Whenever I think of Meridian, two things come immediately to mind: my high school days and my Grandma Fern. More than once during my three years at Meridian High, I was asked, "Where are you from? Are you an exchange student?" I was (and still am) so baffled by this question that I could only blurt out one word: "Here!" I've never gotten over the irony of a third-generation Idahoan seeming so alien in her environment. Times (and places) change, however, and today's Meridian offers an ethnic-food haven that can't be found in my downtown haunts: a Polish restaurant, invitingly named My Caffe.
From what I can gather, Eastern European food could be considered a close cousin of American soul food: meat-and-potato-rich comfort food that sticks to the ribs. This is food guaranteed to anchor a heavy heart, and make you feel at home no matter where you are from.
Since it was lunchtime, we passed on the wide selection of European beers—though the Belgian Stella Artois and Czech Pilsner Urquel on tap ($3.85) were particularly appealing. Instead, I indulged my healthier impulses with a bottle of Kinga Pieninska Polish mineral water ($1.50). I'm not sure if I was more attracted by the bold red seal of recommendation (from the doctors of the Institute of Cardiology, Collegium Medicum Jagiellnian University) or by the oval cameo of Saint Kinga, patron saint of the Polish mountains (canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1999). In any case, the slightly tangy tingle of mild, natural carbonation of this real mineral water put run-of-the-mill filtered water to shame.
For lunch, my dad immediately decided on a piroshki ($3.50)—which, I learned, should not be confused with a pierogi ($7.50, with choice of side salad). A piroshki is a Russian treat—deep-fried bread filled with, in this case, ground beef. It went very nicely with the homemade coleslaw (small, $1.50; medium, $2.75; larger, $5), which was slightly sweet and deliciously crisp. A pierogi is a soft Polish dumpling filled with any number of tasty items—for example, potato and cheese. While I wanted to try something "authentic" (meaning Polish), this time I passed on the pierogi and went for the grilled Polish sausage on a hard roll ($8.50, with salad and cookie). Complemented by mustard and sauerkraut, it was entirely satisfying—though big enough that I could only finish half.
Of course, Majka's famous potato salad is the real reason I couldn't eat the whole sausage. That day, the broccoli salad seemed too healthy, the ranch pasta salad too Americanized and mixed greens too mundane. But Majka, the proprietor, makes a heavenly potato salad: ahh, the crunch of mild red onion, the perfectly tender potatoes, the harmony of mustard and mayonnaise! Together, my pop and I finished every bite.
While the lunch menu boasts a plethora of sausages from the European heartland, such as frankfurters ($4.59) and smoked pork kabanos ($5.99), My Caffe also serves sandwiches made with cold cuts like Polish ham (whole sandwich with homemade soup, $7.50). The dinner menu looks just as promising: Polish delights such as bigos (sauerkraut stew), chicken paprikash and goulash (8 oz., $7.50; 12 oz., $9.50; 24 oz., $13.50) are served with bread. The schnitzel (breaded pork) with mashed potatoes is available for lunch and dinner, but it's dinner special No. 2 that is still calling my name: The Polish plate comes with bigos, pierogis, cabbage roll, grilled sausage and kroquette (deep-fried potato patty), all for only $11.50.
Cloth napkins, real silverware and china plates provide an old-world atmosphere. The pastries are definitely homemade. The menu promises a smorgasbord of homemade European-style desserts: napoleons, tiramisu, eclairs, and chocolate mousse cake, among others. The only thing left over on the pastry chef's day off was a couple of (tasty-looking) lemon bars. Armed with treats like these, My Caffe is creating an oasis of European culture in an ever-evolving Meridian. And I, for one, felt right at home there. Finally.
—Gretchen Jude thinks borscht is beautiful.