With the hope of finding a market to rival those of my hometown Philadelphia, I recently visited The Kielbasa Factory in search of Polish comfort food. Opened in November 2007 by Krakow native Krystina Ahrens, the Kielbasa Factory brings traditional Eastern European fare to the Washington D.C. area.
Located on the second story of a small strip mall on Rockville Pike, The Kielbasa Factory still has a large Grand Opening sign hanging at its' small storefront. Once inside, I realized that at the other end of the long narrow store, there is a back entrance with parking.
The Kielbasa Factory offers a wide range of products with nearly every label and sign in Polish. Polish was spoken by all of the employees and most of the customers when I visited. Despite my difficulty in pronouncing the different types of food, the staff was very helpful and understanding. Just knowing the basics will get you what you want here.
The basics are Polish sausage called kielbasa, meat and rice stuffed cabbage called golabki (pronounced ga-WOOM-key), dark breads,jarred herring, pastries, and sweet and savory stuffed dough called pierogies.
Kielbasa is a traditional Polish sausage which is usually smoked. There are about a dozen types of kielbasa at The Kielbasa Factory, all imported at this time. Kabanosa, or skinny kielbasa, is the Polish Slim Jim. Generally more smoky and intense in flavor, it makes for a terrific snack just eaten in hand. Fresh kielbasa is also available-it's paler in comparison to the smoked kielbasa and needs to be cooked before serving. Fresh kielbasa is generally served cool, along with with horseradish as hot as you like it.
Kishka, Polish blood sausage, also looked fresh. Next to the kishka was a pan of golabki without (tomato) sauce. I also noted several types of hot dog-like sausage links and cold cuts.
A large freezer stocks several types of pierogies which come in two sizes; small and really small. There are meat, potato and cheese, cheese, sauerkraut and sauerkraut and mushroom pierogies from a company in New York City. Also from NYC are breads which tend to be darker varieties, like rye and pumpernickel.
Finally, The Kielbasa Factory has no shortage of sweets. Traditional poppy seed rolls were tempting. Cruschiki, confectioner sugar-coated fried Polish angel wing cookies, were available in traditional white windowed boxes. At the check out counter, there were boxes of Polish filled donuts called paczki (pronounced POONCH-key) also imported from NYC, and a very rare sight. I suspect Ahrens will be selling paczki by the dozens in the next week or so, as they are traditionally eaten before the beginning of Lent, on Paczki Day-better known as Fat Tuesday or Fastnacht Day.
On my visit, I purchased fresh kielbasa and a smoked kielbasa called wiejska (pronouced vee-YAY-ska) which had a good smoke punctuated by garlic. The fresh kielbasa was prepared by simmering it for about 30 minutes and letting it cool overnight in the refrigerator. Fresh kielbasa should be assertive with garlic and unfortunately; this was not. Paczki were filled with raspberry jam and confectioners sugar which dotted my sweater with each bite, however, the dough was dry. Getting paczki at their best is like swerving your car into the Krispy Kreme store when the "hot donuts" sign turns on. You just have to get them fresh. Last, the potato cheese pierogie were fried up in butter and onions, served with a dollop of sour cream and satisfied in a way that Mrs.T's satisfies. Not bad, just not out of my Babci's' hands.
Overall, The Kielbasa Factory has a nice selection of Polish meats and sausage, breads, sweets and imported dry goods. The pierogi selection is numerous and I'm looking forward to trying different varieties, such as the meat pierogies in my freezer. The staff is friendly and helpful and hopefully one day,they will be making kiebasa themselves!
The Kielbasa Factory