You have to try the Polish beer, the guy said

Dyngus Day is a Polish-American tradition. You can look it up. I'd have to, also.

Dyngus Day is a Polish-American tradition. You can look it up. I’d have to, also.

My dear wife Karen and I enjoyed the sights, sounds and tastes of the 60th Polish Festival last night in downtown Syracuse’s Clinton Square.

No, contrary to a rumor circling the square, I have not been to all of them.

Ed, a city firefighter I’ve known for more than two decades, asked me if I used to go to the fest when it was held at the New York State Fairgrounds 40 years ago after we shook hands in the beer tent. I smiled and told him that was before my time attending these parties.

Happy before my first-ever sip of Polish beer. (Photo by Karen Miller Bialczak)

Happy before my first-ever sip of Polish beer. (Photo by Karen Miller Bialczak)

Ed was watching over the proceedings, where volunteers were checking IDs, collecting money and pouring drinks.

One gentleman running the spigots convinced me I had to try the real Polish beer being poured, OKOCIM. I do not recall ever tasting this, or any other brand of Polish brew, in this beer-drinking Polish-American life of mine. It surprised me that I could not remember my father Frank ever drinking a Polish label beer.

My dear wife Karen stuck with Michelob Ultra. And she carefully watched my reaction to that first sampling.

I do not believe I folded my face in half like Bitter Beer Guy, but … it was sort of bitter.

OKOCIM tasted better with each succeeding sip.

I stuck to the one.

Nobody had to talk me into the food.

Nobody had to talk me into the food.

All day long my mind had been on the kielbasa-and-kraut sandwich and potato and farmer’s cheese pierogies of Sweet Eva’s Restaurant, a mainstay on Milton Avenue in the Syracuse village of Solvay.

When the banner caught my eye, I recalled that they shortened the name to also fit “Polish Restaurant” for the festival. My eye also spied 20 people also waiting for their Friday dinner. Karen, our friend Kristin and I joined it. It moved fairly quickly.

The sampler from Evas: All that and a hunk of bread.

The sampler from Eva’s: All that and a hunk of bread.

I got my combo; Karen nabbed her cabbage roll and pierogi; and first-timer Kristin choose the sampler, a tray that allowed her the luxury to trying a little bit of all the stand offered.

Kristin watched us eat ours with a big smile, but was taking her’s home because she had a full evening of packing boxes ahead of her. She’s moving today.

A big Polish dinner was just the thing she needed, I think.

There was dancing to the Salt City Brass.

There was dancing to the Salt City Brass.

Music and dancing is scheduled at the three-day festival from start to finish.

About a hundred folding chairs carefully lined up for fans to enjoy the entertainment were full at around 7 p.m. Friday, with people swaying to the polka beat.

Three couples were doing the polka to the sounds of the Salt City Brass when a stopped for a moment to shoot video as the Syracuse band played a song I recognized well from my youth, “The Clarinet Polka.”

Here’s just short of a minute:

The dancing pairs look pretty darn smooth.

I remember one family wedding when my cousin Peter’s wife, the lovely Barbara, would not take no for an answer when she insisted that I dance one polka with her.

I do not know how to polka, not one little step. The polka is not a dance you can fake. Not me, anyway.

A step quickly landed on a foot. Dance concluded, Barbara limping. Sorry. Again, for something I hope long forgotten.

Another great shirt saying for this guy.

Another great shirt saying for this guy.

Of course, as these things must, the Polish Festival features vendors hawking T-shirts to capture the eyes and hearts of Polish-Americans, and maybe even other folks.

I laughed out loud at this one:

“I don’t need Google. My Polish wife things she knows everything.” But it does not fit my life.

Karen laughed out loud at another, and bought it for me.

I put it on as soon as we got home.

Do you attend any ethnic festivals that represent your heritage? Do you have memories from your upbringing that are triggered from events like these you can tell us? Do you have any terrible dance floor stories you can share?

50 thoughts on “You have to try the Polish beer, the guy said

  1. Great. Shirt.

    The Polish Festival is always a must-attend. Kielbasa, pierogi, golumpkis … bring it on. And the beer definitely packs a punch. Culture, delicious food, and community for 60 years, and it’s only going to continue.


