Rye, wheat and sourdough, braided, twisted and baked into crumb covered, poppy crusted and crunchy loaves of bread. Sugar dusted and glazed, marbled and layered, sweet and savory pastries filled with rosehip and plum jams, whipped cream, creamy chocolate or farmer’s cheese. Shelves of homemade cookies topped with glistening sugar and rainbow colored crystals; cream cheese pastries hand rolled in poppy seeds and chocolate. Shelves of cake, with glorious mounds of whipped cream, layered and swirled cheese, chunky morsels of apple and fruit.
Can you tell I am excited? No photograph can adequately capture my impression of Banas, a Polish bakeshop just seven miles east of Montclair in New Jersey’s Polish enclave of Wallington. Located in a residential neighborhood at 84 Wallington Avenue, Banas Bakery is easy to get to nestled inside one of the elbows of the Passaic River, a bit north of Route 3 East off Route 21.
This Flavor Excursion doesn’t end at Banas Bakery but begins again a few blocks away at Adam’s Food Market, which is located at 168 Maple Avenue. My friend Debbie, always the enthusiastic co-adventurer, accompanied me on this excursion. We left Banas Bakery with bags and boxes of baked goods, off to search for authentic kielbasa and pierogi. After asking a few local Polish residents where to go, we found ourselves in a tiny, unassuming market which we would have walked right out of if we hadn’t been told it was the place to go. You see, we quickly learned that it’s not the shelves stacked with condiments or the freezer full of frozen Polish staples (in a market that doesn’t look much different than a bodega), but it’s what’s in the back, through a door just to the left of the smoked sausages that hang on an antique scale, where you’ll really find the really good stuff.
What did we find? How about homemade sauerkraut that sells for $1.75 a pound, freshly made potato and cheese pierogi at $5.00 a dozen, kishka stuffed with potato and onions, endless cuts of premium meat and jumbo full and half sour pickles for 75 cents each. While we were standing in line, a freshly butchered leg of lamb rolled right past us and into the back.
We did stand out a bit. We were definitely tourists amidst the Polish speaking regulars who were lined up waiting for special cuts of meat or u shaped kielbasa to be brought out front. We laughed as we kept trying to figure out what other morsels were hidden in the back.
The young Polish girl helping us chuckled when we asked her what else there was. She played a game with us, making us ask her for various things.
Debbie and I left Wallington inspired to share the heaps of Polish finds with our families, visit the markets again soon and continue to look for more gems nestled in exotic neighborhoods just a few miles from home— all a world away yet extremely accessible.