The Kielbasa Factory is always busy, serving Rockville and the D.C. area's Polish community and other appreciators of good food. Photo credit: Helen Triolo
A view of some of the goods at the store's deli, including the famous fresh kielbasa that is perfect for summer grilling. Photo credit: Helen Triolo
The author, happily sampling some of the delicious meats and cheeses from behind the deli counter. Photo credit: Helen Triolo
Owner Krystyna Ahrens shows off a few of the Polish beers on offer at the Factory. Photo credit: Helen Triolo
I'll bet you hadn't even realized that Polish goose pâté is essential to your happiness.
I certainly hadn't, until last week when I stopped by the Kielbasa Factory (at 1073 Rockville Pike in the Talbott Center) to meet owner Krystyna Ahrens, a native of Krakow and longtime area resident and small business owner, and to sample the deli products and buy things to munch, grill, fry, and drink, from the place that does Polish specialties better than anywhere else in the Washington D.C. metro area.
The pâté, a savory, complex, melt-in-your-mouth snack, was served to me by the accommodating and knowledgeable Magda (also hailing from Krakow), who works behind the Kielbasa Factory's deli counter and who took time out from giving friendly service to a steady stream of regulars to show me the best of Polish meats and cheeses.
I'm glad that I had spent the past twenty-six years in complete ignorance of all things Polish, because there are few things better than discovering an outstanding new cuisine.
The Kielbasa factory's most popular food items are, predictably, probably the two most famous foods of Poland: kielbasa sausages and pierogi dumplings. You can buy kielbasa cooked, smoked, and ready to eat, or fresh. The pierogis, which come stuffed with combinations of potato, mushrooms, sauerkraut, and meats, can be boiled or fried in butter or oil. The store even offers a free pamphlet on how to go about it, as well as selling a couple books on Polish cooking and dessert-making.
Krystyna's store caters not only to Rockville residents, but to Polish Americans and Polish expatriates (and other food lovers) from all over the D.C. area, and others who come from as far as the Carolinas to get a taste of home.
In addition to regular kielbasa, I tried the peppery hunter kielbasa, and hunter sticks (pork kabanosy), which look like soft jerky sticks but taste much better. They are a quintessential snack food (or hike/picnic food, as they don't spoil easily), often paired with crackers and soft Polish cheeses (of which there is quite a variety).
After that came pork loin kielbasa, the most lean kind available, and then a torrent of remarkable flavor and texture: bacon (soft, already cooked, ready to eat), extra dry Krakow sausage, cured & smoked pork-loin, marbled, well-seasoned headcheese, regular cheeses such as the Swiss-like emmentaler and rich massadam smoked cheese, and of course the aforementioned pâté. These quality meat and dairy products come from area farms.
But food is not all about meat, and there are plenty of things for those of us who are less enthusiastic about sausage and headcheese than I. The pierogis are excellent, especially when paired with the sauerkraut made in-store, with cranberries and other adornments complementing the kraut itself. There are dessert crêpes and croquets filled with cheese, vanilla, strawberry, blueberry, and more. And there are products imported from Poland: pickled fish and vegetables, fruit juices, and plenty of sweet and chocolaty snacks.
The Factory carries European award-winning Polish beers such as Tyskie (an ideal smooth, unassuming beer for a summer cookout), Żywiec, and Okocim. Poland doesn't have the climate to produce much of what we consider traditional wine, but Krystyna sells a popular traditional Polish-style mead, Orchid Cellar, produced by a couple in Middletown, Maryland. In addition to local and imported Polish wines you can find bottles on the shelves from Bulgarian marks and others you probably won't see on an average Rockville restaurant's wine list.
After chatting and sampling at length, I stocked up on a couple of my favorite new discoveries. I munched on hunter sticks as we grilled up a couple of fresh kielbasas, fried some pierogis, smothered everything with sauerkraut, and washed it down with cold glasses of Tyskie. It was kind of a basic introductory (but immensely satisfying) Polish food preparation, and now I'm looking forward to returning to the Kielbasa Factory and expanding my repertoire.