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The shop is in an honest hard working class neighborhood of small streets lined with row houses, affordable houses and little legal parking.
As you turn the corner onto Tilton St. you get your first whiff of burning wood, burning wood and meat. Less than 100'/30.48m from the corner is the unassuming factory, smokehouse and retail shop of Czerw's from which the appetizing aroma emanates.
There were no lines of people waiting to make a purchase at Czerw's when I visited the last Friday before Thanksgiving. Well, Thanksgiving is not a traditional Polish food holiday. Christmas, Easter those are traditional Polish food holidays. On the weeks leading up to those holidays lines of people flow out the door and down Tilton St. On some days the line turns the corner onto E. Ontario St. as people patiently wait for kielbasa, kabanosa, kiszka, krakowska, perogi, chrischicki and babka.
Upon entering the shop the pungent odor of smoke and meat thickens. Where the sunlight steams through the windows the air appears just slightly blue from the smoke. The meat case captures the majority of my attention. Within are all kinds of sausages draped, coiled and arranged in pans inside the unevenly lit case. There are descriptive labels taped to the glass for each stuffed meat. "Keep the Vampires Away - Smoked Extra Garlic Kielbasa", "Our Hot Kabanos aka Hot Sticks", "'Our Hotter Than Hell' - Hot Sausage Links -'For Those That Like It Hot' ". All a great help to the uninitiated.
In a separate vertical refrigerated case are pirogies. Some pirogies are filled with traditional fillings of potato, potato and cheese, sauerkraut and meat with onions and mushrooms. The Kielbasy Boys, which the Czerw boys call themselves have creatively fused their line of Polish foods with other cuisines. Existing in Philadelphia, just 6 miles/9.6K from Pat's King of Steaks, the Boys fill pirogies with cheese steak. Other creative fillings are bacon and cheddar, pepperoni and cheddar, Cajun chicken and Buffalo chicken. I've tasted them all and recommend each and every flavor.
The Boys recommend warming their perigees in a deep puddle of butter in a frying pan. Diced onions may be added to the butter to increase the savoy flavor. If you are like me and don't like them crispy, heat them over low heat in a covered pan until they are just warm.
I asked permission to photograph the meat case for this blog. Upon hearing that, I was offered the opportunity into the work area to see a new fire that was recently started. Being a polite person, I couldn't refuse.
The room was dark for photography without a flash but I was able to capture the fire in a brick stall where the meat was to be smoked. Stacks of apple and cherry wood were close at hand in wheeled carts. Immersed in smoke near the wood fire with hanging meat nearby, I could hardly appear polite for very long. I desired meat. I needed smoked meat.
Back in the shop I purchased four dozen perigees - cheese steak, Buffalo chicken and cheese and potato. I also purchased three pounds smoked kielbasa and one pound smoked Cajun kielbasa wrapped in individual pound packages. Two of the four packages will be presents for friends out in the Valley Forge area. Friends who don't get into Philadelphia much. Friends in need of a kielbasa fix.
There were other items for sale in the shop including pickled green tomatoes and Zayda's prepared horseradish. I bought some Zayda's but my desire to eat some kielbasa drove me to leave the shop. Once in my car I snapped off a chunk of the kielbasa. The heady odor of smoky meat and garlic filled my nostrils and taxed the Fabreze deodorizer in my car. My desire was fulfilled. My need vanquished by smoke, meat and garlic.
Although the food that Czerw's produces is great, a visit to the shop is a must experience, I promise, you will never forget.
©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved