By Jeff Bahr
Sometimes a jewel can be found right in your very own backyard. Such is the case with Belweder Deli, a Polish meat and provisions emporium (deli to those short on time and long on hunger) located On Midland Avenue, Kearny – a mere stone’s throw from The Observer.
Noted for its fine Polish delicacies, Belweder offers far more to its customers than a typical run-of-the-mill delicatessen – both in the quality of its homemade and imported goods, and in its uncommonly cheerful service.
Owner Mariola Swietkowski puts her heart and soul into the enterprise and the net effect of her loving concern becomes apparent the very second that one walks through the door.
Flanked by Anna Golda, who, Mariola says, “adds her special kick of flavor” and Marzena Burdzy – who prepares the shop’s homemade pierogi. Belweder’s is truly a cut above. Mariola also receives help from her family members. She is “grateful” for this as their efforts help to keep the business running smoothly.
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Mariola to discuss her business. As a man who fancies polish food in general, I was already intrigued by the fact that such a deli exists mere blocks from my workplace.
Not surprisingly, Belweder caters to its share of Polish- Americans. But that’s not to suggest that such people represent the store’s only fans. In fact, Mariola is quick to point out, “at least half” of Belweder’s customers hail from locales other than Poland. Good food is good food, wherever you find it, stresses Mariola, and Belweder’s certainly has the goods.
Swietkowski’s attention to quality and detail is obvious, and her strong work ethic ensures that, whenever a customer drops by the store, she’ll be waiting, with her ever-present smile, to take their order.
A Kearny resident for 28 years, Polish-born Swietkowski came to America over thirty years ago. She hit upon the idea of a Polish delicatessen when she noticed that none existed in her community.
“I’ve seen different restaurants open (in Kearny), but there was no Polish place to bring people together,” explained Swietkowski.
Hoping to change that, the budding restaurateur envisioned a “place where a person could get a full meal at a fairly good price, homemade and different, because Polish food is different,” and took steps to turn her idea into a reality. In September of 2008, Belweder (named after the opulent presidential palace in Warsaw, Poland) opened for business on Midland Ave., and the sweet smells of fresh and cooked kielbasa and stuffed cabbage have wafted through the neighborhood ever since.
Homemade foods found at Belweder (even the bread crumbs are made by hand) act as a supreme drawing card and distinguish the business from others. Polish staples such as perogi, potato pancakes, and stuffed cabbage are prepared “lovingly by hand on a daily basis” by the aforementioned ladies, and the sandwiches offered at Belweder are as generous in size as they are robust in flavor.
In fact, the sandwiches are so uncommonly large that one of Swietkowski’s customers actually mailed a picture of hers (for posterity I presume) to the shop along with her compliments. The photo hangs proudly beside the cash register.
“Our hot and cold sandwiches are very popular,” says Swietkowski of her concoctions on Polish rye. Sandwiches for sale at the shop include the signature Belweder, featuring smoked ham, smoked turkey, and smoked Gouda cheese; the Warsaw, a tantalizing chicken cutlet affair packed with sautéed mushrooms and onions; the Pulaski, a no-nonsense grouping where Pork chops and sauerkraut hang tough in unison; the Chopin – a tasty wrap for those that fancy the always delicious kielbasa and sauerkraut combo, and many others.
Customers can also “create their own sandwiches” explains Swietkowski, so getting what one wants at the store is never a problem.
Underscoring the fact that Belweder’s plays to lovers of Polish cuisine, customers will find a vast array of imported Polish foods for sale including: soups, spices, jams, chocolates, cookies, mustards, yogurts, gelatins, puddings, pickles, fresh doughnuts, and other tasty items too numerous to mention. And, as a bonus to those that understand Polish, a large assortment of Polish newspapers, magazines and greeting cards stand at the ready to bring the flavor of the “old country” back.
Belweder’s steady procession of regular customers proves far and away its popularity in the community. “I know what they (the regulars) like and we like to be nice to people,” said an appreciative Swietkowski with her trademark beaming smile. “Delicious and fresh cold cuts, perfectly balanced with the right flavor,” are the ticket, says Swietkowski.
Value factors into the success formula, too. One of Swietkowski’s regulars, just back from a trip to Brooklyn, couldn’t wait to tell the proprietor that a Polish deli in the borough was advertising “seven pierogies for $12!” as if such a price was a big deal. Belweder’s charges roughly half as much.
To sum things up: if you get a hankering for some good Polish cuisine, I’d advise you to beat a “tasty retreat” (get it?) to Belweder’s front door. Good Polish food at a fair price, and everything served up with a smile?
What’s not to like? Smacznego – as they say in the old country. Enjoy your meal.