Located in the heart of Kraków’s Old Town is Milkbar Tomasza, a modern interpretation of a Soviet-style milk bar or self-serve cafeteria serving traditional Polish dishes at affordable prices.
A milk bar or bar mleczny is a Polish form of a cafeteria ubiquitous across all of Poland. After World War I, these self-service milk bars started to pop up all across the country.
The main purpose of these milk bars was to serve cheap meals to poor citizens, especially after World War 2 and throughout the Cold War (1947 to 1989). Many of these restaurants served dairy products along with traditional Polish dishes and pierogi (filled dumplings). With the collapse of the communist bloc, most milk bars closed after going bankrupt.
Around 2010, Poland saw a resurgence of milk bars. These small and inexpensive restaurants were popular with those with a nostalgia for the past and the communist period.
When you think of a Soviet-style milk bar, you probably think of a no frills restaurant with a plain and dreary interior. Milkbar Tomasza was not your typical milk bar. The interior was modern, chic, and inviting with black and white checkered floors, bright green accents, a white ceiling, and brick walls. This was something I was not expecting for a milk bar.
Though small, the dining room was bright thanks to the ample lighting and large front windows which allowed natural light in during the day. The room was quiet except for the sounds of the kitchen along with music playing lightly in the background
As mentioned before, the open dining room was small. With limited space, tables were packed tightly together around the room wherever there was space. At the center of the room was a large communal table,s perfect for small groups and solo diners. When it gets busy during lunch and dinner, you might have to wait for a table to open up.
Milkbar Tomasza Menu
Being a self-service restaurant, I had to grab a menu from the front counter before finding an open seat. Once I decided what to order, I returned to the counter to place my order. After paying, I was told my food would be delivered to my table when ready. As food was prepared fresh to order, the wait could take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes.
The menu at Milkbar Tomasza was much larger than I was expecting with a wide variety of dishes. While there were traditional Polish dishes on the menu, such as dumplings (pierogi), I was surprised to see a large selection of all day breakfast dishes, paninis, and main courses. The menu also featured a Daily Special (Zestaw Dnia) which included a main course and soup of the day. This special, priced at 20 zł (or about $4.94), was listed on the chalkboards behind the counter.
Even more surprising was how affordable the menu was. Dishes started at 6 zł (or about $1.47) with the most expensive item being 25 zł (or about $6.14). Most dishes were less than 20 zł (or about $4.91), which was a fantastic value.
Other than food options, the menu featured a good variety of coffees, teas, and soft drinks ranging from 4 zł (or about $0.98) to 11 zł (or about $2.70).
When you think of traditional Polish dishes, the last thing that comes to mind would probably be an Irish Breakfast (25 zł or about $6.14). Since I was in the mood for breakfast, and I was hungry, I decided to give it a try. This hearty dish was served with two fried sausages, bacon, two eggs, tomato, potato wedges, baked beans, toast, and butter.
When the plate was placed in front of me, the first thing that caught my attention was how large the plate was. I was glad I was hungry. Also, I was surprised how colorful and beautifully plated the breakfast was.
There were two varieties of meat found in this dish, bacon and fried sausages. The bacon was not your typical slice of bacon. It was more like ham both in appearance and taste. The salty and smoky bacon was sliced thin and grilled to perfection until it was tender yet meaty at the same time.
The fried sausages were also not what I was expecting. Being fried, I was expecting the casings of the sausages to be crispy and springy but this was not the case. The sausage, both the casings and meat inside, were tender and soft without any texture. The meat almost melted in my mouth. While I had no issue with this, I could see how others might not enjoy this. As for the taste, just as with the bacon, the fried sausages were smoky, salty, and delicious.
While simple, I enjoyed how tender and moist the beans were. They were cooked to perfection with a meaty texture but not to the point of falling apart. The beans were a little sweet and a little smoky like traditional baked beans.
