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Smak-Tak - great Polish in Jefferson Park

Smak-Tak - great Polish in Jefferson Park
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  • Smak-Tak - great Polish in Jefferson Park

    Post #1 - August 19th, 2007, 10:39 am
    Post #1 - August 19th, 2007, 10:39 am Post #1 - August 19th, 2007, 10:39 am
    A few forces converged and finally compelled us to try Smak-Tak. First, back in April, our own David Hammond wrote about it in TOC's Save this restaurant column. Then recently, I caught another piece (also in TOC) in which LTH'er Mike Nagrant -- along with a pierogi eating champion -- proclaimed Smak-Tak to produce the best rendition of the stuffed dumplings in the entire city. In fact, Mr. Nagrant invoked his babcia (grandmother) when describing them. Lastly, yesterday was a fall preview. With temperatures in the mid-60's, gray skies and constant drizzle coming down, I found myself in the mood for some heartier fare. So, we were off to Jefferson Park . . .


    Image
    Smak-Tak, 5961 North Elston Avenue


    Image
    Interior has a nice, Alpine lodge-like feel. There's a fireplace on left wall, which I decided not to photograph because some other patrons were seated near it.


    Image
    Pierogi
    We started out with the Pierogi, which were every bit as good as Nagrant said they were. In fact, they were spectacular. Our plate of 12 consisted of 3 sweet cheese, 3 cheese and potato, 3 sauerkraut and mushrooms and 3 meat. Not only were they drenched in butter but the fillings were delicious and the pierogi themselves were tender without being mushy and slightly firm without being tough. Just perfect.


    Image
    Meat pierogi, filling shot


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    Grilled sausage in the old Polish style
    This was a nicely cooked kielbasa served with potatoes and cabbage stew. The sausage was delicious and the unconventional stew of cabbage and potatoes, which was dotted with small chunks of meat, was terrific. An even meatier version of this stew is also offered on the menu at Smak-Tak as Hunter's Stew. That versison, which we also tried, was terrific and contained large, tender pieces of sausage and veal. As for the potatoes (with all the dishes), they were somewhere between mashed and boiled. They didn't seem to have much added to them but they were obviously given some treatment, since potatoes do not naturally occur in those convenient little scoops. The fresh dill atop them was a nice accent.


    Image
    Potato Pancakes
    A very traditional presentation but one that never gets old for me. These pancakes, made from a meal -- not shredded potatoes -- were the best I'd ever had in a restaurant. They were wonderfully crispy outside, tender on the inside and amazingly light.


    Image
    Cabbage Rolls
    I owed it to my babcia to give these cabbage rolls a try and they did not disappoint. Not only were the rolls - stuffed with meat and rice -- tremendously tasty but the I loved the shredded carrots, which were dressed with a light, sweet sauce and the slaw too. I'm not sure what the sauce on the rolls was but I'm guessing from the tell-tale orange color -- and flavor -- that it contained some paprika.


    Image
    Cabbage Roll, filling shot


    Even with a small group, we had to leave quite a few enticing items on the menu untried. We plan to hit Smak-Tak again soon to sample some of their other fare. As was revealed in Mr. Hammond's piece, unlike at so many other Polish places in town, there's no buffet at Smak-Tak. It's a cozy and inviting place which serves great food that is prepared with care. For fans of this type of cuisine, it's a 'must.' And for those who are not familiar with it, this would be an ideal place to start.

    =R=

    Smak-Tak
    5961 N Elston Ave
    Chicago, IL 60646
    773 763-1123
    Why don't you take these profiteroles and put them up your shi'-ta-holes? --Jemaine & Bret

    There's a horse loose in a hospital --JM

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #2 - September 2nd, 2007, 7:41 pm
    Post #2 - September 2nd, 2007, 7:41 pm Post #2 - September 2nd, 2007, 7:41 pm
    Tonight I ate like an absolute glutton at Smak-Tak.

    With Cookie, my uncle, and my grandmother in tow, we had a plate of a dozen mixed pierogi, potato pancakes, soups, stuffed veal cutlet, salads, pork tenderloin, and more.

    If Smak-Tak's pierogi aren't the best in the city, I'd really like to taste the better one. I tasted nearly every flavor that they offer: meat, cheese & potato, sauerkraut & mushroom, cherry, and blueberry--each one better than the last. The waiter returned to clear our plates to find us arguing about which we liked best. (If I had to choose one, I'd go with sauerkraut & mushroom).

