Jefferson Park: The Polish stop

Where the Polish scene’s deep cuts live.

Martini Club

Martini Club Photograph: Allison Williams

If you know the Jefferson Park stop, it’s probably for one of two reasons: You transferred from bus to train there on your way to O’Hare, or you went—for some inexcusable reason—to eat ribs at Gale Street Inn. Because the stop is surrounded by strip malls, you can be forgiven for thinking the area doesn’t offer much. But if you overlook it, know you’re passing up some seriously deep cuts of the Polish scene. Queen among them is Theresa II (4751 N Milwaukee Ave, 773-283-0184), an annex of the larger restaurant next door, Theresa Magnolia. It’s a 30-year-old dining room with 30-year-old menus and a roughly 70-year-old server who is also the cook. Every day, fresh soups are made (a restorative mushroom; a vinegar-spiked beet), and they are the preamble to a parade of well-executed—and extremely affordable (average price $6)—dishes like thin, wispy potato pancakes, blintzes stuffed with sweet cheese and hearty stuffed cabbage. You know one of the only other place in Chicago where the people serving your food were also the ones to cook it? Schwa.

Of the three locations of Martini Club (4933 N Milwaukee Ave, 773-202-9444), this is the only one that doesn’t serve food. But the cocktails the young Polish community drinks are all here: Wild Sex (featuring rum, Malibu and Peach schnapps), Ecstasy (it’s got Red Bull) and Mounds (like the candy bar, you pervert) among them. Thankfully, this place is a lot classier than the cocktails sound, with rich red walls and old Stones cuts coming through the speakers. We asked the bartender there where he gets his Polish food, and he steered us around the corner for a Polish sausage at Jefferson Park Grill (5364 W Gale St, 773-736-7982). The late-night diner (open until 11pm) lacks the matronly vibe of Theresa, but the quick service will have you back on a stool at Martini Bar within minutes.

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