SEBI’S BISTRO KEEPS strange hours. With traditional Polish dishes as the specialty of the house, dinner is served Tuesday through Thursday, then again on Saturday. But while Sebi’s is dark on Fridays, it isn’t exactly closed. In fact, chef/owner Kamila Kanczugowski and her entire staff, plus reinforcements, decamp from the turreted Tudor revival building just south of the University Bridge to restage the entire operation at Capitol Hill’s Dom Polski — the Polish Home Association, hub for the Seattle area’s Polish community since 1918.

Sebi’s Bistro

Seattle Times Critic’s Pick | Polish | $$ | Eastlake | 3242 Eastlake Ave. E., Seattle; 206-420-2199; sebisbistro.com | takeout available | noise level: moderate | access: no obstacles, women’s and men’s restroom

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For guests from the community at large, Friday nights at the Polish Home involve paying one American dollar per person at the door for a temporary membership to a cashier so friendly, you already feel part of something near-miraculous. The dinners have the outstanding atmosphere of a social hall that’s ready to party, with long tables arrayed in a high-ceilinged room with glossy floors, historical photos on the walls, a stage at one end with live music if you’re lucky, and a bar aglow at the other because you actually are lucky. Pay separately there for a cold Polish lager — for years, the same genial fellow has been tending to the beverages, doing the thing he seems utterly meant to do, including advise you on your beer choice and administer a shot of Żubrówka bison-grass vodka.

Polish Home Association

1714 18th Ave., Seattle; 206-322-3020; polishhome.org; open to the public for Friday dinners only, $1 admission

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If there’s no band, the soundtrack is happy clinking and clatter, Polish and English and laughter. It’s table service (also notably friendly, and all wearing Sebi’s T-shirts) for a full menu of Kanczugowski’s exemplary homestyle Polish dishes. Take, for a very rewarding example, the Polish platter: several of her perfectly chewy pierogies (choice of pork, potato/cheese or sauerkraut/mushroom), one of her cabbage rolls (“a very easy recipe,” she claims, including beef, sometimes pork, rice, caramelized onions and bacon), smoked weselna kielbasa that she rightfully insists on sourcing from Belmont Sausage in Chicago, sweet-and-sour housemade sauerkraut, and a big blob of country-style mustard. A sip of vodka braces the palate; make the next bite a kielbasa one, and the sausage’s exceptionally balanced spices and ideal texture suddenly become crystal clear. 

Chef Kanczugowski fled Poland in the 1980s, when it was under the communist rule of the Soviet Union. Landing in Italy, she cooked there for a few years and met her husband, Mirek; arriving in the U.S. with one young son and another on the way, she judged the weather in San Diego too hot. Hence to the Pacific Northwest, to achieve a dream of a culinary degree from Edmonds College and find the waiting embrace of the Polish Home.

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And there, in another kind of embrace, the membership will hold a benefit on Friday, April 22, for humanitarian relief efforts in Ukraine via the Ukrainian Association of Washington, featuring live Ukrainian music, drinks and a special dinner by Kanczugowski. Reached by phone recently, Kanczugowski notes how food crosses arbitrary geopolitical borders, confounding notions of nationality, unifying instead of dividing. “I come from Sanok [in southeast Poland], and it’s very close to Ukrainian border,” she says. “You know what? They have the same menu,” she says of Poland and Ukraine. “The same dishes, but they are named differently — like cabbage rolls are holubtsi. The same!” She laughs. “Pierogi — it’s like vareniki, the same item.” The fundraiser dinner, she notes, is “easy for me, because I don’t have to come up with new recipe[s] … Ukraine cuisine is like a sister to Polish cuisine.” Two of her Sebi’s staff are Ukrainian. 

Bid for Ukraine

Friday, April 22, at the Polish Home Association, $150 per person; eventbrite.com/e/bid-for-ukraine-tickets-310941904607.

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Of the war that Russia is waging horrifically on Ukraine, she says, “My heart is broken … It is devastating. And it is a tragedy.” She is donating all of the food for the April 22 Polish Home benefit.

