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A delectable taste of Poland

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  • Review

    Taste of Europe

    * * * 1/2

    Polish standouts, done beautifully and served warmly.

    Food: * * * 1/2

    Service: * * * 1/2

    Atmosphere: * * * 

    10915 Monroe Road, Matthews; 704-708-8495; tasteofeuropecharlotte.com..

    HITS: Beautiful pierogi, warm service.

    MISSES: Some inconsistent frying.

    PRICES: Lunch about $7-$11; dinner $9.50-$13.

    HOURS: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

    INSPECTION SCORE: 94.5 Sept. 27, 2013.

    * * * * = excellent; * * * = good;* * = fair;* = poor



So the name might be a little broad – what you’ll actually taste at Taste of Europe is a taste of Poland – but I’m not going to complain.

I can’t, because my mouth’s full of pierogi, the best pierogi you’ll get this side of, say, Cleveland, where I got my last good ones. The half-moon dumplings here sport tender skins and the sort of fillings you want if you’re about to head back into the cold. Which is what a lot of people think Polish weather encompasses, and about which they’re wrong.

It’s a hearty cuisine, strongest in starches and meats, but there’s delicacy, too. A beautiful red borscht, for instance, displays a real elegance and lightness the uninitiated may not expect of a beet soup. This is offered on the beverage list, and you can get a cup, but go for a bowl instead; it’s marvelous.

Stuffed cabbage (golabki) also shows a nice hand, its rice-and-beef filling sparked with a creamy tomato sauce. Grilled Polish sausage comes halved, scored and grilled beautifully, its dense chewiness offering a touch of smoke, a touch of sweet.

Breaded and fried meats, on the other hand, were uneven: a pork cutlet of a nice thickness and well-seasoned breading turned out a trifle oily, while chicken emerged perfect: greaseless, tender with a noticeable crunch, draped with tomato sauce and a bit of cheese. (That also happened with wonderfully flavored potato pancakes: once a bit oily, once noticeably less so.)

Meat-lovers must try the bigos, also called hunter stew, made with nearly every meat in the house, with a sauerkraut and cabbage base.

Red cabbage has a bit of sweetness, but just a bit, while sauerkraut here has a freshness nothing like you may be picturing from your childhood, if you haven’t had it since. And Polish beers (in 500-ml bottles!) are offered, from the strong lager called Karpackie Super to a pilsner called Perla: You’d better notice them in the dining room, because they’re not yet on the beverage menu.

Yet it’s the pierogi I can’t resist (and yes, the Polish word is already plural). You can choose among half a dozen fillings, or do the sensible thing and get a combo platter (pierogi mieszane).

There’s ruskie (potato and farmer’s cheese) and z miesem (beef), pierogi with sauerkraut and mushrooms or with spinach, with potato and cheddar, with or without tomato sauce. You can have them boiled, which turns out a more uniform dough texture, or pan-fried, which adds a nicely browned part to the exterior. Either way, they’ll arrive drizzled with golden, soft onions on top. Tremendous.

Chef-owner Michal Przyk may or may not appear, but you’ll likely be seated by his wife, Agata Bargiel, especially on the busier weekend evenings. (We had a 20-minute wait on a Saturday.) The dining room is golden brown with black wainscoting, with red accents and photographs of Polish landmarks and a map. Familiarize yourself with stunning places you may never have seen in Paris/London/Rome-dominated Euro sights – like Krakow’s Sukiennice and the seaport of Gdansk.

The Polish community has found its place, says Bargiel, as have people “with Czech Republic roots or Russian roots, who say, ‘My great grandmother was from Poland, and I know pierogi because she made them.’ ” And she’s been pleasantly surprised (“I was very worried”) by how willing non-Polish-Americans have been to try the food.

“They’re always coming back!”

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