Port Richmond’s New Wave Cae destroyed my image of Polish food. Boiled, bland and unexciting is what I expected; flavorful, fresh and interesting is what I found. I don’t know how I got such a poor impression of Polish food, but I suppose it was ignorance sprinkled with a dose of anticipated Soviet-era austerity. After all, with centuries of tradition including European, Middle Eastern and Asian culinary influences, you’d expect Polish food to be delicious and unique. I’m just glad that I learned how wrong I was!
On a recent 90º+ day, a group of us gathered at this unobtrusive tavern on East Allegheny Avenue to dive into Polish cuisine. As we entered, I still couldn’t quite understand how “New Wave” = “Polish.” Inside, the bar and dining room were situated in a long, rectangular room with booths running along the wall from front to back. Joining some friends who were already at the bar, we found that we came in during the Polish version of Law and Order. Everyone was intently focused on the TV as the episode unfolded. This is definitely a Polish local.
Our bartender/food server seated us immediately at a quiet table in the rear of the bar and quickly returned with several types of her favorite Polish beers. The menu at the New Wave Cafe is almost entirely Polish; item names and descriptions are printed in English with the appropriate Polish term. Going for variety, we decided to pick as many different items as possible; each member of our group ordered an appetizer and an entee. Among the appetizers we had Barszcz Ukrainski (Borscht), Grochowa (Split Pea Soup), Zurek (White Borscht) and Placki Ziemniaczane (Potato Pancakes). For entrees, we ordered: Pierogis (potato & cheese dumplings), Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls), Placki po Wegiersku (Hungarian Style Potato Pancakes) and Ryba Smazona (Fried Fish).
Enjoying our beers, we took the opportunity to figure out how the New Wave Cafe derived its name. After inspecting the dining room, complete with its mirrored walls, disco ball and “alien art” as described by a 2005 review by the Philadelphia Weekly, we came to the conclusion that this must be an after hours hot spot for the neighborhood. While they may not still be around, leisure suits would be definitely at home on this dance floor. In addition, an 80s induced acid trip seemed to be the source of inspiration for the artwork. Especially the “death mask” adjacent to the front door that verged on disturbing.
Our appetizers arrived promptly and piping hot. In fact, as steam rose from the soups I had to question our choices in light of the weather. My doubt quickly dissipated as we found the soups to be excellent. The vividly colored Borscht offered a lighter body than expected with the subtle, earthy flavor of beets (its primary ingredient). What the White Borscht may have lacked in visual punch, it made up for in flavor. Made from a base of fermented rye flour, it included hardboiled eggs, carrots, garlic and ham which was excellent. Both the Split Pea soup and the Potato Pancakes were good, but the Borscht dishes were the standouts.
The entrees were simple and delicious. “The Pierogies are just like I remember them,” mentioned Patti, whose mom used to make them at home. Fried in butter with a cheese and potato filling, these dumplings eclipsed any version that I’ve previously sampled. I found the firm exterior and the filling soft, similar to a large ravioli. The Hungarian-Style Potato Pancakes were stuffed with a savory goulash and served folded “a la taco.” The hearty and traditional Golabki, or Cabbage Rolls, were basic yet satisfying. Filled with ground beef, rice and onions, the Cabbage Rolls may not be sexy, but Russ and I both enjoyed them. Furthermore, the accompanying Sauerkraut was much more mild and enjoyable than the types that I’ve had in the past. Finally, Tushar’s fried fish was only fair.
If you’re interested in trying something non-mainstream, we definitely recommend the New Wave Cae. It’s a friendly neighborhood tavern serving authentic Polish food and ideal for a casual dinner with friends. The menu is limited, but we found the items enjoyable with a surprising variety of subtle flavors. Is the food glamorous? No. But if you’re looking for glamour in a Port Richmond Tavern, you’ve got bigger challenges to worry about.
The New Wave Cae is located at 2620 E. Allegheny Ave. Philadelphia, PA (215) 634-3224.
If you’d like more information on The New Wave Cafe check out our Podcast at http://PhillyFoodGuys.com.
[Tags]Philadelphia, Philly, Port Richmond, Polish Food, New Wave Cafe, Podcast[/Tags]