A very Fat Tuesday

Calling paczki doughnuts is like calling Lady Gaga a bit flamboyant. Paczki (pronounced "poonch-key") are fried rounds of spongy, eggy, yeasty goodness, and while many cultures have their own takes on them, no one goes bananas for them like the Poles, especially the week before Lent. Follow our paczki primer for a deep-fried Fat Tuesday.

Sweet World Pastry (5450 N Milwaukee Ave, 773-792-5566)
Know before you go: As a nod to its Polish patrons, Sweet World celebrates Paczki Day according to Poland’s tradition as well as America’s. That means you can stuff yourself on Fat Thursday (Thursday 11), then come back for more on Fat Tuesday (Tuesday 16). The bakery will open at 6am both days.
Best bite: Take a cue from the little old Polish ladies, and stock up on paczki filled with jam made of rose hips, the lightly spicy and tart fruits left behind on rose bushes after the flower has died.

Delightful Pastries (5927 W Lawrence Ave, 773-545-7215)
Know before you go: Last year’s line was out the door on both Polish and American Paczki Day, so call and order ahead, or try your luck at one of the bakery’s new locations in Old Town (1710 N Wells St, 312-255-0724) and at the French Market (131 N Clinton St, 312-575-0306). To avoid the hassle altogether, come to the paczki class at 2pm on Saturday 13—for $35 you’ll learn to make paczki and leave with a dozen.
Best bite: It’s tough choosing between the traditional and the tweaked varieties, but we think the Lent-only “boozy custard” is the one to load up on. Who doesn’t like to be both stuffed and tipsy at once?

Bridgeport Bakery (2907 S Archer Ave, 773-523-1121)
Know before you go: Last year, this 35-year-old South Side favorite sold 24,000 paczki on Fat Tuesday, running out by noon. Regulars know to call in their orders ahead and that they can pick up their paczki as early as midnight on the 16th.
Best bite: You can get the custard, strawberry and raspberry jelly anytime, so for this time of year, go all out and ask for one of each of the 14 other varieties made just for this week. While the chocolate icing may be tempting, be sure to get a few simply dusted with sugar, too.

Weber’s Bakery (7055 W Archer Ave, 773-586-1234)
Know before you go: Three generations of Webers have amassed many loyal customers on the Southwest Side over the last 80 years, so don’t even waste your time if you can’t get to the bakery before noon on Fat Tuesday. It’ll open for business at 4am that day, but if you’re not an early bird, you can pick up your paczki the Sunday before (Weber’s is closed Monday, though).
Best bite: It might sound odd, but poppy seed and prune are the standouts of the 14 different paczki. The former has the toasty flavor of poppy-seed bread but the yeasty sweetness of a doughnut, while the latter is a gooey bomb of tart-sweet plummy jam.

Oven Fresh Bakery (7210 W Foster Ave, 773-631-7000)
Know before you go: Word has spread over the last few years that this Polish bakery is one of the few that both employs the old trick of adding a touch of brandy to the dough and insists on frying its paczki in lard. That means the place turns into a madhouse on Paczki Day, so call ahead, reserve at least a dozen and bring cash to get in and out quick.
Best bite: Close to a dozen flavors of paczki are offered year-round at this vintage bakery tucked away in a Norwood Park strip mall, but the one flavor that’s trotted out just for paczki day is fresh strawberries with buttercream, a delicious combo well worth the extra 50 cents.

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