    Excellent soups, especially the piquant cucumber soup.

    Outstanding potato pancakes, cabbage salads, meats.

    Really, everything was first-rate. Smak-Tak is a delight. And if you don't believe me, ask my 90-year-old Polish-born grandmother who couldn't stop talking about how terrific dinner was the whole ride home. When I dropped her off at home, she asked, "When are we going back to Smak-Tak?"

    Soon, I hope.

    Best,
    Michael
  • Post #3 - September 3rd, 2007, 6:19 pm
    Post #3 - September 3rd, 2007, 6:19 pm Post #3 - September 3rd, 2007, 6:19 pm
    How was the pricing?
    What if the Hokey Pokey really IS what it's all about?
  • Post #4 - September 3rd, 2007, 7:31 pm
    Post #4 - September 3rd, 2007, 7:31 pm Post #4 - September 3rd, 2007, 7:31 pm
    Cogito wrote:How was the pricing?


    Have you ever been to an expensive Polish restaurant? ;)

    Here's the menu
  • Post #5 - September 3rd, 2007, 8:36 pm
    Post #5 - September 3rd, 2007, 8:36 pm Post #5 - September 3rd, 2007, 8:36 pm
    Yes, Milwaukee & Division. Know the place?
    What if the Hokey Pokey really IS what it's all about?
  • Post #6 - September 3rd, 2007, 8:42 pm
    Post #6 - September 3rd, 2007, 8:42 pm Post #6 - September 3rd, 2007, 8:42 pm
    Cogito wrote:Yes, Milwaukee & Division. Know the place?


    If you're talking about Podhalanka, you and I have very different definitions of expensive. The last time I ate there (less than a year ago), we walked out for under $20 per person and we were stuffed.
  • Post #7 - September 3rd, 2007, 8:50 pm
    Post #7 - September 3rd, 2007, 8:50 pm Post #7 - September 3rd, 2007, 8:50 pm
    No, I think Cogito is talking about the upscale, white tablecloth one that used to be a little ways up Milwaukee-- I think it had a female name. It's probably been gone a decade or more, but it was pretty posh for Polish.
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
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  • Post #8 - September 3rd, 2007, 8:51 pm
    Post #8 - September 3rd, 2007, 8:51 pm Post #8 - September 3rd, 2007, 8:51 pm
    Mike G wrote:No, I think Cogito is talking about the upscale, white tablecloth one that used to be a little ways up Milwaukee-- I think it had a female name. It's probably been gone a decade or more, but it was pretty posh for Polish.


    OK, well, whatever. Smak-Tak is a bargain at twice the price (so is Podhalanka).

    Get thee there.
  • Post #9 - September 3rd, 2007, 8:52 pm
    Post #9 - September 3rd, 2007, 8:52 pm Post #9 - September 3rd, 2007, 8:52 pm
    Mike G - Are you thinking of Mareva's? Loved that place ...
  • Post #10 - September 3rd, 2007, 9:00 pm
    Post #10 - September 3rd, 2007, 9:00 pm Post #10 - September 3rd, 2007, 9:00 pm
    Almost certainly, yes. 1250 N. Milwaukee, says Rocket99, invaluable guide to the restaurants of 1998.
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
    Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.
  • Post #11 - September 3rd, 2007, 11:04 pm
    Post #11 - September 3rd, 2007, 11:04 pm Post #11 - September 3rd, 2007, 11:04 pm
    Yeah, I think Mareva was the name. I've never been to Podhalanka. It's been over 10 years, and I only went there once, so the name escaped me. This place was unlike any Polish restaurant I had ever seen. Definitely not your typical "good deal" Polish place where you walk out stuffed for under ten bucks. White tablecloths and crystal were in abundance. Everything was ala carte. I remember that the 6 pierogi appetizer alone was ten bucks. Bigos was twenty-five. My food bill was over fifty dollars, and could easily have been much higher if I had picked off some of the pricier items from their menu. The food was good, but hardly any different than the same dishes I have had for a fraction of the price in other venues. But I had just walked in off the street out of curiosity and was surprised to find a tuxedo on a waiter in a Polish restaurant, so decided to stick it out anyway and see what the place was about. Bottom line: Good Polish food at Ambria prices. I never went back, but it was an interesting experience from the perspective of a study in extreme contrast.
    What if the Hokey Pokey really IS what it's all about?
  • Post #12 - September 3rd, 2007, 11:32 pm
    Post #12 - September 3rd, 2007, 11:32 pm Post #12 - September 3rd, 2007, 11:32 pm
    Lutnia is vaguely similar to what Mareva's was - upscale Polish.

