Homey ambiance, friendly service and generous portions of delicious, home-cooked Polish cuisine make Karolina's a winner.
By Ryan McGreal
Published January 30, 2012
757 Barton Street East (map)
On Saturday night, a group of us dined at Karolina's Restaurant on the north side of Barton, just west of Lottridge. It's family-style Polish cooking at its best: hot, abundant, flavourful and served with charm and busy expertise.
If you didn't already know what was waiting for you inside, you'd never guess from the nondescript exterior. At night, you can scarcely even see any light coming out of the window.
When you get inside, however, it looks like nothing so much as great-grandma's house set up for a huge family dinner: rows of long tables set up with white linen tablecloths and silverware. It feels that way, too: the cooks and servers, a group of older European women, smile warmly as they serve up heaping platters of meat and giant bottles of Polish beer.
If your party is big enough, you can order the family buffet: wave after wave of so much amazing food that you're guaranteed to bring leftovers home with you (more on this below).
The meal starts with a basket of rye bread and two big bowls of soup: homemade chicken noodle and homemade potato. I can't tell you which was better, but they both jostled hard for the title.
After that, the server lulls you into a false confidence with a serving of salads: fresh coleslaw, penne salad and tossed greens with vinaigrette.
Then the real action happens: savoury roasted potatoes, juicy sliced beef and pork smothered in gravy, tender breaded pork cutlets, a pile of chicken cordon bleu, a heap of tender perogies and sour cream, and the most delicious cabbage rolls I've had. Oh, and a bowl of buttery steamed broccoli, cauliflower and carrots - not that they had much of a chance.
It was an awe-inspiring display of the most pleasurable home-cooking, but I need to point out that I was dining with a group of Canada Post letter carriers. These folks walk 25 kilometres a day while carrying 10 kg of mail, and they have a truly breathtaking capacity to pack away food.
After a while, the waitress came over with a stack of Styrofoam take-out containers and stopped short, astounded to discover that most of the food was gone. "...Nothing?" she finally asked when she found her voice again. I got the distinct sense that she had never seen this happen before.
After clearing away the last of our dishes and platters, our server brought fresh, hot coffee and squares of light, elegant apple cake - the last course (we thought) in a truly impressive sequence of dishes.
But we were wrong. Before giving us the bill, our server brought out still more heaps of roast beef, potatoes, perogies, cutlets and cordon bleu - enough that we had plenty to take home with us!
For all this, the price worked out to around $30 a person (plus a well-deserved tip). We will definitely be back.
In closing, a word of advice and a word of warning: