Rib-sticking eastern European fuel is about the last thing I need in mid-June, but thanks to this endless monsoon season, almost everyone I eat with has been forced into a delayed prehibernation feeding cycle. That's probably why I found myself chauffeured northwest-ward the other night, headed for Smak-Tak.
This tiny, tidy Polish chalet on Elston is much beloved for its deep bowls of hearty soups, (clear amber-colored chicken noodle, creamy mushroom, thick barley), its plump, butter-drenched pierogies (tangy cheese and potato, finely ground meat, assorted fruit flavors, incredible mushroom and sauerkraut), and ample, thoughtfully accented dinners such as hunter's stew, stuffed cabbage, breaded cutlets, each served with sides of pickled vegetable salads or potatoes and flourished with generous dollops of pure white sour cream.
But there's one plate in particular among that assortment that is a destroyer, an absolutely delicious but insurmountable plate. To order and finish it is essentially to commit yourself to an extended period of slack-jawed catalepsy, preferably in a reclined position, attended by concerned loved ones. The placek po wegiersku, or Hungarian-style pancake, is formed by one of Smak Tak's enlarged but delicately crispy potato pancakes folded over a massive portion of mushroomy, peppery beef goulash, topped by a length of coiled sour cream, and a mocking sprinkle of chopped parsley.
It took me two days to finish it off, and I had help. Wake me up when the sun comes out.
Smak-Tak, 5961 N. Elston, 773-763 1123