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Nominated for: BEST New American
Walk down a few steps from the sidewalk into a quaint vintage rathskeller setting. The little structure with a colorful folk mural painted on the side was built in 1925 as a 31-room hotel with a beer garden in the cellar, for the tradesmen and merchants coming to the city of Hamtramck.
The cellar became a restaurant in 1976, and it was known as Zosia's for the head cook who turned out the city chicken, boiled ribs, meatballs and mushroom cutlets.
Zosia left, but many of her helpers stayed, and there are still two left who worked with her in the open kitchen in the back of the long, narrow room with a sturdy wood bar with stained glass panels on one side and closely packed tables on the other.
The room has a festive feeling, partly because so many of the customers are regulars who know one another and the staff, and also because Carolyn , who runs the restaurant along with her father, Ted, decorates for every changing season or holiday.
Garden party lanterns bob overhead currently, and Carolyn apologizes that she hasn't gotten around to putting up the autumn trappings.
She has been part of the Polish Village since she was a 3-year-old who came with her parents to the restaurant they began running in the early '80s.
Now she's the one in charge of the dining room and the busy kitchen, where the cooking is all from scratch just as it has always been. While a couple of cooks can be glimpsed at any time in the kitchen, there are actually 12 on the staff, mashing potatoes and making brown gravy and soups such as the beet or cabbage and potato or the classic czarnina (duck's blood).
The menu is familiar to anyone who knows old Hamtramck. Meat or potato-stuffed dumplings (pierogi), potato pans, breaded and pan-fried pork chops, and daily specials that stay the same: meatballs with noodles or stuffed green peppers on Monday; boiled chicken on Tuesday; stuffed peppers again on Wednesday; goulash on Thursday; and on Friday, of course, pan-fried pickerel or perch, as well as pork loin with red cabbage. The latter also turns up on Saturday, when there are five specials leading up to Sunday's Warsaw chicken, half a chicken baked in mushrooms and onions.
The heaping plates of food are brought to the tables by a friendly, bilingual staff, and while the napkins are paper and there are few frills, this restaurant delivers remarkable value and an atmosphere that recalls earlier times.
When I walked in early this week, I thought I had stumbled onto a private party. Happily, it's a party we're all invited to."