    Lutnia
    5532 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago
    (773) 282-5335
  • Post #13 - September 4th, 2007, 9:55 pm
    Post #13 - September 4th, 2007, 9:55 pm Post #13 - September 4th, 2007, 9:55 pm
    RS, your pictures have convinced me to use my one anything I want meal this week on Smak-Tak.
  • Post #14 - September 6th, 2007, 7:35 am
    Post #14 - September 6th, 2007, 7:35 am Post #14 - September 6th, 2007, 7:35 am
    I had the day off yesterday. I decided to cruise over to Smak-Tak. It was every bit as wonderful, as described here on the board. It's immaculate inside and kind of cheesy, Wisconsin-ish? Very cool.

    Soup- For some reason I ordered a cucumber soup, this may have been the best soup I ever had (sorry Ma) Fantastic array of cucumber, fresh dill, carrot and potato. Delicious. Why I had soup in 95 degree weather is beyond me.

    It had been awhile, since i had polish food and I had the pierogi plate. They were great, smothered in butter, with a baseball sized dollup of sour cream on the plate. There were 14 in all for $6.99 just killer. Had some meat, cheese, potato, mushroom, kraut and blueberry.

    Patronize this place, very nice people.
    Open 7 days 11 am - 9 PM

    Smak-Tak
    5961 N Elston Ave
    Chicago, IL 60646
    773 763-1123
  • Post #15 - September 6th, 2007, 1:47 pm
    Post #15 - September 6th, 2007, 1:47 pm Post #15 - September 6th, 2007, 1:47 pm
    My God....can't get over how good this all looks....one question...is this BYO?
  • Post #16 - September 7th, 2007, 8:37 pm
    Post #16 - September 7th, 2007, 8:37 pm Post #16 - September 7th, 2007, 8:37 pm
    I made my first visit to Smak-Tak today with a few co-workers and it didn't underperform expectations at all. The bean soup was just excellent even thought it is probably regularly overlooked in favor of the awesome entrees.

    The filling of the stuffed cabbage had this slightly smoky flavor to it suggesting that maybe some smoked ham or smoked sausage made it's way into the meat and rice mixture.

    I was able to snag a meat pierogi off of one of my fellow diner's plate. It was excellent.

    We all agreed that Smak-Tak will definitely make it into our regular lunch rotation.
    Last edited by YourPalWill on September 10th, 2007, 10:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #17 - September 7th, 2007, 11:17 pm
    Post #17 - September 7th, 2007, 11:17 pm Post #17 - September 7th, 2007, 11:17 pm
    YourPalWill wrote:We all agreed that Smak-Tak will definitely make it into our regulat lunch rotation.

    I'm jealous of anyone who works that close to Smak-Tak :)

    =R=
    Why don't you take these profiteroles and put them up your shi'-ta-holes? --Jemaine & Bret

    There's a horse loose in a hospital --JM

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #18 - September 10th, 2007, 1:04 am
    Post #18 - September 10th, 2007, 1:04 am Post #18 - September 10th, 2007, 1:04 am
    I have a confession to make… I've never been to an Eastern European restaurant that I truly loved, maybe even liked. However, when I saw the above pictures, I knew it was time to throw out all my culinary prejudices and give it another shot.

    Expecting the usual bland and visually scary looking fare found so often elsewhere, Smak-Tak didn't have to deliver much for me to be satisfied that night. But deliver they did. I was blown away at how much more polished this Polish restaurant was than any other I've tried around town. This was the first time I’ve felt that there was some serious care and attention to detail in the cooking.
    Everything we tried (barley and chicken noodle soup, meat pierogies, hunter stew with potato pancake, and stuffed cabbage rolls) had wonderful balance, spicing, and shockingly, even delicacy. The stuffed cabbage rolls had a sublime amount of pork fat to them and the meat pierogies were beautifully plump, having a luscious meat filling and fresh tasting skins. To tell you the truth, my recent excursion to Dan's Pierogies in Schererville, Indiana, the best pierogi I tried at this year’s Whiting, Indiana Pierogi Festival, was unnecessary after trying these, being almost or equally as good and significantly closer.

