A Polish Market With a Roll Call of Kielbasa

By January 13, 2013 30 comments Permalink

Sebastian Lenda carried a rack of smoked kielbasas in the kitchen of Jubilat Provisions in Brooklyn. Credit Brian Harkin for The New York Times

 

JUBILAT PROVISIONS is just a few blocks south of Park Slope, in an area that is gentrifying rapidly, but the Polish market’s low-slung stretch of Fifth Avenue cornered by expressways still feels like the Brooklyn noir of Pete Hamill and Tim McLoughlin, a place where, not too long ago, one could stumble upon a body.

But inside Jubilat’s modest storefront, one encounters, instead, a curtain of smoked meat and sausage, tinged rose by paprika and oven heat, hanging over a counter display that runs the length of the store. Customers navigate a narrow space mined with buckets of fresh sauerkraut and pickles, bordered by a wall of imported Polish groceries and a cooler full of prepared delicacies. The scent of burning cherry wood and spice drifts from the smoker in back as silent men in clean aprons transfer mounds of just-cooked meat from the kitchen to wood butcher blocks behind the counter already crowded with other cuts.

Paul Turlick, 47, a filmmaker from Carroll Gardens, beams when recalling his discovery of Jubilat Provisions. “I’m half-Italian and half-Slovak, and finding quality Italian food in Brooklyn has never been a problem,” he said, “but the really good stuff from Eastern Europe isn’t as ubiquitous. So, yeah, I was pretty excited to come across this place a few years back. The quality is ridiculous.”

In the late 1980s, Krzysztof Kuna, 50, and his brother-in-law Stanley Myjak, 54, arrived in the area then known as South Brooklyn from the Polish city of Mielec. The area was an Eastern European enclave, but the two men, both butchers by trade, couldn’t find the quality smoked meats they enjoyed back home. So Mr. Myjak began smoking meat in the basement of his apartment building. When the Fire Department put an end to that endeavor, the men opened Jubilat Provisions in November 1990.

Krzysztof Kuna, left, one of the co-owners. Credit Brian Harkin for The New York Times

 

On a recent afternoon, in conference at the end of the counter display, the towering and soft-spoken Mr. Kuna listed the shop’s primary offerings for a visitor: slab bacon, fried bacon, single smoked loin, double smoked loin, two loins wrapped in bacon, smoked spare ribs, smoked shoulder, Black Forest ham.

During the roll call of kielbasa (Wiejska, Mysliwska, Krajana, Swojska, Lesna), Mr. Myjak, burly and gregarious, burst through the swinging kitchen doors with raw pork scraps hanging off thick fingers and a five-inch paring knife slicing the air as he spoke.

He began with an imperative — “Listen” — and started to explain the shop’s reputation: “No water. No chemicals. Polish seasonings and wood smoke only. When finished, the meat weighs less than when started, not more, like the other guys.” He concluded with a final flick of his blade before returning to the back.

Two other Polish butchers, Kazimierz Cwalina, 60, and Stanislaw Jablonski, 59, work full time with the two owners, six days a week, 12 hours a day. The owners’ wives, Krystyna Kuna, 46, and Halina Myjak, 53, who are sisters, have worked in the store off and on over the years, as have the seven children of the two couples, all now grown and mostly moved away.

Much of the clientele Jubilat has served over 22 years has moved away by now, too, though longtime customers come back often from New Jersey or Staten Island. These days, the neighborhood is called South Slope and is a stew of Eastern European holdouts and their descendants, stroller-pushing interlopers and gentrifiers priced out of neighborhoods to the north. And as newcomers arrive, they too find their way into Jubilat Provisions, where they are treated to the flavors and ambience of Eastern Europe and the Brooklyn of old.

Published on The New York Times: A Polish Market With a Roll Call of Kielbasa

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