For years, I have driven by Crocus, 3577 S. 13th St., and have been curious by the traditional Polish cuisine within. Two recent visits confirmed that I should have opened the doors to this wonderfully time-warped restaurant many, many years ago.
Open mostly for lunches, with dinners only served on Friday and Saturday evenings, Crocus is no secret to many; parking space in its large lot is nearly impossible to find during its limited hours of operation.
Guests at Crocus should expect a dining room reminiscent of someone's home, complete with a large display of vintage Polish folk dolls, traditional paintings on the walls and kind hosts / hostesses who don't hesitate to offer visiting children -- and their accompanying adults -- a piece or two of Polish candies ("for after you've eaten your dinner").
We found both lunch and dinner here to consist of comfortable, delicious homemade foods with ideal portioning and prompt, friendly service (although wait times can be a tiny bit long during busy Friday lunches).
The menu contains Polish delicacies czarnina (duck blood soup, $3, cup, $4.50 bowl) and tripe (cow intestines cut into tubes and cooked with spice ($3.50 small and $5.50 large), in additional to more commonly consumed Polish foods like pierogies (unleavened dumplings stuffed with cheese, sauerkraut, and ground meats, among other options), Polska sausage and potato pancakes. The yellow perch fry ($8.95) also appeared popular on a Friday visit.
All lunch and dinner orders begin with soup, which on one visit was creamy potato and spinach, on another, a potato dill, both slightly sour in the most pleasant way, and a great start to a traditional European meal.
If you're new to Polish cuisine, the Polski Talure ($12.95) will introduce you to pierogies, Polish sausage, stuffed cabbage rolls, homemade sauerkraut and boiled potatoes. All are delightful, and the Polish sausage is likely unlike any you've experienced before -- it is remarkably light and the seasonings within are mouthwatering. Order the sausage for lunch with homemade potato pancakes for something different at only $8.95.
Poledwica Wiep ($8.95) offers pork tenderloin sautéed in olive oil and spices and accompanied by more of the tender and satisfyingly pungent homemade sauerkraut. Zrazy Wolowe ($7.75 lunch, $12.95 dinner) rolls fork-tender sirloin steak with onions, mushrooms, bacon and pickle into a meld of flavors that work wonderfully with the accompanying boiled potatoes. A honey dipped fried chicken (kura smazona, $9.95) gives new sweet life to fried chicken, and comes with choice of potato pancakes, boiled potatoes or fries. All three are winners, with the potato pancakes just heavy enough to nearly make them a meal of their own.
Dessert offerings here are simple: cheesecake, and blintzes nalesniki ($6.50). We opted for the blintzes with one each of apple, cherry, and cheese. The crepes are light and stuffed to overfilling with the sweetened cheese and fruit mixtures, lightly drizzled with chocolate and a small dollop of whipped cream.
After two exceptional meals here, I am still perhaps mostly taken by the atmosphere. Conversation flows freely between the tables and every server and host, and even one of the owners, was always busy at work, assisting each other and greeting every guest with a broad smile and word of welcome.
Crocus' good, freshly made food and welcoming atmosphere makes me look forward to many more meals as the fall months are upon us.
Amy L. Schubert is a 15-year veteran of the hospitality industry and has worked in every aspect of bar and restaurant operations. A graduate of Marquette University (B.A.-Writing Intensive English, 1997) and UW-Milwaukee (M.A.-Rhetoric, Composition, and Professional Writing, 2001), Amy still occasionally moonlights as a guest bartender and she mixes a mean martini.
The restaurant business seems to be in Amy’s blood, and she prides herself in researching and experimenting with culinary combinations and cooking techniques in her own kitchen as well as in friends’ restaurants. Both she and her husband, Scott, are avid cooks and “wine heads,” and love to entertain friends, family and neighbors as frequently as possible.
Amy and Scott live with their boys, Alex and Nick, in Bay View, where they are all very active in the community. Amy finds great pleasure in sharing her knowledge and passions for food and writing in her contributions to OnMilwaukee.com.