| NA ZDROWIE!: Owner Mark Kirchmeier serves the pirogis. |
Lech Walesa stares at you from behind the leather couch, his white bristle-broom moustache spanning nearly a foot. “Sit,” he seems to say. “Have a pirogi.”
The Nobel laureate and former president of Poland is in good company at Kraków Cafe Pub, the city’s only Polish-themed eatery. Across the way from his huge portrait hangs Chopin. A framed photo of Martha Stewart—she’s Polish-American; it counts—perches nearby. A color printout of Elaine and Jerry, “expressing displeasure” over the absence of babka at their local cafe, is taped to the front of the deli case.
With its tan walls and utilitarian chairs the corner cafe is basically a quiet, friendly Internet hot spot and beer market with coffee. But with all that cultural detritus cluttering the walls, it’s tough not to yield to the temptation of Euro cuisine on the cafe’s short roster of eats—two-thirds of the offerings are pirogi, which, according to the menu, “spells love in the language of the palate.” It’s a good thing. A pirogi sampler for $6.95 will snag you a lunch plate packed with a threesome of delicate, pillowy dough pockets sprinkled with paprika and filled, respectively, with oozy potato and sweet cabbage, peppers and crumbly sausage or slippery yet savory mushrooms and spinach. The trio is served with mini-mountains of coleslaw, sour cream, applesauce and a fan of sliced tomatoes. Sure, the dumplings aren’t Polish grandma-good, but they’re hearty, flavorful and especially good washed down with a pint of Ninkasi Believer Double Red ($3.75). A fat kielbasa ($5.95) is another winner—juicy, hot and smothered in sauerkraut. Skip the lineup of uninspired sandwiches and head straight for the sweet stuff. Yes, they’ve got babka ($2.95), and Kraków’s housemade loaf is a dense cinnamon-chocolate bomb. The edges can be a bit on the dry side, but the center is a buttery, flaky wonder.
Kraków is still as much Oregon as it is Poland—with Amnesia on tap and Cafe Mam beans in the espresso machine. And Mark Kirchmeier, who owns the cafe with his wife, Jane Hagan, as well as co-owns the Overlook condo development it’s housed in, is already a familiar name around town. He’s run for state office and once penned a biography of Bob Packwood (nearly a quarter-century ago Kirchmeier was a staff writer for WW). More recently, he popped up in the Opinion section of The Oregonian—lobbying in favor of a heatedly debated increase in the beer tax.
The cafe’s trickle of regulars range from bike punks running in to grab a case of Pabst and growlers of local micros to flocks of kids licking cones of Prince Pucklers ice cream ($1.50-$2.95) or clamoring for one of the thick milkshakes (it’s one of only two places in town you can get a scoop of the mythic Eugene company’s ice cream). The tall barista tells tales of a babka shake he once created for a customer—although he refused to charge him for it. A little bit of Old World and New never hurt anybody.
EAT: Kraków Cafe Pub, 3990 N Interstate Ave., 954-2200. Breakfast, lunch and dinner 6:45 am-9 pm Monday-Saturday, 9 am-6:30 pm Sunday. $ Inexpensive. UPDATE: Krakow Cafe closed Friday, Aug. 6. The owners will open Krakow International Food Cart at NE Killingsworth and 16th Avenue soon.