SEBI’S ON EASTLAKE is its own kind of Polish home. Inside, the low-ceilinged space has the opposite of any design-firm-extruded style, with carnations on the tables, draperied windows, and signs reading the likes of “ALCOHOL — BECAUSE NO GREAT STORY EVER STARTED WITH SOMEONE EATING SALAD.” Above the bar hangs a scarf for O’Dea High School; on another wall, a framed University of Washington football jersey. It feels warm and personal and welcoming, and, yes, a little weird, in a way unfortunately found in fewer and fewer places these days.

“I like finding stuff — I kind of like everything that makes you laugh!” says Kanczugowski, by way of explaining the signs. The restaurant’s name comes from her older son Sebastian’s nickname; younger son Daniel played Husky football, she’s proud to say; and they both went to O’Dea. They’ve both worked off and on at Sebi’s, which she has run for going on a decade with the help of her husband, along with her bustling, affable staff.

Polish and English both get spoken here, too, with a background of not-too-loud pop music. The scene at the back-corner bar extends to someone happily eating solo, or two guys talking about family with the bartender who then proffers her phone. “You more have your grandmother’s eyes,” one says, looking at a photo. Żywiec beer is on tap, served in a frosty barrel-shaped glass mug, snappy with bubbles, mild but toasty-tasting. Żubrówka vodka gets bartender-recommended as, yes, good. “Sometimes too good!” with a laugh.

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Sebi’s menu extends to panini, pizza and more, but pretty much every table is laden with big plates of Polish food. Kanczugowski calls her dishes simple ones, but coming from her expert hands, it would be fair to call them transcendent, if transcendent sounded a lot more filling. Her potato dumplings, or pyzy, are her husband’s favorite, and if you’re not careful they could end up taking up the lion’s share of your stomach space (restraint!). These puffy, pillowy orbs, glistening with clarified butter and confettied with bacon, possess a consistency that’s somehow both cloudlike and masterfully chewy, the dough exactly salty enough, the ground pork inside gently, ideally savory. It’s “basic stuff,” Kanczugowski demurs — the dough is made with mashed potatoes and potato flour, the pork roasted in her pizza oven, then prepared with onion, “some spices, a little bit of garlic.”

Pyzy may not inspire generosity, but they should be shared, along with the Sebi’s cutlet, or kotlet mielony. Described on the menu as “meatball style,” these come three fat patties to an order, the pork rough-ground but clinging together, soft and buttery and fresh-tasting. “Does it need a sprinkling of salt?” you might briefly wonder, then, compelled to keep eating, find it truly does not. The creamy yet light sauce is made with wild mushrooms, while the cut for the cutlets is the fattier parts of pork loin that Kanczugowski trims in the making of schnitzel. Then she grinds it herself, and seasons it with just salt, pepper and parsley, she says — simple.

Blood sausage has become a surprise hit with her Polish customers, Kanczugowski says — thought of as food for the poor, it would generally get overlooked, yet hers has caught on. Mysterious, this is not — it’s pork liver and beef blood sausage made with buckwheat, also brought in from Chicago’s Belmont for “better quality,” which she cuts up for added texture and cooks in her pizza oven. It comes out falling-apart tender with crispy edges, tasting deliciously rich and compellingly good for you, redolent of iron. “It became like one of the main dishes,” she marvels. “Can you believe it?” Yes. “And before, nobody even cared for blood sausage!”

The blood sausage and the schnitzel come from the German section of the menu, but here again, Kanczugowski acknowledges, distinctions of borders don’t much apply. If you like schnitzel, hers is a paragon of the form, even better topped with her mushroom sauce. If you’re at Sebi’s on a Saturday, you’re obliged to order the special, a mushroomy beef stew served over potato pancakes that are both crispy and gummy in the best way. There’s much more to explore, with typical accouterments like creamy-dressed cucumber salad and beets in different configurations that should be enjoyed, not pushed aside. If there is pickle soup, get it.

The joy that Kanczugowski takes in feeding family and friends, anyone and everyone, is everywhere evident on the plate, be it at Sebi’s or on a happy Friday night at the Polish Home. 

“I cook what I like …” Kanczugowski simply says. “What I believe in, I go for!” She laughs.

What the dollar signs signify

Average price of a dinner entree:

$$$$ — $35 and over

$$$ — $25-$34

$$ — $15-$24

$ — Under $15

Updated: March 2022