My wife is Polish, her grandmother an immigrant, coming to Canada shortly after the second world war. Her family has maintained their roots, and are proud of their heritage. When I met her, I was introduced to a wide world of Polish cuisine that I not only had never eaten, but in a lot of cases wasn’t even aware of. Now, I anticipate every Wigilia when I’m given the chance to eat my weight in mushroom naleśniki, and pierogi.
We travel to Syracuse frequently, and one of our favorite spots to hit up is Eva’s European Sweets. Located in the old industrial sector, just south of Destiny USA, Eva’s isn’t much to look at from the outside. The location seems to be on the corner of Rundown Road and Sketch Street, the signs worn, and the building’s old red brick chipping away. Inside, however, you’ll find a crew of smiling crew members, beautiful vintage decor from the old country, and delicious, home-style foods. Family owned for generations, Eva’s is the kind of place you picture when you think of Grandma’s cooking; or, in this case, Babcia’s cooking.
We went down to Syracuse on the last weekend of July in order to run some errands. After an exhausting day, we made Eva’s our final stop on the circuit before heading back to Canada. Emily knew she wanted the pierogi; her favorite of all the Polish staples, but I was left to a much tougher decision. There were so many delicious looking dishes, but only one of me!
Our waiter realized I was trapped in a vicious one man tug-o-war, and asked what I had been eyeballing. I told him I was torn between their kiebasa plate, the gulasz and kopytka, or the Hungarian style placki. Feigning amusement, our server told me I had selected their 3 best dishes, and he wasn’t able to recommend one over the other. However, he had a suggestion; he would make up a sampler featuring a half portion of kielbasa and placki, and throw in some kopytka. That was a deal I couldn’t turn down – and he generously priced it at around $14. Most restaurants don’t offer this level of compromise, just adding another reason to love Eva’s.
Our food arrived relatively quickly, and I started with the kielbasa. It was prepared perfectly; pan fried in butter, it had developed an excellent crust along the under-belly. The casing had a phenomenal snap to it, and partnered with the sweet pan fried onions and the sour pickles, it was a complete meal unto itself. If this had been served on a bun and handed to me on a street corner, I’d be raving about that vendor all over this blog. But this was just the first component – I wasn’t near done!
While I worked over the sausage, Emily began the labor-intense task of eating her giant pierogis. Standard frozen pierogis that you find in your supermarket are about the size of two standard raviolis. Not at Eva’s. They take much larger sheets of dough, and stuff them as full as they can get. In this case, Emily had ordered the potato and mushroom, which came topped with even more mushrooms, onions, and of course, a liberal drizzling of butter. You have the option to ask for them to be fried at the end, but these ones stuck to the normal boil – allowing for a nice chew on the exterior, and the hot fluffy potato on the inside.
As she worked through the mountain of rich, starchy goodness, I had moved forward to the Hungarian placki. The Hungarian part was the sauce; which was like a sister to a traditional American style spaghetti sauce. The difference here, was instead of relying on the strong basic and other Italian flavors to liven up the sauce, the Hungarian way keeps it simple – with just a little bit of heat from peppers, some flavor from onions, mild parsley, and otherwise allowing the tomato flavor to stand on its own. The crunchy potato pancake stood up to the sauce, keeping its consistency without getting soggy – which I totally appreciated.
I was full – but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from finishing off the pan-fried kopytka. Kopytka are potato dumplings, a soft, slightly chewy dish. You’re given the option to fry or not – but I prefer it just to mix up the texture. Like nearly all Polish dishes, this is of course served with butter, but the real treat is the addition of bacon. By adding a few bacon bits (and in turn, getting some bacon drippings in the butter) – the flavor is enhanced with just a hint of fatty, salty goodness. It’s not your healthiest option – but it’s damn tasty.
I’ve eaten at Eva’s a number of times, and not only have I never had anything I didn’t like – but I’ve never had an unpleasant experience either. They clearly take pride in their business, making sure to greet every customer like they are part of the extended family. The portions are generous, and everything is cooked to order and fresh. The location might be out of the way, but it’s worth the trip.