Polish weddings require stamina. There you are flapping your way through the Chicken Dance when hunger strikes. Fortunately, you don’t have to rely on chocolate fountains and dried-out chicken marsala to make it through the night. Your power comes from ice-cold vodka and the delights of the meat hut.
That’s right. A hut housing a myriad of meats. It comes from the old-world wedding tradition of the stół wiejski, or “country table,” a spread of sausages, patés, meats, pickles, cheeses, bread, and more. It’s a particular Highlander variant that arrived in Chicago about a dozen years ago* according to Jan Zych, owner of Bridgeview’s Dunajec Bakery & Deli, who trucks his hut all over the city, the suburbs, and to Wisconsin and Indiana. Zych says most of his business happens on the north side, because most of the banquet halls that cater to the south-side Highlander Polish population already come equipped with these structures, which are modeled on the Zakopane-style chatka góralska, or “Highlander hut,” which in turn are modeled on Swiss chalets.** In fact, the term chatka góralska is precisely what Zych calls his meat hut. He built it out of pinewood about ten years ago, and it required the horsepower of a Titanic-size Chevy S-10 and the brawn of three strong brutes to haul up the steps of the Logan Square Auditorium at a recent wedding.
Its rafters were hung with whole slabs of bacon and five kinds of Polish sausage; its surface and two additional tables were laid out with cold cuts, chicken and ham mini aspic muffins, headcheese, paté, blood sausage, sandwiches, hearty whole-grain breads, pickles, Canadian bacon, pancakes, potato salad, kebabs, and an enormous, heart-stopping bowl filled half with snow-white butter and half with smalec ze szkwarkami, or lard larded with crispy bacon bits.*** Knives were provided for the guests to slice off chunks of sausage and bacon, and miraculously nobody lost a finger. At the end of the night, everybody was invited to take the leftovers home. I’ve been treating myself to lard facials ever since.
Zych charges around $1,000 per 150 people for his services, more for traveling longer distances. Cost be damned. Why this magnificent tradition hasn’t hit the mainstream is beyond me, but in my view it’s right up there with the cheese cake as a fail-safe party attraction guaranteed to make any sort of bacchanal go down in the history books.
Dunajec Bakery & Deli, 8339 Harlem Ave, Bridgeview, 708-598-9451
* If meat huts have been around longer than that I’d like to hear about it.
** h/t Dan Pogorzelski
*** With a special guest appearance by a Newsom’s Country Ham.
Correction: This post has been amended to reflect the correct surname of the meat hut’s owner. It is Jan Zych, not Wynch.