Skip the TUMS for beets worth bumping

For a person who has spent most of her life afraid of beets, I’m patting myself on the back for taking a leap and trying Borscht soup at Warsaw Cafe.

A woman who left Poland for a new life in the U.S. opened the cafe in 1979. Even before checking out the cafe, I figured this had to be the real deal in Polish cuisine.

Back to beets. I have other fairly irrational phobias, namely fears of ants, metal detectors and, very specifically, the scraping of metal utensils on china plates.

The cool and earthy flavor of red beets has normally made me gag. I asked the server what I would order if I were visiting Poland. And his immediate response was to try pierogies and Borscht.

Apparently, Warsaw Cafe’s Borscht soup is award-winning. So, I sighed, I squirmed and then I ordered it. After my first shaky spoonful, I think part of me felt betrayed by the fact that I wasn’t grossed out. I’ve tasted golden Borscht soup, made with the milder golden beets, but this classic
European soup was a brand new taste. It might be considered more of a Russian dish than exclusively Polish, but it tasted pretty authentic to me.

On a roll, I moved onto my main lunch entree, the stuffed cabbage. Cabbage is the one vegetable when boiled indoors, can send my entire Irish family out of the house screaming for fresh air. The server told me that stuffed cabbage is to Polish people what macaroni and cheese is to Americans – comfort food you could eat every day of the week.

I don’t know if I have enough TUMS for that, but I had to admit that the veal, sausage and rice mixture baked inside the cabbage was fantastic. Just enough spice to keep the meat interesting, but not so much that I didn’t want to savor it. It seems like every culture has some type of food rolled up with another food inside, like Greeks and grape leaves and Jamaicans and banana leaves. Even Taco Bell knows what’s up.

For a restaurant with such a diverse lunch menu, I was surprised to hear from the server that dinner was practically the same type of items. Hopefully the portions are bigger, or else the prices might not be worth the meal. Eating alone at a place like the Warsaw Cafe was perfect – not too busy that I felt strange eating by myself, yet still part of Center City’s midweek bustle.

Instead of defrosting a rock solid box of Mrs. T’s pierogies and warming up with a bowl of watery canned soup, find out what genuine Polish and European food tastes like, from the kitchen of a Polish mother.

Brianna Barry can be reached at

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