Polish food: Babushka's vs. Hubert's

By Columbus Alive
From the Polish food: Babushka's vs. Hubert's edition

I didn't grow up in pierogi country, but I have friends from western Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio who did. Since many of those friends live in Clintonville now, the semi-recent opening of Babushka's Kitchen in the Beechwold area had them overheated with kielbasa fever.

This piqued my interest in the two local Polish food outlets I know about - Babushka's (which all those aforementioned friends declared was the real deal) and Hubert's Polish Kitchen in the North Market (which many of those friends admitted to not having tried).

Babushka's Kitchen

The setting: Like a big meeting hall split into three rather plain dining spaces named after different Polish cities (Krakow, Warsaw). It's a little kitschy-touristy in there and unrelentingly upbeat polka music plays non-stop.

The food: Looks and tastes just like Cleveland church basement cuisine - this is in no way a knock. The local Babushka's Kitchen is a little sister of a famous "as seen on TV" Cleveland eatery, and lots of the Clintonville shop's stuff comes from the Cleveland home office.

Noteworthy dishes: The Hunter's Feast ($16) subtitled "Polish house sampler" is built for two (at least!) and is a hog-tastic way to acquaint yourself with this place.

It came loaded with most everything Babushka's makes, such as:

• A huge cabbage roll - real good, with a tender veggie sheath, a dense log of meatloafy rice and beef, plus a rich, homey tomato sauce

• Smoked kielbasa - salty, not super smoky, not fatty tasting, some black peppercorn flavor

• Roast pork - a highlight of my platter, it was moist and tender with a lot of piggy flavor

• Roasted sauerkraut and homemade dumplings - sort of unthrilling gnocchi-like pasta stubs flavored by sweetened kraut

• A jumbo potato and cheddar pierogi - a winner, buttery and attractively browned, filled with a big pouch of cheese and mashed potato

• Two sides, such as mashed potatoes (not homemade) and green beans (forgettable) and old-school cabbage and noodles (go with these).

For a bite of something sweet, try the kolachky cookies filled with jammy fruit - they're a delicate, flaky and grandmotherly treat.

Hubert's Polish Kitchen

The setting: A good-sized counter operation stationed in the bustling North Market. Hubert's wide array of authentic Polish selections is dished up cafeteria-style.

The food: Great tasting, generally hearty and full-flavored Polish fare prepared (mostly) by a pair of Polish brothers. Using as many high-quality North Market ingredients as possible and relying on old family recipes, Hubert's totally scratch-made food includes lots of soupy and stewy stuff plus plenty of interesting, colorful and healthyish vegetable salads (items are around $4-$6 apiece, or available in combos for $8-$10).

Noteworthy dishes: The deep-fried, softball-sized cheesy and meaty sauerkraut balls called Mielone are thoroughly addictive, real must-haves (but ask for the winglike hot sauce on the side). Still, I was highly impressed with everything I tried, such as:

• Leczo - veggies, sausage, shredded beef and roasted red peppers in a tomato soup base

• (Killer) kielbasa - made by Falter's using Hubert's special recipe, they've got a great snappy casing and are garlicky, black peppery and super juicy

• Pierogi - sturdy, kinda thick homemade pasta pockets filled with a slightly sweet cheese-potato mix and submerged into melted butter

• Cabbage rolls - mild, stuffed with a loose rice and ground meat mixture

• Mashed potatoes - homey and wonderful; and cauliflower salad - fresh, mayo-based but light and fresh-tasting.

For more local food news and reviews, click to G.A. Benton's blog at blog.columbusalive.com/underthetable