At Home at Polka Dot
I remember the time that I first noticed Polka Dot. I was walking down Manhattan Avenue, undoubtedly heading toward Peter Pan to satisfy my apple crumb donut addiction. Thankfully, I spotted the happy script across the street that was this little Polish cafe’s new sign. Many of you may not know that Polka Dot is in fact the reimagining of what was once the Polski Meat Market. Opened in 1996 by Marzena Parys and her husband, it’s evolved with the neighborhood into the gem that it is today.
Marzena never planned on being a business owner or even ending up in the United States. She came to New York in 1990 on vacation because she wanted to see the Statue of Liberty. As often happens in life, a series of events—including the birth of her first child—led her to settle in Greenpoint and make New York her home. Along with her husband, she opened the Polski Meat Market, catering to the Polish community in the neighborhood. When her husband passed away, she found herself in an unexpected and unfamiliar position as a business owner. Marzena watched the neighborhood grow and evolve from an area dominated by Polish immigrants to a new trendy Brooklyn destination. Understanding the need to cater to the new residents of Greenpoint, she decided to update the business and change a name she never cared for to something more appealing.
When I sat down with Marzena, the prevailing motif was the family atmosphere of this little cafe. I watched her light up as she enthusiastically recalled the way everything came together, perhaps realizing for the first time as she verbalized it, what a supportive community she’s surrounded by. So many people have touched Polka Dot in one way or another and these contributions have created a place overflowing with heart. One friend suggested the name. Several people contributed art. Another friend crafted the charming lettering found throughout the location that reminds patrons that everything is home-made. Another friend gave a piece of decor for good luck. Piece by piece, the cafe that we now call Polka Dot was nurtured into a new era. Every morning before 7am, the team begins their preparations in the spacious back kitchen that will continue throughout the day in order to keep up with demand. Pierogi dough is kneaded. Blintzes are rolled. Chicken is portioned. Beets are prepped. The team’s creations are brought to the front display in trays that would be equally at home on a grandmother’s holiday table. Just looking at the bounty makes me feel at home.
Some of their most popular items are the pierogi, cheese blintzes, and golubki (stuffed cabbage). They also sell a wide variety of kielbasa, the owner’s favorite being the spicy dry Kabanos, an ideal snacking sausage, and the Kielbasa Wiejska, which is the perfect breakfast sausage, excellent sliced and served cold with a side of beet horseradish. They have a wide variety of meats available and a fabulous homemade goose pâté that is creamy and flavorful. Their red borscht is, in my opinion, the very best in Greenpoint. Every time I visit, I seem to discover something new and wonderful, such as the apple pancakes or the perfectly crafted Paczek z Marmolada Rozana (doughnut with rose jelly) that would rival any baked good in New York. Not only do they serve hearty, homey dishes, they also have a variety of excellent salads and sauerkrauts available which are also, of course, home-made. A patron can walk into Polka Dot and walk out with a multi-course meal for the family or dine in and enjoy the cozy atmosphere surrounded by the plentiful temptations in view. Visit the cafe around a holiday and you’ll find the space brimming with patrons picking up family dinners and see many new items catering to the specific holiday, such as roasted meats and white borscht for Easter and the twelve traditional Polish dishes for Christmas.
When I asked Marzena about the origin of the recipes, the results were exactly as I had hoped: the recipes came from family. The cooks will recall foods that their mothers and grandmothers used to make, and recreate them in their kitchen. These are traditional Polish foods whose recipes have been passed through the generations and have luckily made it to this charming little cafe on Manhattan Avenue. Marzena may not have intended to run a business and may miss her home in Poland, but clearly she has built a home and family right here in her delightful Polka Dot Cafe. Each bit of support provided, from the flower painting on the wall to the lucky rooster hanging from the ceiling, to the stump from Upstate NY to the perfect golubki being sent from the kitchen with love, contributes to this warm and welcoming place that is so much more than just a cafe.