Polish fusion: An idea whose time has come

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Last night in the bar-restaurant at the Bedlam Theatre, I couldn’t help feeling like I was in a play – to judge by the funky décor, maybe Lanford Wilson’s Hotl Baltimore, or something by Beckett. Every few minutes, somebody would trudge through the bar – a woman carrying an enormous potted plant, a man pacing with a look of intense concentration. The bartender had a shiny metal ring in his nose. The bar and theater occupy the former Baja Riverside / Knickerbockers building, a few steps from the West Bank light rail stop.

The menu seemed like a perfect set up for a comedy: it’s billed as Polish fusion. Head cook Jim Bueche, whose mother is Polish, decided to put an eastern European spin on the current trend towards local and sustainable fare: he tries to buy everything from local producers and distributors, and to offer a seasonal menu, which in mid-winter means lots of cabbage, beets and beans.

The limited menu offers pirogi, a kielbasa plate, a dish of beans and barley, or chicken stew and barley, and a list of small thin crust pizzas ($7.50) that includes a Polish pizza topped with sauerkraut, beets and mushroom, a Polka pizza with sweet-potato sauce, chipotle chicken, spinach and red onion; and a John Paul II pizza, which commemorates the Polish pontiff with a pizza topped with olives, sun-dried tomatoes, red onion and feta.

I ordered the kielbasa plate, which came with a small piece of juicy Polish sausage, three delicious pan-fried pirogi, (obviously homemade), stuffed with cabbage and mushrooms, pickled beets, horseradish, and a generous dollop of sour cream, all for $9.50. The salad of goat cheese, pickled beets and pecans with balsamic dressing wasn’t quite as refined as it might have been at, say, Lucia’s, but for the price ($4.50), it wasn’t bad. Ditto the John Paul II pizza.
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There’s a nice selection of cheapy wines by the glass, mostly priced at $4-$5. We arrived a bit, too late for the 4 to 7 happy hour, but the bar tender offered us the wine special anyhow: any bottle of wine for half price. This knocked the price of a bottle of La Vielle Ferme Syrah down to $10 or so, and the bill for dinner for two came to a whopping $39.83, including tax, tip, and a bottle of wine.

It turned out there was a play going on, or rather a rehearsal, behind the red curtain that separates the bar from the theater: the 20% Theater Company’s production of After Ashley, by Gina Gionfriddo, which opens Friday. Tickets are $15, or $12 for seniors, students and Fringe Festival button owners, and you get a $2 rebate if you arrive on foot, by bike, or by public transportation.

I still haven’t made it to a play at Bedlam, but I like their style. Bedlam’s website says their mission is to “produce radical works of theater with a focus on collaboration and a unique blend of professional and community art…” and describes their “distinctive aesthetic as “combining an overtly playful performance style with low-tech spectacle, bold visuals, experimental absurdism, both cuttingly-direct and nonsensically-obtuse satyric barbarism, socio-political imagination, and usually some live music.”

That sounds like it’s worth going back for. Especially if you arrive in time for happy hour.

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