A recently opened restaurant offering authentic Polish dining is surprising some customers with new taste sensations.
With a Lithuanian/Russian background, Sherri Sanders grew up enjoying potato pancakes, stuffed dumplings and other eastern European foods. But she's experienced some new twists to traditional dishes at the Baltic Amber restaurant.
At the restaurant's opening July 27, Sanders sampled a cold fruit soup.
"I never had anything like it," she said. "It was fantastic."
She ordered stuffed cabbage at the restaurant's weekly all-you-can-eat event.
"Instead of a tomato base that I'm used to, it had a lemony mushroom sauce," she said. "It was really good."
Baltic Amber is an expansion of Richard and Eva Sikorski's Polish Deli business that opened last fall on West Bay Drive in Largo
"There was a need for the restaurant," Richard Sikorski said. "People were asking us why not serve food. We think the restaurant will give us an opportunity for the future and to satisfy our customers."
Some 180,000 Polish-born and people of Polish descent live in Pinellas County and many of their deli customers are Americans of Polish descent, as well as Hungarians, Germans and tourists from Slavic countries.
Polish food is familiar to most people, Sikorski said.
"Everyone knows pierogi, stuffed cabbage and kielbasa," he said.
The deli is in the process of moving next door to the restaurant and will re-open Friday.
"We wanted to create a little Polish corner with a restaurant and deli next to each other," he said.
The 2,500-square-foot restaurant can seat 120 and inside has a small bar serving beer and wine. It has four dining rooms, each painted to represent one of the four seasons. The rooms can be made private for parties and meetings.
Outside, a deck with seating for 40 is surrounded with trees and plants and overlooks a small lake.
In April, the couple signed the paperwork to lease the building and began renovations. Opening the doors for business took an investment of $147,000, Richard Sikorski said.
"It was a bigger step than we expected, especially with all the expenses," he said.
Both Sikorskis were born in Poland and came to the United States when their parents immigrated to Chicago. The couple derived the restaurant name from his hometown, Szczecin, which is on the Baltic.
The menu features a view of the ancient part of the city of Szczecin. Some of the world's amber, a hard yellowish to brownish translucent fossil resin that takes a fine polish and is used chiefly in making ornamental objects (as beads), comes from the Baltic countries.
The staff includes 13 full-time employees and all but two servers speak Polish.
Alfredo Galindo, a chef for 20 years, and manager Bo Chrzaszcz, who has owned and operated Polish restaurants, worked together to create many of the restaurant's ethnic dishes. The pastries come from a popular Chicago bakery, Eva Sikorski said. "Everything else in the kitchen is made from scratch," she said.
In September, the restaurant will feature the Alex Band with music for listening and dancing. Alex Conrad and Ela Juraszek perform tunes from the '50s to today's popular songs, as well as an international repertoire.