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Polish Kitchen

Kristi Kates - June 21st, 2010
Polish Kitchen: Famous Food in Harbor Springs
By Kristi Kates
Rafal Bebenek and his sister were still in school when he and his
parents and siblings came up with the idea to bring a new Polish
restaurant to the Harbor/Petoskey area.
“Given our schedule, there wasn’t much of an option to open any sort
of business that consumes all hours of the day and week,” Bebenek
explains.
Six years passed, during which the idea was a recurring theme of
conversation - and during which the family occasionally scouted
locations. But it still wasn’t quite time for the idea to reach
germination. It took another six months for Bebenek and his family to
find their current location and to negotiate all the details of that
contract.
“We signed the lease on January 8, and embarked on two months of
remodeling done by my dad and brother,” Bebenek explains, “while I was
finishing up my job in Florida, they were up here working; then I
moved back on March 8, and after many adventures, we opened the
restaurant on March 9.”

POLISH AUTHENTICITY
Bebenek and his family moved to the United States from Poland in 1996,
and were, of course, very familiar with the foods of their home
country; so the decision to open a restaurant called Polish Kitchen
was the easy part (their website is called www.famouspolishkitchen.com
as
“www.polishkitchen.com” was already taken.)
“We did grow up with the Polish genre of food,” Bebenek explains. “The
name was decided mainly by my parents, since it was essentially their
investment.”
The menu was another story - Bebenek says that it was a challenge
trying to make it as comprehensive as they possibly could, while still
keeping it small enough so that the family wouldn’t be overloaded by
having to stock dozens upon dozens of different ingredients.
“The menu was one of the longest processes that we went through,” he
says, “but all the recipes are from our family, that have been passed
down from generation to generation. My parents, and my aunt who has
been helping us, have been cooking this type of food all their lives.”
The most popular item so far, Bebenek says, is the Polish platter, a
true sampler of the country’s foods.
“It consists of a piece of smoked sausage, a variety of six pierogis
with sauteed onions and bacon, and one stuffed cabbage. Since our
opening, I would have to say that 90% of the newcomers order that
specific dish; that way they can savor a little bit of the traditional
cuisine, and the next time they already know what they like.”

SAVORY TO SWEET
Bebenek also explains that one of their other popular menu items -
goulash - is very different from what most Northern Michigan diners
might think of.
“Since it is not the standard recipe that most people are accustomed
to - the standard is the Hungarian style that is tomato-based with
macaroni in it - they have to try it to believe how good it is. For
our Polish-style goulash, we use very tender cuts of pork and sausage
and assorted vegetables, which are slowly cooked to perfection. This
stew-type goulash is then served over dumplings. All we have heard is
positive thoughts, and customers are really amazed,” he says.
Bebenek and his family have also adapted a Michigan Upper Peninsula
dish, the pastie, for inclusion on their Polish menu.
“Since we are in Northern Michigan, we figured it would be a nice
addition,” Bebenek explains, “for $4.50, you get a pastie filled with
potatoes, carrots, rutabaga, turnip, beef, and our delicious smoked
sausage, with seasonings.”
And in another cuisine-culture change-up, another of Polish Kitchen’s
specialties - one that’s most often associated with French cooking -
are crepes.
“Our sweet crepes have different fruit stuffings, such as apple,
cherry, and strawberry,” Bebenek says, “The fruit for the crepes and
for our desserts are bought from local businesses in Michigan.”

AMBIANCE AND EVENTS
Keeping with the hearty, friendly feel of the menu, the decor of the
restaurant itself is staged so that customers are immediately
welcomed.
“We want people to be able to relax,” Bebenek explains, “since we tend
to get the dinner crowd, it is good for people to be able to wind down
after a day’s work. The ambiance is low-lit, and we have flowers and
pictures all around the restaurant, so customers can take a look.”
In addition to all of the hard work establishing their restaurant
location, Polish Kitchen will be taking their foods to a variety of
special events over the summer season, to introduce the region to
their menu. Polish Kitchen will be serving samples at the Great Lakes
Chamber Orchestra Crescendo event (June 23) at Nub’s Nob. “Other
events we’ll try and do as we find out about them,” Bebenek says.
But it all comes back around to that most important factor - the food.
“As far as our schedule, we are sort of playing it by ear at this
point,” Bebenek says, “but as for the food, it’s true Polish cuisine -
it is as authentic as it gets.”

Polish Kitchen is located at 8418 M-119 (Harbor-Petoskey Road) in
Harbor Springs. Their hours are currently being established, but they
can be reached by phone at 231-838-5377. For more info and a view of
their menu, visit their website at www.famouspolishkitchen.com.

 
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