My Caffe 

450 S. Meridian Rd., Meridian. 208-888-5599. Mon. 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Tue.-Thu. 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

A surprise awaits you on Meridian Road, just north of Overland Road, in an obscure little restaurant called My Caffe. Stepping into the cool, green interior, you'll find a small delicatessen-style shop. Behind the deli counter is the brief menu and the owners, Jacek (pronounced yah-sek) and Majka (my-kah) Szarmach, who are among the most friendly and welcoming people you'd ever want to meet. Both are from Poland. Jacek came to America 22 years ago, landing first in San Francisco. He soon moved to Oakland and eventually to the Treasure Valley. After a decade, he returned to Poland for a visit and ran into his former sweetheart, Majka, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Which is good news for us, because Majka makes some of the best darn sauerkraut stew you ever tasted. Not a fan of sauerkraut stew? Try one bite and you will be. "We were serving it last month at the Meridian Dairy Days and people were afraid to try it," says Jacek. "I was teasing a policeman saying: you are brave, try this stew." He did, and he came back with his friends. Lots of them. Not only did people take one or two bites and realize that it was not at all what they thought it would be, but they raved. "One customer calls the stew a work of art," says Majka proudly. So, what is sauerkraut stew? A blend of cabbage, sauerkraut, dried tomatoes and mushrooms with chunks of pork, ham and sausage that simmers for 12 to 14 hours. The result is utterly addictive.

But sauerkraut stew isn't the only thing offered at My Caffe. Goulash and chicken paprikash ($7.50-$13.50), authentic Polish sausages ($4.59-$8.50) and schnitzel ($9.50-$4.50) are also on the Polish-style, down-home-cooking menu. My husband, our friend Jodi and I ate dinner at My Caffe on a recent Saturday night. We took our seats at an empty table, and within seconds, Majka hurried over to us and flung open a starched beige tablecloth, positioning it perfectly over the table. A quick look at the beers on tap, and soon we were sipping tall half-liters of Pilsner Urquell ($3.85) and spreading real butter onto slices of warm bread. Ordering dinner was simple: Choose combo No. 1, 2, 3 or 4. The same holds true for four sandwich and four lunch combinations.

Jodi enjoyed her plate of pierogies (combo No. 1, $10.50) which was loaded with plump little dumplings stuffed with either sauerkraut or chicken. Majka offered grilled diced onions, diced bacon meat and sour cream to accompany the pierogies, which were hot and tender. "I love the sour of the sauerkraut, I love that flavor," said Jodi about her dinner. Dan, an avid lover of cabbage rolls, enjoyed his combo No. 4 ($14.50), which came with big, ground-pork-stuffed rolls slathered in a not-too-sweet tomato sauce and a fair portion of piped mashed potatoes. I think I had the winner of the bunch, the No. 2 ($11.50). It provided a nice sampling of several dishes: four pierogies stuffed with either spinach or a smooth blend of potato and cheese, one cabbage roll, half of a grilled Polish sausage, two potato pancakes and a hearty dollop of that delicious sauerkraut stew. Although none of us cleaned our plates (because we were full), we all agreed we couldn't wait to eat our leftovers for lunch the next day. Frankly, Jodi and I are still hankering for more sauerkraut stew.

—Jennifer Hernandez knows some lousy Polish jokes she'll tell you later.

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