Last year, the line was so long to get into the Parish Hall at All Saints Church in Kansas City, Kansas, for the traditional Polish lunch served for the parish's annual Polski Day, that after waiting an hour, I finally gave up and drove over to have a hamburger at Fritz's Railroad Restaurant instead. This year, I've learned my lesson: If you don't want to wait a long time to get to the cabbage rolls and the pierogi, skip the parade and eat early.
The next best time to get into the food line, she says, is when the All Saints Church hosts a polka mass at 4 p.m. Many of the festival participants attend this service, and the dining room becomes distinctly less full. But could the kitchen run out of food?
"That's only happened once in the 28 years that we've hosted the festival," Kolenda Smith says. "Four years ago. And it was a fluke."
This year, Kolenda Smith's mother, Betty Saracyewski Kolenda (the resident expert at seasoning the meat-stuffed cabbage rolls), is being honored as the grand marshal of the Polski Day Parade, which begins at noon at 18th and Central in Kansas City, Kansas, travels east to Vermont Street and then south to the corner of Eighth and Vermont, where the historic Catholic church (originally built as the St. Joseph Parish but is now known as All Saints Church, combining a number of venerable ethnic congregations from the neighborhood, including the former Slavic St. Cyril's Parish, the predominantly Lithuanian St. Casimir's Parish, and the Irish St. Benedict's Parish) reflects the historic multicultural diversity of the neighborhood. Betty Saracyewski Kolenda was baptized at the old St. Joseph Church and has been a moving force behind the Polski Day festivities from the beginning.
"She doesn't cook so much anymore, but she always seasons the golambki," Cathy Kolenda Smith says. But she seasons it with what, I ask. "That is a secret," Kolenda Smith says.
What isn't a secret is the amount of bourbon used to flavor a new dessert being introduced to this year's array of pastries: bourbon balls. Customers will know how potent these delicacies are from the very first bite, Kolenda Smith says. "It's my Dad's recipe, and when they were making them, someone suggested we cut back a little bit on the bourbon. But I don't think they did. They've been fermenting for over two weeks. They'll be powerful by the time the festival comes around."
Another new dessert, much less boozy, will be buttery crescent cookies dusted with powdered sugar. Pastries can be eaten at the festival or boxed up to take home. The full Polish dinner is priced at $10. The festivities will run until 7 p.m.
"It's not a late night," Kolenda Smith says. "People come, eat, listen to music, go to Mass and go home."