    This was one of the best surprise meals of the year.

    If this hadn't been my maiden voyage, I would strongly consider nominating Smak-Tak for a GNR award.
  • Post #19 - September 10th, 2007, 8:38 am
    Post #19 - September 10th, 2007, 8:38 am Post #19 - September 10th, 2007, 8:38 am
    PIGMON wrote:If this hadn't been my maiden voyage, I would strongly consider nominating Smak-Tak for a GNR award.


    I concur! Mellon-hubby and I went to Smak-Tak Saturday Afternoon for lunch - it was our first time there as well.

    Ordered the potato pancakes (which are now the stick by which I measure all other potato pancakes by) and they were light, crispy and perfectly textured. Mellon-hubby had the cabbage rolls and we thought they had a nice richness to them. Split a plate of potato/cheese and saurkraut/mushroom perogi and were blown away.

    Thankfully we live reasonably close because fall is coming and nothing is better in the fall than a hearty Polish lunch!
  • Post #20 - September 10th, 2007, 10:35 pm
    Post #20 - September 10th, 2007, 10:35 pm Post #20 - September 10th, 2007, 10:35 pm
    LTH,

    Recently had lunch with Ellen and Steve Z at Smak Tak. We ate and ate and then ate some more, all the while the food kept growing on the plate, laughing at us, daring us to try to eat all of our lunch.

    Ellen's Stuffed Cabbage moments after it was served.
    Image

    After 35-minutes of solid eating
    Image

    Smak Tak (1), Gary/Steve/Ellen (O)

    Pierogi
    Image

    Steve's pork cutlet, to which he added an egg, was particularly tasty.

    Pork Cutlet w/egg
    Image

    Aside from the fact I find Smak Tak unnervingly clean, I very much enjoy the reasonably priced full flavored, and full figured, food.

    Enjoy,
    Gary
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #21 - September 10th, 2007, 10:49 pm
    Post #21 - September 10th, 2007, 10:49 pm Post #21 - September 10th, 2007, 10:49 pm
    Wiv, I see that at least one member of your dining party took advantage of the gargantuan bowl of soup, too. To me, that is one of the better soups I have had in a Polish Restaurant along with the white borscht at Halina's (which I note is served in less than superhuman sized bowls)
  • Post #22 - September 11th, 2007, 6:03 am
    Post #22 - September 11th, 2007, 6:03 am Post #22 - September 11th, 2007, 6:03 am
    YourPalWill wrote:Wiv, I see that at least one member of your dining party took advantage of the gargantuan bowl of soup, too.

    Will,

    Gargantuan is right, we all had bowls of soup and, with the order of pierogi the three of us split, could have easily called it a day.

    Ellen particularly enjoyed her chicken noodle soup.

    Chicken Noodle Soup
    Image

    Enjoy,
    Gary
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #23 - February 5th, 2008, 10:19 pm
    Post #23 - February 5th, 2008, 10:19 pm Post #23 - February 5th, 2008, 10:19 pm
    Smak-Tak is one of my favorite restaurants in the entire city ... well worth the trek north. It's a cozy family-run BYOB restaurant on Elston in Jefferson Park.

    I am gradually making my way through the full menu. We always put a plate of pierogies in the middle of our table. They are the most amazing pierogies I have ever tasted, surpassing even those I tasted in Krakow. The sauerkraut and mushroom are my absolute favorite, though I also adore the flavorful meat and the creamy potato and cheese versions. The Hungarian Style Pancake is a crisp potato pancake, folded and stuffed with goulash. The Hunter's Stew is rich and flavorful. The only item I haven't loved is the shish kebab, which was dry and unexciting.

    I love this place so much that I often order an extra dinner to take home with me, so I will have more Smak Tak the next day!
  • Post #24 - February 5th, 2008, 10:34 pm
    Post #24 - February 5th, 2008, 10:34 pm Post #24 - February 5th, 2008, 10:34 pm
    I had lunch at Smak-Tak today with a couple of co-workers. I had a really hard time passing up the potato pancake filled with goulash that Rene G brought to our attention a few weeks ago. What a great dish- a crispy potato pancake filled with a rich savory meat goulash. The serving was big enough for me to make two meals of.

    Except for one other group of folks, who came in while we were eating, the place was empty.

