Welcome to the photo series Eater Scenes, in which photographers visit some of the world's great restaurants to capture them at a certain, and very specific, point in the day. Today, writer/photographer Arielle Milkman visits a 32-year-old mainstay of old Polish Milwaukee.
Founded by husband and wife duo George and Aleksandra Burzynski in 1983, Polonez sits in sleepy St. Francis, a Milwaukee, Wisconsin suburb within walking distance of chilly Lake Michigan. Polonez is a natural fit in the Milwaukee area, which boasts the fifth-largest Polish population of any city in the U.S. George, for his part, arrived in Milwaukee in 1980 with recipes he had honed under his grandmother's careful supervision — and saw an opportunity to fulfill his dream of opening a restaurant.
When Eater visits at midday on a recent Wednesday, George, trained as an economist in his native Poland, is leading the cooking charge. The customers are older, and you'd be-hard pressed to find many folks under 60 years old during lunchtime. After the lunch rush, George visits with each customer, many of whom are old family friends, asking about their cousins and family businesses and always inquiring about how they liked the food. Assisting George is his son, Peter Burzynski, who has been groomed to take over the family business. Peter is gamely chopping tomatoes, but admits he'd rather be writing: He's getting his PhD at the University of Wisconsin Madison, and isn't sure he ultimately wants to be at Polonez's helm.
On weekends, Polonez has raucous live music and Polish dancing, but the regulars come — any day of the week — for the food. Blood and dill pickle soup, pierogies, and house-made potato pancakes are mainstays here. Expect tales from old Polish Milwaukee, small-town gossip, and large family-style, potato-heavy portions — as seen in the gallery above.