I’ve ventured to many different lunch destinations this summer. Most have been good, some have been great, but none have induced in me a desire to return as soon as possible. Few food establishments have the ability to incite such a craving as to make you want to return the very same day. This is especially rare in Philadelphia on account of all the amazing options of food available.
However, after a quick ride up 95 North to Port Richmond and a quick stop into Byrnes’ Tavern for a few Guinness, my official Northeast Tour Guide, James Dugan, and I made it to Czerw’s Kielbasy, and after getting home, grilling up our Polish kielbasa and frying up the pierogies, we both agreed we’d be back real soon.
I first heard of Czerw’s Kielbasy from an episode of Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods. I was thinking of making a stop on this tour for some Polish cuisine, and I had always known that Port Richmond was the only place to go for authentic Polish food, so after seeing Zimmern and his crew stop at Czerw’s, right in the heart of Port Richmond, I knew it was a good sign.
After enlisting Dugan, an unofficial offspring of Port Richmond, and heading up 95 North for about twenty minutes, we reached our exit. I was treated to the local wiffle ball fields of Dugan’s past, as well as the candy shop of his mother’s childhood. The most unexpected treat of the day had to be Byrne’s Tavern, where Dugan and I enjoyed the best Guinness I’ve ever had outside of Ireland. Perfectly poured, with rich head and full flavor, I could have skipped our planned excursion to Czerw’s and just stayed at Byrne’s all day. But there was kielbasa to be had.
A few more left hand turns and we had made it. On one of the narrowest of streets in all of Philadelphia, I learned the preferred parking method of Port Richmond is on the sidewalk. We entered Czerw’s and encountered one of the simplest stores I’ve ever been to. There’s a massive refrigerated counter, stocked with the most incredible assortment of meats, primarily kielbasy, and then a second fridge where an amazing selection of pierogies and spicy mustard and pickles were available.
I grabbed a package of “Stuffed Pierogies”, which contained the standard potato and cheese and also had pieces of bacon. Finally, after carefully reviewing our options from the extensive selection, I went with the Spicy Cajun Kielbasa and Dugan chose the Jalapeño Popper Kielbasa, half a pound each. Unfortunately, Czerw’s doesn’t prepare any of the food to eat on site, which is probably the only bad thing about the place, so we had to drive back to Dugan’s house and fire up the grill.
Maybe the best part of any kielbasa is its versatility. It can be served in slices as a cold appetizer or chopped and added to pasta or in a gumbo or stew. However, Dugan had some nice Amoroso rolls at his house and a fresh tank of propane, so our kielbasa was enjoyed as a sandwich, which is always the best lunchtime option. Since Czerw’s kielbasa is already smoked, on site, there’s no real cooking involved.
Dugan started the grill and in about five minutes, the homemade meat was dripping some of the finest smelling juices into the pit of the grill and enticing the flames to shoot higher and higher. It was almost like the flames didn’t want to let the kielbasa off the grill. But we took them off anyway, dropping the large, sizzling tubes of meat onto our rolls and then letting them cool for another minute before digging in.
I’ve made many statements about many different foods over the years, some bold claims that have caused many a debate and even a fist or two to be thrown. But I’ve never backed down from my convictions, and here’s another recently established: If you want the best meat in tube form within the entire Delaware Valley, and I’m willing to bet most of the Eastern Seaboard, then get in your car and drive to 3370 Tilton Street immediately!
The Spicy Cajun was so succulent. Its juices so flavorful, and its texture so perfect. With just a few spices added into the traditional kielbasa, Czerw’s is able to transport you to a whole other region. I could have been down on the Bayou, speaking Creole, the food was so authentic. Then there was the Jalapeño Popper. A bit spicier, but definitely distinct from the Cajun, this kielbasa had the added flavor of Jalapeno peppers (my favorite) and cheese, which gave it a slight edge over the Spicy Cajun.
Finally, there were the pieogies, again easily prepared with a little butter in a frying pan. The massive potato, cheese, and bacon dumplings could have served as a meal to themselves, with two or three filling you up for half a day. More noticeable than the size though were the flavors. Everything blended so well together, with no ingredient outshining the other. Since everything is prepared right at Czerw’s on a daily basis, the freshness of the ingredients is what stands out the most. True home cooking without the hassle.
There have been many stops on this tour and there have been many great lunches. But there’s something about Czerw’s, its 75+ year tradition, its location in one Philadelphia’s true neighborhoods, and its overall commitment to something good, really, really good, that definitely makes it stand out. And although you can’t sit down and eat there, that may have actually been what made it so outstanding, because Czerw’s reminded me that some of the best lunches are the ones you have in a home. Regardless of where I eat my kielbasa or enjoy my lunch, I’ll be sure to return to Czerw’s Kielbasy real soon.
4 out of 4 Lunchboxes!
Patrick Edmonds is a co-founder, editor, and writer for/of The Lunch Break. His passions include Food, Arts & Entertainment, and Education. You can follow Patrick Edmonds on facebook and on Twitter @patrickedmonds1.