"Now we can serve vodka. We have our liquor license. And I can make all sorts of drinks because I went to bartending school," explains the pregnant co-owner of Norcross' newly opened Gimza.
The vodka might make it officially a Polish restaurant now, but the true talent extends far beyond bartending school. Our bartender's mom is cooking in the kitchen. She turns out the standard southern Polish comfort cuisine, but it's lighter and more delicate than typical peasant fare.
The decor, as well, is understated and elegant, as much so as is possible in a strip shopping center. The colors are shades of rich red and white. There's Polish pop on the stereo, and a clock on the wall displays Warsaw time. And of course, the requisite vodka lines the shelves of a mirrored bar where the owners hope customers will visit "as a local spot for a beer or a snack and not just a big meal."
Sweet and sour Polish: During a recent visit we started a big meal with the distinct zurek, or sour rye soup. The complex starter included a mixture of sour rye-floured roux with light cream, hints of kielbasa and bacon, and heady caraway. A perfectly boiled egg provided an unusual textural contrast. The salatrka z porow, or leek salad, was kind of a crazy coleslaw with a fun mix of fresh leeks, egg, Polish cheese, green peas, sour cream and Polish mustard. Though the soups and salad vary daily, it would be nice to see a permanent borscht on the menu.
Entrees include pierogi filled with either mashed potatoes, farmer's cheese and onions, or buckwheat, ground meat and veggies. For just $7, the meal is a substantial yet affordable and well-rendered plate where the dumplings are carefully fanned onto large, white plates.
Bourgeois on the cheap: For the sweet tooth, there are nale sniki z serem, which translates as "things to take in the woods." This dish features crepes filled with farmer's cheese, sugar, vanilla and lemon zest. Krokiety (croquettes) are like pancakes filled with ground pork, sauteed onions, mushrooms and sauerkraut. Sznycle (schnitzel) and kotlet schabowy (pork cutlet) ($12) include salad and a side dish and are large enough to share.
Little doves: A real highlight is the golabki zyzem, or "little doves." These lacey cabbage rolls were especially light and filled with some sort of fluffy grain mixture rather than heavy rice. Topped with a wild-mushroom sauce, the two "doves" ($9) made for a satisfying lunch.
The szarlotka, or homemade apple cake, is worth a visit in and of itself. The crumb cake drizzled in dark chocolate is just sweet enough without being cloying. Pair it with a Turkish coffee or an herbed tea (or a shot of vodka!) for an afternoon delight Polish-style.
Though Gimza is still undergoing some of the growing pains of youth with choppy service and a scattered menu, its heart is in the right place, and the pierogi is a good plate.
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