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Before I get to the nitty gritty of why I believe Polish Villa II is a hidden gem among family restaurants, a word about what the score means in my reviews. ¶ My score is an expression of how satisfied I was walking out. Whether it’s a sophisticated, anniversary-caliber filet and lobster tail emporium, or a family restaurant that wants to feed your brood fast, well and on a blue-collar budget, I determine how well the restaurant did in executing its mission. Using my score to compare restaurants with different missions doesn’t work well, because they’re different species. ¶ That said, Polish Villa II gets a 9-plate score in the family restaurant category. I went once and couldn’t believe it, so I returned with friends and tried it again. The verdict stands. Polish Villa II serves excellent food with terrific service in an interesting room at an extraordinary price. Lots of places can do two or three of those things, but Polish Villa II connects for the grand slam.

The dining room is outfitted in dark wood and paintings of Dyngus Day festivities and other scenes that evoke the city’s history as an outpost of Polonia. The bathroom doors alone are more carefully decorated than many entire restaurants. (During Sabres games, fans might appreciate the wide-screen projection TV at one end of the room, but it might be a bummer for others.) The table was covered with a black tablecloth and white paper, with a real mum in the vase and paper napkins.

The large pierogi ($6 for two) are tender-skinned but browned, topped with sweet caramelized onion and served with sour cream. Potato and kraut versions were good, but the sweetened farmer’s cheese topped them. The mushroom pierogi, stuffed with Polish mushrooms and goat cheese ($7 for two) boasted a robust mushroom flavor that had me thinking of the forest.

The potato pancakes ($7 for four) are thin discs of finely shredded potato, emphatically browned but still tender, not crispy.

Czarnina, traditional sweet-and-sour duck’s blood soup, is made here with duck stock and beef blood. It’s dotted with noodles and raisins, but the dark maroon broth, given huskiness by the blood, is the point. It was delicious despite the coppery aftertaste.

No one made a face at the barszcz or Polish beet soup, though. The deeply savory orange broth – which starts life as the water kielbasa’s cooked in – hid firm beets and other vegetables. It had a refreshing sourness that drew spoons back. Other highlights included the shvinky fingers, expertly fried crunchy pork strips served with bracing honey mustard and house-made plum sauce ($8).

Except for upscale steaks and seafood, most dinners are $12 and feature soup or salad, warm rye bread and butter, choice of potato (including a pancake) and vegetable. Plus enough entrée to serve as two meals for many people.

The chicken and kluski ($12) was three large chicken breast pieces in a smooth sherry cream sauce with mushrooms. Kluski are house-made noodles that had been browned in a skillet before being topped with the chicken, which was unusually tender and moist.

Cat called it “stab you with a fork good” – rare praise indeed. She liked it so much she chose it on our second visit. That version arrived with unbrowned kluski, which I asked the server about. Without being asked, she reappeared a few minutes later with a plate of browned kluski. The servers will not use a crumb scraper, but they will strive to make you happy.

The Warsaw cutlet ($12) is a guilty pleasure, a pan-fried piece of pork topped with caramelized onions, sauerkraut, mushrooms and Swiss cheese that’s melted together and served with gravy. The pork was tender and transported by its savory and tangy toppings. The pork chop special ($12) had two big, tender chops smothered in wine gravy with red peppers and onions.

The bigos, or hunter’s stew ($11), overflowed a rye bread bowl. Not pretty but plenty tasty, it included tender meats, not one dried out by improper cooking: fresh and smoked kielbasa, and chuck roast, plus sauerkraut, mushrooms and more. Perhaps it could have arrived with more broth, but its leftovers were carefully gathered for another lunch.

The golabki, sweet and sour cabbage, and caraway-speckled house salad dressing all deserve praise, too. Vegetarians may enjoy the mushroom pierogi, the potato pancakes or the crimson salad ($8), built on roasted beets and caramelized leeks.

Desserts ($4-$5) included flaky-crusted house-made pies, sour-cream-topped cheesecake with a terrific crunchy crust, and nalesniki ($4), stout, rich Polish crepes stuffed with cheese or fruit preserves.

If you’re feeding a family on a budget in Buffalo, you can’t do much better than Polish Villa II.

Polish Villa II: 9 plates (Out of 10)

Family restaurant hits grand slam of appealing food, decor, service and value.

WHERE: 1085 Harlem Road, Cheektowaga (www.thevilla.biz, 822-4908)

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 4 to 9 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday brunch and 2 to 8 p.m. dinner.

PRICE RANGE: Appetizers and salads, $2.35-$8, entrees, $11-24

PARKING: In the lot.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.

email: agalarneau@buffnews.com