In keeping with the idea of alternating between church fish fries and restaurant fish fries, this week we went to Sokolowski’s University Inn. Sokolowski’s is an institution here in Cleveland. As their website touts, “Located in the heart of Tremont, Sokolowski’s University Inn has been serving delicious Polish and Eastern European cuisine since 1923. Overlooking the Cuyahoga River and Cleveland skyline, this James Beard Foundation “American Classics” Award-winning restaurant is a must-visit for locals and visitors alike. As Cleveland’s oldest owned and family operated restaurant, loyal customers line up time and time again to eat their favorite homemade dishes.”
And line up they do. We got there at 5:30 and the line extended all the way to the back of the building. Luckily I figured it would be bad and we entered using the door where the line started (the door is in the center of the above photo – it kind of looks like a chimney from here). My friend and I chatted with each other and with the folks around us. One older lady (she must have been 80 years old) was a total hoot, talking about marching in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and trying to convince me to give Dyngus Day a visit. Her husband, who she had been with for 60 years, is a die-hard Indians fan and was flying to Arizona the next day to watch them train.
We finally found ourselves under the Smacznego sign at 6:15. We grabbed silverware, napkins and a tray and started sliding down the line. The desserts were tempting, but I knew I wouldn’t have room. I grabbed a Sprecher’s Orange Dream soda from the bin and continued on my way to the steam trays. My friend and I decided to get a Lake Erie perch dinner and a grilled rainbow trout and were going to share them. Once we got to the steam trays and saw the gorgeous beer battered cod we quickly changed our mind. We quickly had to decide which one not to order. I ordered the cod, and when they brought out fresh fried perch the decision was made really quickly. I grabbed a dinner roll and my plate of food (beer battered cod with pierogi and corn), loaded up on butter and sour cream, and paid my bill at the cash register. We told the guy carrying our trays how many people would be in our party, and he accompanied us to a table. My friend headed to the bar for a beer, while I headed to the salad bar.
After eating at Sokolowski’s so often I know my limits. I enjoyed my dinner roll, a salad loaded with fresh vegetables, cucumber salad, macaroni salad and cole slaw, and half of my meal. I packed up the other half to enjoy later. I had one piece of perch and one piece of cod. Both were moist and flaky. Absolutely fried to perfection. I can say without a doubt they were the best pieces of fish I’ve had all season. The pierogi were soft and pillowy potato goodness swimming in butter and onions. They were also the reason we were there. One of my friends had never had pierogi until Lent last year at Prosperity Social Club, and he was not that impressed with pierogi. I told him he had to try Sokolowski’s since they were probably the best in the city. He had one from his wife’s plates and enjoyed it more than the one last year. He had ordered the salmon as well as sweet potato mash, which he declared was “too sweet,” and roasted potatoes. He appeared to enjoy the salmon and roasted potatoes a lot, but left the sweet potato. His wife had the perch and pierogi. It was their first time at Sokolowski’s, and they were heading out to Pittsburgh for the weekend so they didn’t linger. Her verdict was “The pierogies were worth the trip!”
My friend who ordered the perch with me also enjoyed both the perch and cod. She loaded both up with lots of lemon juice. She peppered up the mashed potatoes and also thoroughly enjoyed the pierogi. We both knew what to expect and enjoyed our meals.
Two more of my fellow diners arrived late and were seated with us after I explained by text where we were sitting. They had never been there before either and didn’t know what to expect. They were surprised to see such a long line, but they took it in stride. In addition to giving her a few dining recommendations, one of guys in line with them recommended she get the Salisbury steak, so she did. It did look pretty amazing, and even though she had made meatloaf the day before she enjoyed it very much. She got the full-on carb experience – Salisbury steak, pierogi, cabbage and noodles and rice pudding. Right on! Apparently the rice pudding was a mix of rice and bread? Her friend ordered the lamb chops, which the food runner called “little steaks” along with the pierogi. She said they were good. We got a chuckle out of the mint jelly, which I had thought was green Jell-o. They both got boxes as well – and my one friend got a meal to go for her son – complete with a to go box for the salad bar for him (which you can see in the photo to the right).
Everyone left fat and happy, having enjoyed their meals. I don’t know if I would go for dinner again on a Friday during Lent (because they serve their fish specials every Friday throughout the year), but the line moved slow enough that there were always a few empty tables available. When we left around 7:30 the line had died down considerably (extending up the stairs but not through the dining room) and there were more available tables. They had run out of scrod by 6:30 though, so it pays to get there earlier rather than later.
Sokolowski’s University Inn
1201 University Rd
Cleveland, OH 44113