Review: Karolina's Restaurant

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

Karolina's Restaurant
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:

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By @Samhamont (anonymous) | Posted January 30, 2012 at 14:47:01

Sounds awesome! On my list pf places to vist, thanks Ryan.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted January 30, 2012 at 14:51:45

I tried Karolinas last fall. Service is somewhat spotty as they get so busy, but quantity and quality of homemade food is fantastic!

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By Bobby1 (anonymous) | Posted January 30, 2012 at 18:12:09

OMG,this sounds sooo great. Love this type of food. Have to try it!

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By Henry and Joe (anonymous) | Posted January 30, 2012 at 18:25:34

I've been trying to get a reservation at this place for a year. Thanks for making it even more difficult with this great review;)

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By Core-B (registered) | Posted January 31, 2012 at 16:32:43

You're absolutely right Ryan. A group of us went there about a year ago. We had reservations (because we'd heard such good reviews) but when we got there we thought the place was closed. Luckily we investigated. The food was amazing and an incredible value. The one thing that shocked me (if this is still a policy) was that the bar ran on the "honour system". You helped yourself and just told the server what you had!! Home cooked food with an at home atmosphere.

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By Anon (anonymous) | Posted January 31, 2012 at 18:10:15

Gotta check out this restaurant before a "Bob the Bully" TiCat game for sure!

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By Anon (anonymous) | Posted January 31, 2012 at 22:38:04

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