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A taste of Poland in Talent

When you walk into Julek’s Polish Kitchen, you know immediately you’ve discovered authentic Eastern European cuisine and are in for an exceptional dining experience.

There are scents of dill, vinegar, rich savory and sweet notes that tease the appetite. Tables showcase fine embroidery, lacework and cutwork, and family portraits with big, old-fashioned, elaborate frames hang on the walls. Soothing instrumentals, Gypsy violins perhaps, sound light to the ear.

Bogusia Antczak opened Julek’s in 2012, featuring farm-fresh foods and home-style cooking of her family’s traditions in Dar?owo, Poland.

You’ll see Antczak working at her craft as the kitchen’s serving pass is open to the restaurant. There are no shortcuts, no quick fixes to the fine foods she prepares, and she uses locally grown produce when she can, along with antibiotic- and hormone-free meats.

Julek’s appetizers run from $6 for a walnut-basil pesto (bazilijka) to $14 for marinated herring (sledzie), both served with bread (chleb). A mixed greens salad is priced at $8, but the more interesting salads are composed with sauerkraut (kaputsta kiszona) or beets (salata buraczkowa) at $5.

The traditional borscht soup (barszcz czerwony) is exceptional, a deep rich red, slow-simmered with vegetables and spices and thickened with tender black beans. The soup was sweet with beets, offset by the slightest hint of vinegar. There was no heavy sour cream garnish on the borscht, a welcome change for calorie-conscious diners. A cup of borscht is $4 and a bowl costs $7, the sourdough bread soup with potatoes, boiled egg and kielbasa is $1 more.

Julek’s has all the traditional dishes you might expect from a Slavic restaurant, but each chef prepares them differently, according to their own family’s traditions.

At Julek’s, these Polish comfort foods are delicious and are best tasted and enjoyed over several visits.

Pierogi are typically prepared as noodle dough stuffed with spinach, potato, cheese, sauerkraut or chicken, boiled and browned in a pan sauce. At $26, Julek’s pierogi are the most expensive item on the menu, reflecting the patient handiwork that goes into each assembly. Available as a half order of four pierogi for $13, we could try each of the four varieties, the favorite being sauerkraut and mushroom. I found the toothsome and tender dough gave way to crisp, fermented cabbage with minced mushrooms. Sauced with an onion-bacon sauté, these pierogi were everything we’d hoped for.

For the hearty eater, a cabbage roll sampler plate at $25 is a customer favorite. This plate offers a variety of tastes, including a pork and rice stuffed cabbage roll covered with a deep, meaty tomato sauce, three pierogi of your choice, and a link of kielbasa along with mashed potatoes and a mix of vegetables.

The evening’s best pick was the pork shoulder (pieczen), braised in red wine, bay leaf and mushrooms, at $24. The meat was fall-apart tender, and the pan sauce rich and fruity resulting in a sensory explosion of umami. Served with mashed potatoes, sprinkled with chives and crisp-tender sautéed vegetables, this dish is one to remember. I sopped up the sauce with bread, not leaving a drop.

Seasonal specials are marked on the board, and right now Julek’s offers mamaliga (a polenta with fresh mushrooms), chicken breasts with an orange sauce dressed with pistachios, and a summer pierogi with garlic.

A rotating selection of desserts begs attention on every visit to Julek’s, along with special bakes announced on the restaurant’s Facebook page, such as chruscki (fried angel wings), paczi (filled donuts) and sernik (cheesecake). Always on Julek’s menu are sweet, cheese-filled crepes (nalesniki), apple cake (jablecznik) and chocolate cake (ciasto czekoladowe) at $8 to $9.

Antczak makes her crepes to order so they will be hot and fresh when they get to your table. My thin, eggy crepe was filled with sweet cottage cheese, walnuts and cinnamon. Slightly sour, the cottage cheese paired perfectly with a dollop of thick, tart plum jam that topped the crepe. After one delicious bite, I boxed it up to enjoy another day.

Julek’s offers hyper-local wines, with reds and whites from vineyards within a 5-mile radius of the restaurant. Look for Ledger David, Pebblestone and Trium. For those with a taste for the less familiar, Julek’s also carries a Polish liquor, Nalewaka, and a unique assortment of imported Polish beers. The beers include several lagers, porters and ales with complex tastes in the Baltic tradition, all available in 16.9-ounce bottles for $6.

Julek’s Polish Kitchen is at 160 N. Pacific Highway, Talent. Hours are 4:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Vegetarian options and gluten-free selections are available on request. See julekspolishkitchen.com or call 541-897-4444 for information.

A sampler plate with cabbage roll, pierogi and kielbasa at Julek's Polish Kitchen in Talent. Photo by Maureen Battistella