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A Red and White Standout in the Greenpoint Borscht Belt
The New York Times, Wednesday, February 27 2002.
Greenpoint may occupy a position in the geographic center of New York, but it's a world away from the rest of the city. Tucked into the northern tip of Brooklyn, bounded by the East River to the west and Newtown Creek to the north, and not easily accessible by public transportation this resolutely working-class neighborhood of Polish immigrants has the sort of isolation that makes it popular when politicians debate sites for sewage treatment plants.
Despite the isolation, or more likely because of it, Greenpoint flourishes culturally. Manhattan Avenue, its commercial center, bustles with restaurants, stores and coffeehouses. Greenpoint is by no means ethnically uniform, but the Polish language dominates. Storefronts are in Polish, ATM's give directions in Polish and magazine stands feature Polish periodicals. Any number of Polish restaurants line the streets, and one of the best is Lomzynianka.
Let's get past the first hurdle: It's pronounced Lahm-zhin-YAHN-eh-ka, which means sweetly, "girl from Lomza." The girl is Janina Grzelczak, who does all the cooking, and she really is from Lomza, a town in Northeastern Poland near Bialystok. She and Darek Rudnik opened Lomzynianka seven years ago, offering big portions of Polish home cooking for hard-to-believe prices.
The small dining room has the look of authenticity that comes only from artificiality: brick wallpaper, plastic tablecloths, fake plants and a stag's head with tinsel-draped antlers.
Almost immediately Mr. Rudnik serves plates of pickled salads, which may include sweet shaved carrots, vinegary red cabbage, or sliced beets. Ms. Grzelczak may offer three kinds of borscht, and they are all wonderful. Red borscht ($1), a dill scented beet broth filled with chunks of potato and fat white beans, is made pink by a dollop of sour cream. A bright red variation on that ($1.25) - no sour cream - is delicate and sweet, filled with lovely circular dumplings stuffed with ground mushrooms, wile white borscht ($1.25) might as well be called kielbasa soup, a hearty potato broth thick with smoky chunks of sausage. Eat the potato pancakes ($3.50) right away. They arrive crisp and delicious but quickly lose their texture.
Salad and soup, supplemented by rye bread, is almost enough for a meal, but you're just getting started. Main courses, generally rustic dishes of primary ingredient accented by a secondary flavoring, include tender boiled beef ($4) that is a perfect vehicle for a mildly sharp horseradish sauce, and cabbage, boiled until almost sweet and stuffed with ground pork ($4). Light, white veal meatballs come in a creamy gravy sprinkled with dill ($4), while a breaded chicken cutlet ($4) is delicate and well flavored. I love bigos ($3.50), a traditional stew for left overs, here made with sauerkraut, dill and extremely tender chunks of boiled beef. My only complaint is about the powdery mashed potatoes.
Given the attractive cafes in the neighborhood, it might be tempting to go elsewhere for dessert, but Ms. Grzelczak's blintzes ($3 to $3.50) are too good for that. They arrive hot and just barely crisp, sweet cheese oozing out the sides. I consumed my blueberry blintz in about the same time it took me to say Lomzynianka.