Hidden under the baked beans, and the slice of tomato, were two fried eggs. Both eggs, which were crispy on the bottom, were cooked slightly differently. One of the eggs was cooked just to the point of still being runny which I appreciated. I’m a big fan of runny yolks which makes for the perfect dipping sauce. The other egg was cooked over hard with no runny yolk. While I would have preferred a runnier yolk, the eggs tasted fresh and delicious, so no complaints with me.
Finishing off this breakfast were two slices of white bread and large potato wedges. Sure the thin slices of toasted bread were simple, but I have to admit, the rich, soft butter made each slice taste great. As for the potato wedges, they weren’t crispy nor soggy, but just right. They did taste freshly cut so that was a plus for me.
While the Irish Breakfast was the most expensive item on the menu at Milkbar Tomasza, I would recommend it for those who are hungry and want something different than Polish food. I enjoyed how the flavors, textures, and colors of each component complimented each other.
Meatballs with Mushroom Sauce, Potatoes, and Side Salads
Next up was the Meatballs with Mushroom Sauce, Potatoes, and Side Salads with a side of Minestrone Soup (20 zł or about $4.91). This dish was part of the Daily Special (Zestaw Dnia) menu. If you are wondering, the other main option I had was Grilled Chicken with Pesto and Tomato, Potatoes, and Side Salads. The other soup option was Cream of Green Peas with Mint.
Just as with the Irish Breakfast, this dish was colorful and plated well. On the left, you had a trio of julienned Side Salads. The crisp white cabbage had a light, refreshing taste with a hint of acid, probably from vinegar. The carrots were slightly sweet and earthy with the perfect crunchy, tender bite. By far, my favorite salad had to be the beets. The bright deep purple color was beautiful. The tender beets were sour at first, then sweet, then salty from being lightly pickled. They were delicious and made me realize that I actually enjoyed eating beets. Who would have thought.
In the center of the plate were medium sized meatballs smothered in a mushroom cream sauce. The mushroom sauce was thick, reminding me of beef stroganoff. Mixed into the hearty, delicious sauce were mushrooms, diced peppers, celery, carrots, and red bell peppers. These additions added a nice crunchy texture, complimenting the otherwise soft meatballs. As for the meatballs, on their own they weren’t very moist but not dry either. This is where the mushroom sauce shined. The sauce not only made the meatballs taste better but added moisture to each bite.
The final competent of the dish were simple sliced potatoes topped with sliced scallions. Each potato was tender and filling, just as expected. A quick dip in the mushroom sauce elevated the taste of the otherwise basic potatoes.
Since I ordered the daily special, I was given the option of two soups. I settled on the Minestrone Soup with Noodles.
Packed inside this homemade, hearty soup were thin, tender noodles and an assortment of vegetables. They definitely did not skimp on vegetables which included tomatoes, onions, carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, cauliflower, squash, and basil. Each and every vegetable was tender, almost falling apart. With so many vegetables and noodles packed inside the bowl, each bite felt meaty with a great texture in each spoonful.
The light, fragrant broth was just as impressive. It tasted as it had been simmering for hours while soaking up all the flavors of the vegetables and herbs. I could taste the depth of flavors, especially the tomatoes and aromatic basil, in each bite.
While simple, this flavorful minestrone soup had it all. It was a meal in itself.
For a self-service restaurant, I was expecting the service to be non-existent or at least lacking. While service at most milk bars is limited, I found the staff at Milkbar Tomasza to be friendly and the service efficient. Food arrived much quicker than anticipated and tables were cleaned promptly after one guest left to ensure the wait was never too long.
If you are looking for a traditional, self-service, Soviet-style Polish milk bar from past times, then Milkbar Tomasza might not be what you are looking for. What you will find at Milkbar Tomasza is an assortment of homemade Polish dishes, and international dishes, that not only taste good but are affordable and delicious. I can’t wait to return to try some of the other items on the menu.
- Assortment of Polish and international dishes
- Filling yet affordable
- Fresh, colorful plates
- All day breakfast
- Limited seating
- Can get busy on weekends