215 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, 612-379-3018
Review published January 2005
FIRST, A LESSON IN PRONUNCIATION, lest shy midwesterners avoid passing on this recommendation because they don’t know how to say the name. It’s not KRAM-a-chucks or KA-mark-zooks. And it’s most certainly not KARK-a-mah-junk. According to proprietor Orest Kramarczuk himself, it’s Krah-MAR-chucks (though he notes that the Ukrainian pronunciation finishes with more of a chook).
The story of Kramarczuk’s began 50 years ago last November when Orest’s parents, Wasyl and Anna, opened their northeast Minneapolis butcher shop (then called Central Provisions). Over the years, the store expanded to showcase Wasyl’s sausage-making skills and Anna’s baking expertise (she made pastries for a baroness in the old country). Today, Kramarczuk’s attracts a mixed crowd: elderly people of Eastern European descent, neighborhood yuppies, downtown businesspeople, and children who dance to an accordion duo. They carry their trays past the glittering Statue of Liberty mural and use paper napkins to wipe errant shreds of sauerkraut shrapnel from tabletops before sitting down. The deli counter serves a constant stream of customers requesting kolachi, headcheese, or the 60-some types of sausages.
These famous Kramarczuk’s sausages are made the old-fashioned way, using carefully selected spices and cuts of meat. The grind is fine, the casings almost unnoticeable, and each flavor is distinctive: the andouille has a slow cayenne burn (fix ’em for breakfast with scrambled eggs), and the Polish is slightly reminiscent of SPAM (and that’s a good thing). The traditional bratwurst seems meek by comparison, but they do make a tasty curried variety. Kramarczuk’s sausages are free of preservatives, artificial flavoring, and those pesky little gristle pellets found in many commercial sausages.
The cafeteria-style lunch counter features a spread of ethnic dishes served up by employees whose question “for here or to go?” often betrays a slight Slavic accent. (Kramarczuk himself speaks Ukrainian, Russian, German, Polish, and English.) Indecisive diners tend toward the combination plate: three varenyky (pierogi-like stuffed dumplings), a holubet (cabbage roll), and a sausage, plus sauerkraut, a pickle, and a side of sour cream—a massive plate of browns, beiges, and grays. The flavors, for the most part, are mild, a boon for those who pinch their noses when they hear the word sauerkraut. Kramarczuk’s kraut is neither stinky nor sour, and its finely shredded cabbage is speckled with spicy ground meat. These are middle Europe’s comfort foods, recipes that begin with a stout grandmother, a large pot, and a steamy kitchen. The goulash is a thick jumble of toothsome hunks of beef, carrots, and potatoes in golden-blond gravy. And the dumplings have a pleasantly chewy, egg dough, filled with meat or cheese. The cheese are preferable, as the meat filling has a texture like tuna fish.
Kramarczuk’s recipes have remained largely the same as the neighborhood has changed around it. A black-and-white photograph of Wasyl Kramarczuk, dressed in white coat and paper butcher cap, hangs above one of the booths. He surveys the scene with a steely gaze, looking stern, proud, even a bit hungry.