Polam International Meat Market
“Hundreds of hanging salamis, such bounty and fullness, the place teeming with smells and textures, the ceiling covered completely. I said, Rosemary, look. A gothic cathedral of pork.”The Porkchop Express dedicated its second post ever to kielbasa. We gave a little history, then rolled thru Greenpoint and reported on two spots, Steve's and W-Nassau.
– Don DeLillo, Underworld
After returning to the neighborhood, we figured it was time to revisit a few local butchers. Polam International seemed as good a place as any to start: every time we walked by, the deep, narrow store was packed with people. And also, it smelled like delicious kielbasa.
Don't let the crowds deter you. There's a lot worth checking out inside, and we never once felt rushed. Polam's staff is friendly and helpful. That being said, I often dally when confronted by multiple pork products. But luckily Ms. Slab was there to keep me focused. We surveyed the store, mapped out a strategy, then got down to business.
First up: picking a few pickles and some shredded cabbage. Polam cures their own in barrels near the fresh meat counter. The kraut was a bit salty and musky for our tastes, but all three pickles were delicious. Don't miss those crisp, clean half sours and dilly dills; they taste great, and help cut the fat of a sausage dinner.
There is no shortage of whatnots and condiments, everything from mustards and horseradishes to soup mixes. But the prepared foods – 16-20 dishes daily – proved far more enticing. The pickings slim down in the evenings, but a few temptations lingered: golden-fried kotlet rybny, fish fillets, hand-rolled pirogi, boiled ham hocks, and a plump plate of stuffed cabbage. We brought a few of the cabbage home, heated them on the stove, and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. Good porky flavor and, at just under a buck a (giant) piece, great value.
All of this was well and good, but the true objects of our affections were the smoked meats. After fretting and sampling, we went with a trio of kielbasa: weselna, kabanosy, and what I think was krajana. The weselna (double-smoked) was plump and peppery, if a bit on the firm side. The slim kabanosy was "fresh" style: nice and garlicky, although we prefer this link air-dried (the flavors are far more pungent and concentrated).
The star of this trio? Hands down their terrific krajana. (Again, I should add that I think it was krajana. Or maybe wiejska. Just look for the plump, stout oval links hanging on the back wall.) This is the pride of Polam, touted by one butcher as their best, and it didn't disappoint: just juicy enough, spiked with pepper, slightly sweet and smoky... and one of the tastier sausages we've tried in Greenpoint.
Decisions, decisions: choices a-plenty at the Polam Meat Market
Much of Polam's good cheer extends from it's big-hearted owner, Zenon. Zenon used to own nearby (and much-heralded) W-Nassau Meat Market, but stepped aside to open Polam about a dozen years back. He originally hails from eastern Poland, and a family of “real butchers” and smoked meat artisans. Zenon's father taught him traditional techniques, which he uses to craft everything from fine Polish links to succulent German hams.
To punctuate his point, he disappeared briefly and returned with a quarter-pound of Westphalian Ham cut in delicate, paper-thin slices. Proof to his pudding, indeed. Without a doubt, this was our favorite product at Polam, a terrifically tasty meat that benefits from Zenon's smoking skills. He moves the hocks multiple times, back and forth from the smokehouse to the cooler. The process yields a dry, dense texture and deep, rich flavor. We were given strict instructions (“don't mess it up with mustard”), but to be honest it barely made it back on the subway. It's addictive: a refined meat that starts smoky, goes to sweet, salty, then finishes smoky. Enjoy it neat, or on a slice of soft Polish rye with butter.
Polam has other stuff as well. Juicy, smoked boneless ham hocks make for great presentation or a festive gift. Ribs and chops as well. Their change-of-pace “turkey ham” was satisfying, a smoky breast of real thick-cut Turkey (no water or chemicals added). And don't forget the house-cured bacon, salty slices that fry quickly and eat even quicker.
After sampling more than our fair share, we began to understand what Zenon meant about “real” butchering. He has a refreshingly distinct smoking style: bold, salty, slightly sweet; strong flavors, quality ingredients, time-tested recipes. Plus, he offers everything you might want from a Polish butcher, makes everything in-house, and sells everything at more-than-reasonable prices. The general quality is high, and some items (Westphalian) are terrific. A cathedral of pork? Preach on!
Polam International Meat Market
952 Manhattan Avenue
Our favorites: Westphalian ham, krajana kielbasa, house-cured pickles