    If any place deserves our business and adoration in the form of a full dining room everyday, this is it.
  • Post #25 - February 6th, 2008, 1:30 am
    Post #25 - February 6th, 2008, 1:30 am Post #25 - February 6th, 2008, 1:30 am
    Will, I notice you mentioned Halina's earlier. Do you know if they are they still open?
    What if the Hokey Pokey really IS what it's all about?
  • Post #26 - February 6th, 2008, 9:37 am
    Post #26 - February 6th, 2008, 9:37 am Post #26 - February 6th, 2008, 9:37 am
    I haven't been to halina's in a while. I hope they are. It is another place that was never very busy.
  • Post #27 - February 6th, 2008, 9:51 am
    Post #27 - February 6th, 2008, 9:51 am Post #27 - February 6th, 2008, 9:51 am
    ronnie_suburban wrote:Image
    Pierogi


    Ronnie - it looks like the pierogi were not fried (which is traditional around my neck of the woods) - were they boiled, or prepared some other way? They look amazing, by the way.



    Potato Pancakes
    A very traditional presentation but one that never gets old for me. These pancakes, made from a meal -- not shredded potatoes -- were the best I'd ever had in a restaurant. They were wonderfully crispy outside, tender on the inside and amazingly light.


    What do you mean by made from a meal? They look a lot like my latkes, which we prep in the Cuisinart using the fine cheese grating wheel to process the potatoes and onions.
    Life Is Too Short To Not Play With Your Food
    My Blog: http://funplayingwithfood.blogspot.com
  • Post #28 - February 6th, 2008, 10:12 am
    Post #28 - February 6th, 2008, 10:12 am Post #28 - February 6th, 2008, 10:12 am
    NancyEsq wrote:What do you mean by made from a meal? They look a lot like my latkes, which we prep in the Cuisinart using the fine cheese grating wheel to process the potatoes and onions.


    I'll concur with Ronnie. These are very good potato pancakes but I also believe they are made at least partially from meal. There's a particular taste and texture that's evident.

    These pierogi are not pan-fried (although they may be lightly sauteed in the butter they're served with). I think both simply boiled pierogi are reasonably common.

    Smak-Tak's perogi are excellent, my personal favorite being the sauerkraut and mushroom.
  • Post #29 - February 6th, 2008, 10:26 am
    Post #29 - February 6th, 2008, 10:26 am Post #29 - February 6th, 2008, 10:26 am
    NancyEsq wrote:Ronnie - it looks like the pierogi were not fried (which is traditional around my neck of the woods) - were they boiled, or prepared some other way? They look amazing, by the way.

    I'm certainly no expert but I can't recall ever seeing a fried pierogi in Chicago. The pierogi I had at Lola in Cleveland last summer was definitely fried but I considered that to be the more 'untraditional' preparation . . .

    Image
    Beef cheek pierogi at Lola


    A very traditional presentation but one that never gets old for me. These pancakes, made from a meal -- not shredded potatoes -- were the best I'd ever had in a restaurant. They were wonderfully crispy outside, tender on the inside and amazingly light.


    NancyEsq wrote:What do you mean by made from a meal? They look a lot like my latkes, which we prep in the Cuisinart using the fine cheese grating wheel to process the potatoes and onions.

    Meaning more batter-like than shredded potato-like. But I know what you're saying. When I use the fine cheese grater blade on my cuisinart to make latkes, they do end up being very close in texture to renditions that are made with a meal. I'm not sure of the method used at Smak Tak but they have a texture that is very similar to the latkes that my grandma use to make from hand-grated meal.

    =R=
    Why don't you take these profiteroles and put them up your shi'-ta-holes? --Jemaine & Bret

    There's a horse loose in a hospital --JM

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #30 - February 6th, 2008, 10:47 am
    Post #30 - February 6th, 2008, 10:47 am Post #30 - February 6th, 2008, 10:47 am
    It's my experience that all pierogis are boiled, and then optionally, may be pan-fried. My GM from Krakow always pan-fried them in butter prior to serving. And I have always been able to order them fried in every Polish restaurant in Chicago that I've ever tried. Just say "smah-jo-nah" (fried). Sorry for the Sesame St. Polish spelling. I really prefer them lightly pan-fried, it puts a little crispness into the dough. Try it sometime.
    What if the Hokey Pokey really IS what it's all about?

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