Three Great Places for Slavic Blood Sausage in Denver

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The combination of the words "blood" and "sausage" isn't exactly an appetite stimulant for most Americans — but call blood sausage morcilla, as Spanish speakers do, or kiszka, for Polish speakers, and you have a less threatening moniker that refers to something most cultures make in various forms. Leña on Broadway, for example, offers a lovely, rich and vaguely smokey morcilla cooked dark and sultry to match the restaurant's evening ambiance. But my roots are Slavic — Ukrainian, to be specific — so a bite of grain-enhanced kiszka opens a window to childhood memories of my grandmother making and frying farmhouse blood sausage. Here are three places in town where you can get good versions of blood sausage in an Eastern European style.

3) Cracovia
8121 West 94th Avenue, Broomfield
This Polish eatery in the northern 'burbs offers a wide range of specialties like pierogi, cabbage rolls and gulasz that have become signature items in the Slavic culinary canon. But turn to the connoisseur's menu for more unusual dishes like czernina, a hearty soup thickened with duck blood and savory-sweet from the addition of dried fruit. This is where you'll find kiszka, served as a couple of unadorned links sided with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut. Cracovia's take on the sausage is black-flecked but mild in terms of pork flavor.  Earthy buckwheat dominates and creates a porridge-like texture once the casings are pierced. The interior is so soft that a spoon might be a better option than a fork, but it's not an intimidating sausage; those unfamiliar with the distinct taste of buckwheat — which gives beets a run for their money in the dirt-flavored food category — will likely have a harder time with that than the minimal amount of pork blood in the mix. Head to Cracovia on a Friday night, and you'll be serenaded by a musician who plays pan flute, trumpet and clarinet along with your favorite lounge-music karaoke.

2) Rebel Restaurant
3763 Wynkoop Street
303-297 -3902
Several of Rebel's dishes are Ukrainian-inspired, even if the menu itself goes far beyond simple farmhouse fare. Chef/co-owner Dan Lasiy starts with the traditional — blood sausage bound with oats instead of buckwheat — and turns the dish into something unique and trans-continental. Lasiy makes his sausage without the casing and serves it as pan-crisped rounds atop black beans and parsnip puree. The elegant presentation is topped with fried eggs and a couple of crackling triangles of of pork rind for a rustic touch. The flavors swirl together — married by just a touch of maple syrup — into a dish that conjures Irish breakfast, rural Mexican comida and Ukrainian simplicity in equal parts.

1) Sawa Meat & Sausage
2318 South Colorado Boulevard
This Polish meat counter on South Colorado Boulevard (the offspring of the original in Wheat Ridge) is packed with all manner of European links, but ask for kiszka and the clerk behind the counter will know exactly what you mean. Of the three blood sausages I sampled, this is the closest to how my grandmother made it: darker and firmer than Cracovia's, but still made with buckwheat. Grab a link or two along with a package of locally made pierogi for a quick meal at home that doesn't take much cooking expertise; just boil the pierogi for a few minutes and brown it in butter while you slice and fry the kiszka in a little oil. If you want to be traditional, saute fine-minced onion in butter at low temperature until the bits turn soft without browning. A dollop of good-quality sour cream won't hurt, either.

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