Pierogies and pleasantries in Mile End

Conversations about Polish food involving me usually go something like this.

Friend: Would you like a pierogie?
Me: Ooh, I’ve never had one of those before.

Friend: But you’re English, isn’t your country full of Poles?
Me: Yes, but we’re supposed to moan about them stealing our jobs and overrunning our hospitals, not eat their food.

Friend: Walks away
So it was with both excitement and trepidation that I found myself in Euro Deli Batory for lunch last week, 10-dollar bill in pocket, aiming to get a full meal and hopefully have some cash left over for a visit to nearby St. Viateur Bagel.

The first thing that struck me was the restaurant’s size – that of your average dep, and entirely disproportionate to cramming in a seating area, butcher’s counter, DVD rental store, pharmacy, and grocery store complete with freezer section. But it was bright and cozy, and I was instantly served by a cheerful Polish woman. The menu was highly varied, with several different soups and extras to add to your meal. I took a seat at a tiny table in a wood-panelled corner, overlooked by impressive tapestries – one of a white eagle, another of a smiling monk – and was immediately presented with a basket of bread. My hands were still warming up from the cold when my food arrived.

I had ordered Bigos Z Kielbasa – mainly because I liked the idea of “and” being “z” in Polish – tea, and a Polish donut, all for $8.75. The dish consisted of a large amount of cabbage and a grilled sausage. It was delicious. I gathered from the trilingual menu that the rest of the plate was filled with goulash: hot and substantial, with big chunks of tender meat. A side salad of raw cabbage was surprisingly tasty, and its sweetness balanced the saltiness of the sausage perfectly. The sausage itself dominated the plate: rich and meaty, and roughly the size of a relay baton. The donut was also very good – not greasy and filled with plum jam.

While I ate, I noted my surroundings. The music emanating at a tasteful volume from the speakers was just the perfect level of cheese for a mid-week lunch (think Chubby Checker, Chesney Hawkes, and Cyndi Lauper). The clientele was almost exclusively anglophone, which allowed me some enjoyable eavesdropping on conversations with topics as diverse as the economic crisis, white guilt, and bachelor parties. Additionally, many commented that the pierogies were the best they’d ever tasted – helpfully, they’re for sale in the freezer section of the grocery. Opposite me, though, one old man was reading a Polish magazine, reassuring me of Euro Deli Batory’s authenticity. He was drinking tea from a cup that looked like it came from your grandmother’s crockery display cabinet. That is, if your grandmother were an old Slavic woman who still watches out for Baba Jaga as she collects kindling in the forest. My own mug was illustrated with a coffee cup wearing a Napoleon hat.

Euro Deli Batory isn’t just a restaurant. Indeed, being a restaurant hardly seems its main purpose – it seats a mere 14 people, and the only menu is nailed to the wall behind the counter. Rather, it is a cultural experience – and I don’t mean the sort that students usually find when they go for Chinese because they’re sick of pizza. It’s a chance to try new food beyond the No Name pierogies clogging up the back of your freezer, and make believe you’re taking a break from hunting wolves in the Białowieża Forest. In this journalist’s newly-formed opinion, if the U.K. had more restaurants like Euro Deli Batory, no one would give two figs about the Polish baby boom and the challenge of finding a plumber who speaks English.

Euro Deli Batory is located at 115 St. Viateur O.