Since 1973, hungry folks clamoring for cabbage rolls, kielbasa and pierogi have been following the glittering lights to Sawa’s Old Warsaw, 9200 W. Cermak Road in Broadview. Carryout saved the buffet-based business during the pandemic and now the restaurant is battling back to pre-pandemic business levels.
Founder and World War II veteran Walter Sawa emigrated to the United States in 1948 after escaping a prisoner of war camp. Prior to serving in both the Polish and British armies he worked as a pork butcher at Polish delicatessen and brought those skills to Broadview when he open his third restaurant in as many years.
Walter’s son, Stuart, the youngest of five, started working at the Broadview restaurant when he was just 13 years old. He worked his way up from “salad boy” to owner and keeps his late father’s legacy alive today.
“I met my wife in the kitchen here,” said Sawa who has three sons. “She would teach me Polish and I would teach her English. We’ve been married for 38 years.”
The large dining room boasts a pink color palette, retro vibes and a rotating array of Sawa family recipes. The restaurant is celebrated for serving comforting dishes at reasonable prices and that combination never goes out of fashion. As a result, Sawa’s Old Warsaw is capable of serving 200 people a day and hosting large scale banquets.
“I don’t know what to say, but our food is homemade, and our cook has been here for so many years that the food is consistently good,” said Sawa.
Before the pandemic, Sawa’s Old Warsaw served 6,000 people a month. After COVID-19 shuttered Chicagoland dining rooms, the 40-year-old business sustained itself on carryout alone. Now the restaurant is battling back to full strength while maintaining an approachable price point. Business is down approximately 50 percent from pre-pandemic norms but is increasing.
To draw further attention to the restaurant and help attract customers, Sawa’s hosts a Polish cookout every second Tuesday of the month. Cooked on an outdoor grill under a large banner, Sawa’s offers “Polish tacos” free to people stopping in for a drink at the bar.
Sawa personally mans the grill and fills flour tortillas with crispy potato pancakes, smoky kielbasa, sauerkraut and spicy mustard. The portable bite has plenty of textural intrigue and bold flavor. On busy nights, Sawa’s has been known to give away 130 Polish tacos.
“We always draw attention to ourselves,” said Sawa, “But these tacos have been really popular.”
Both the creative taco and the traditional smorgasbord offer diners traditional Polish cuisine. Daily specials like meatballs in dill sauce, carved roast beef and goulash rotate with mainstay dishes like gluten-free potato pancakes, stuffed cabbage rolls, crispy pork patties and Broasted chicken, made with both proprietary ingredients and a patented Broaster pressure fryer.
Sawa’s authentic sauerkraut starts with a house-made pork bone broth and a combination of sauerkraut, fresh cabbage, ham and fried onions. Caraway seeds, allspice and a bit of tomato round out the offering.
The restaurant has been known to go through 16 gallons of sauerkraut every week. It is easy to add a hint of nostalgia to any meal – the Ashland Sausage Company in Carol Stream manufactures the kielbasa served at Sawa’s Old Warsaw using Walter Sawa’s original recipe, so you can savor a little taste of history in every bite.
Daily buffet specials at Sawa’s Old Warsaw
Tuesday: Meatballs in dill sauce
Wednesday: Pork goulash
Thursday: Swiss or pepper steak
Friday (dinner only): Shrimp cocktail, Broasted cod and shrimp, herring, carved roast beef and ham off the bone
Saturday (dinner only): BBQ ribs, breaded pork cutlets, carved roast beef and ham off the bone
Sawa’s Old Warsaw is open Tuesday thru Saturday. Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; dinner 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Polish cookout held the second Tuesday of every month from 5 to 8 p.m.