When you think of Poland, you probably think of pickles. And bowls of beet-red borscht. And pierogis. And you'll find all three, in endless variations, at any number of spots along Manhattan Avenue, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Greenpoint is, after all, nicknamed "Little Poland."
But if you're looking for Polish baby food, or Polish laundry detergent, or those Polish candy bars you fell in love with the last time you were in Warsaw, you need to go to The Green Farms Supermarket.
From a distance, it doesn't look like much more than your standard bodega. Then you notice the red Polish flag, and the red map of Poland, and the thin yellow letters across the top: Polskie Delikatesy, Polish Delicatessen.
The Green Farms Supermarket is much more than a delicatessen, though there is a deli case with cured and fresh sausages (including kielbasa and kiszka, Polish blood sausage), meats, cheeses, and whole smoked fish. It's really more of a supermarket, as its English name implies (as much of a "super" market as can be had in crowded parts of Brooklyn), complete with Polish soda, Polish ketchup, and Polish bottled water. Once inside, it's easy to forget that you're two blocks from the G train.
If you're lucky, you'll find Andrew Mikolajczyk working the floor. He's the only one of the Green Farms employees to speak any English, though when he's there he has no use for it. His father and uncle opened the Green Farms Supermarket, their Polskie Delikatesy, some thirty-odd years ago, and these days he splits the floor with his cousin. He's not much for words, though he nods when I express amazement over the sheer volume of Polish products that crowd the shelves of his modestly sized grocery store.
"When I was a kid, in the '80s, they used to have a lot of American stuff in the freezers over there," he says. "But slowly, slowly, slowly, the American stuff went away."
Today, those freezers are filled with fish—five-gallon buckets of whole, gutted carp in brine, tubs of pickled herring, squeeze bottles of Cod Roe caviar—and aside from some small bottles of Heinz white wine vinegar and boxes of cornstarch, there's not a product in sight that doesn't say Product of Poland.
Green Farms outshines its neighbors on stocking the "basics" of Polish cuisine, and a quick spin through its aisles will outfit you for an epic Polish repast. There's red and white horseradish, packets of ready-to-make soup, jars of sorrel (Poles have been eating this recent greenmarket darling for centuries), several kinds of pierogis, and endless bags of pretzels. The staple foods come in mega-sized jars: pickled cucumbers ("old style," with dill, and in brine), beets (mashed, grated, and "rubbed"), and sauerkraut ("stew," with carrots, and with caraway seeds).
Several shelves are dedicated to tinned fish (with some amusing and puzzling translations): smoked sprats in "winter" oil, "Caucasian"-style sardines, "Greek"-style bream and carp in tomato sauce, flounder, herring, sardine and mackerel fillets in oil, "Catalina" style mackerel, and herring fillets in "pirate" oil.
It's easy to see that the Poles have a thing for sweets. The cash register's buried under fruitcake, sliced and wrapped individually in plastic. Jam-filled cookies are stacked precariously along the wall, alongside large flat boxes of fancy chocolates, bags of Olza's Prince Polo candy bars, and what looks like the complete line of chocolates by the famous Warsaw-based E. Wedel.
A proper grocery store, Green Farms has what you need to make your own Polish sweets, too: Polish flour, tiny glass jars of almond and orange flower essence, tins of poppy seed filling, "extra" Polish butter (which I'm told is a brand, and also doubles in meaning as "super cool"), and wafers a foot in diameter. Paper packets of spices—ubiquitous in European grocery stores—occupy a shelving unit half the length of the store, with vanilla sugar, Hungarian paprika, and pre-mixed gingerbread spices.
And to wash down a hearty Polish meal, the back wall is dedicated to Polish beer. Not just Żywiec, the corner store staple, but also the lesser-seen Żywiec porter, and the Żywiec-owned Tatra and Warka, as well as Lech, Leżajsk, Hevelius, Okocim, Zamkowe, Perła, Karpackie, Brok, and Golden Pheasant (which is actually Slovakian, and brings the total for non-Polish items to...three.)
Andrew rounds the corner and smiles knowingly when he catches me studying his winning beer selection. "This one's the best" he says, pulling a Brok off the shelf. "It's great for watching the games." He walks back to the counter and slides up next to cash register, where Green Farms employees and customers alike manage to exchange money and pleasantries without lifting their eyes from the small screen showing the latest game.
Right. It is the middle of the Euro Cup.
The Green Farms Supermarket
918 Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11222 (map)