating, I can say with complete confidence that every one of the unpronounceable dishes that made their way to my table was the best highly traditional, completely unpronounceable, Eastern European whatever-it-was that I'd had since coming West. It was a fantastic meal. Even if, even now, I have very little idea of what I had.

And then I followed Cracovia with another culinary oddity: Denver's newest traditional Czech restaurant, Hospoda. Not only does this spot serve perfect potato pancakes, but excellent green chile.

So if you've got a hunger for placek, pyzy, ryzek and verde, you're going to have a very good time when you check out this week's Westword. And if not, well, you can read about Joe Vostrejs, who soon will have just about everything but an Eastern European restaurant.

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Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


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