What makes a good dining experience? My family and I recently had this discussion after leaving the Polish Village Cafe in Hamtramck recently. Is it the food? The ambiance? The service? Which of these components sticks out the most to you, dear readers? I am of the belief that ambiance and service, more than the food, make a dining experience memorable and, above all, those traits make me want to return and eat. This is not to say that exceptional service can make up for culinary slop but I will excuse average food if it is presented in a warm and loving way. Now, when a restaurant has all of the aforementioned qualities (friendly service, inviting decor and ambiance, and rock solid food) then you have a restaurant that is truly special. This next restaurant doesn’t have to rest on its friendly service alone to bring customers back. At the Polish Village Cafe (hereafter referred to as PVC for brevity’s sake), you’ll find friendly service in a warm, inviting setting AND tasty, old-world favorites
To get to PVC we had to navigate the narrow one-way streets of Hamtramck. It was a cold, grey evening and the car studded streets were still wet from an afternoon rain and the puddles swallowed up the tires of my Impala as we drove past. These are the sort of days I like to associate with Detroit. Cold and dreary days makes a warm meal taste better in my opinion. Pulling into the parking lot we noticed the restaurant’s red and white, antique Mini Cooper that had been painted up to look like a Polish flag. The right front tire was completely flat and I doubt the car had been driven since the 80s but how cool is it that this place uses a Mini as a billboard? We make our way through the wooden door that leads to the stairs. These are not stairs that go up;
You begin to think to yourself that this could either be an incredibly disturbing or wonderfully whimsical experience. I’ve been in a lot of basements in my day but none of them have ever made me want to order the soup du jour or house salad. But the descent immediately puts you into a frame of mind for better or worse. It makes you a captive in a way. Since there are no windows or doors immediately leading to the outside you are in an environment that is completely simulated and created by the PVC. But the PVC does not disappoint. There is a warm, slightly tacky feel to the place. Green, plastic garland wrapped in white Christmas lights hang from the ceiling, slaloming back and forth between wooden support poles from the front of the restaurant to the back. There is a wooden bar that extends for half the restaurant with Polish and European beer on tap and at the ready in bottles. Tiny tables come together to form seating for 8 or can be broken up to accommodate a romantic seating for two underneath Polish tchotchkes.
We caught the Tiger post-game rush and were seated in about 25 minutes. The restaurant was bustling and waiters and waitresses carrying large plates of sausage, sauerkraut, and dill pickle soup ducked in and out of patrons with Nijinsky-like grace.We were seated right next to the kitchen. And when I say “kitchen” I use the term liberally. It is nothing more than a few prep tables and some cast iron skillets on a gas stove. It really is home cooking at this place! My mother couldn’t stop smiling and exclaiming, “I’m so happy to be here!” A thickly accented waitress greeted us and took our orders and each member of my family ordered a different platter. My brother got a beef roll and schnitzel, my mother the sampler platter, my father the meatballs, and I ordered the Hungarian pancake with goulash (a recipe which was featured on the Food Network). All of the plates were hot, flavorful, and full of starchiness. There were plenty of other favorites on the menu as well as daily specials. The total bill for those four meal and a Polish beer for me was an absolute steal at $38.
There are few places I’ve been too that appeal to the true ethnic crowd as well as tourists. The PVC has found a balance between satisfying the wants of its local Polish customers as well as being a must see location that has been featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. It provides quality without sacrificing authenticity and provides good food and atmosphere for a good price. My family agrees: This was a great dining experience and it is definitely worth checking out the next time you are near The D.
2990 Yemens Avenue, Detroit