By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Dec 16, 2002 at 5:45 AM Photography: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography

It seems only natural that with Milwaukee's history of Polish immigrants, a restaurant would exist that serves authentic Polish cuisine that's a step up from the Polish sausage and kraut you cook up at a barbecue.

In St. Francis you'll find such a destination in Polonez (4016 S. Packard Ave.), a no-nonsense yet traditional restaurant that will stuff you full every time. From the outside, and from the inside, come to think of it, Polonez resembles what I'd imagine a Perkins in Poland looks like. Save for the occasional Polish falcon on the wall or the life-size Polish peasant mannequin in the lobby, it's not the décor that does the talking.

Do listen, however, since it's obvious the restaurant is owned and staffed by real Poles, complete with thick accents and an impressive knowledge of the cuisine and their diverse and eclectic Polish beer assortment.

Folks, if you look up "comfort food" in the dictionary, there ought to be one of those pen-and-ink sketches of Polonez.

Polonez has a large menu with some American choices, but I really had no choice but to order the Special Polish Platter for about $14. One half link of Polish sausage, one potato pancake, sauerkraut, four pierogis (meat, cheese, meat and cheese, and another cheese) and a beefy noodle thing -- and that's all she wrote. All were simply delicious.

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On another visit, I tried the Polish version of Tater Tots. I have no idea what these babies are cooked in, in fact, I don't think I want to know. But they were mouth-watering. A tremendous amount of food, not to mention the borscht or salad, plus a bread bowl up front -- the meal should probably come with a side order of angioplasty.

Seriously, though, Polonez should be approached like a rare, perhaps seasonal treat: outstanding, authentic food that must be enjoyed without much regard for cholesterol content. Most likely, you won't finish the whole plate, but you'll be surprised how good leftovers taste for breakfast the next day.

Polonez is a bit out of the way, though it's not far from Lake Parkway, and long lines are standard on weekends, so call ahead for reservations: (414) 482-0080.

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.