  2. The Great American Irish Festival near Utica at the end of July, and the Syracuse Irish Fest in September. My year is incomplete unless I hit them both.


  3. “The polka is not a dance you can fake.”

    My head explodes just contemplating…
    -Lance: The Texan who never even Mastered the Two-Step.
    Cheers Friend.
    Great post and great photos.


  4. Great job and thanks so much for sharing! Growing up in Scranton, PA, attending church picnics all sumer long was awesome. Oh my, the pierogies homemade at the Polish parish…potato…cheese…kraut…prune! YUM ๐Ÿ™‚ And, oh…the Italian festival over Labor Day weekend and my fave/heritage, the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Just last weekend, my husband and I went to the Irish Cultural Center here in Phoenix for a beer tasting fundraiser. Nice! Happy weekend, Mark.


  5. Mark … Don’t know where kerbey lives, but you’re right. Mrs. T’s pierogis can be found in Florida’s frozen food section at Publix.

    Thanks to your influence, Dave and I went to a Polish restaurant tonight, Salt and Sweet. We had the sampler plate of golampki (stuffed cabbage), pierogi, and kielbasa. We also had two types of Polish beer: Zywiec (Porter), a dark beer, and Okocim (aka O.K.Beer), a full pale beer. Dave preferred the dark. I am not a beer drinker, but I prefer the Okocim. Wonderful. (Thanks again.) ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Oh, they also played Polish music. I know most people think of polkas, but this was romantic and very nice.


    • The romantic, light style of Polish music is called an Oberek, if I recall correctly, Judy.

      Glad you and Dave enjoyed the Polish feast!

      Kerbey lives in the Austin, Texas, area. They should have Mrs. T’s, right?


  6. Nope, no ethnic festivals. A polish beer, a sampler platter, and live music sounds nice. My mother-in-law is Czech and likes polka music, but I can’t think anyone under 50 would enjoy it. Maybe even under 60…I don’t think anyone I know has ever had a pierogi. Wonder where we’d get one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Supermarket frozen foods, Mrs. T’s brand pierogi? There has to be some of my people smart enough to live down there in your part of the country, Kerbey, and Mrs. T will be serving them their pierogi.

      As for polka music, yes, it may not be keeping fresh, so to speak.


  7. Small worlds Mark. I sat on my neighbor’s porch last night. The Mrs of the neighbors was sad she can’t find anyone local who plays polkas.

    And your t-shirt collection is growing by leaps and bounds this summer!


    • In Ohio, no polka radio shows. I can’t believe that is the way it’s turned out. There is a Polka Hall of Fame just outside of Cleveland, I know for sure, Colleen.

      And, yes, my T-shirt collection … Yesterday I had to do a closet weed-out, and the Rescue Mission thrift shore collection shack got a two-bag donation from me! In with the new …


      • I am sure the Mission folks will have some happy folks with your ‘old’ t-shirts. Wonderful way to recycle.

        I will tell the neighbor MRS!!!! ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you Mark!


  8. If I lived there I would have attended! I love festivals like this, they bring the community together. Thanks for the short vid. I love dancing Mark, but I have never mastered ‘couple dancing’ – I have such a hard time following – a syndrome that seems to leak into other areas of my life. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Diana xo


  9. as you know, i love fests of all kinds too, bring them on! and the food looks wonderful and the music so upbeat and fun, it’s hard to imagine anyone being able to stay in a bad mood while listening to this. love the shirt and good on you for stepping out (polka stepping, no doubt) of your beer comfort zone. it never/rarely hurts to try something new i say. )

    Liked by 1 person

  10. We often go to the ethnic festivals. One of our favorites is the Greek festival. We eat there and we get something to go. Your food looks wonderful. Can’t wait to visit Sweet Eva’s when we visit Syracuse next month.


  11. Mark, thank you for this polished Polish-oriented post, with pierogis, pictures, polkas, partners, plus so much more.

    Could I be selfish, for a moment, and ask for your help with my own posts? I notice that you — and most other WordPressers — have a setting that only shows a portion of a post in the WordPress Reader and redirects people to the home site, to read more. My posts appear in their entirety in the reader. Any ideas about how I could be more like you, in this situation?

    See? I consider you a WordPress maven.


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