You Can’t Beat Babushka’s
Authentic Polish cuisine invades Clintonville by way of Cleveland
By Scott WoodsPublished February 1, 2012
When Dennis Bennett’s in-laws asked the recent Ohio State University graduate if he wanted to help them open a branch of their wildly popular Cleveland-area restaurant in Columbus, he was more than a little apprehensive.
“Well, I have 20 years of experience with this, and I know what you can pay, so, no,” he had said. “But I’ll do it if I can own it.”
Bennett, now the operating partner at Clintonville’s Polish eatery Babushka’s Kitchen, knew that the success of its Cleveland-area location was more than likely built upon the nearly 30 percent of the local populous who can claim Polish ancestry.
Columbus, according to his research, is closer to four percent Polish.
“The concept was different in Columbus,” Bennett said. “We really felt we needed to educate the consumer here.”
If chowing down on out-of-this-world homemade pierogis, cabbage rolls and smoked Kielbasa, to name just a few menu items, is an education in Polish delicacies, one might consider a trip to Babushka’s as qualification for the dean’s list.
From humble beginnings as a pierogi-only eatery after Bennett’s in-laws both found themselves out of work, the business shuffled between several different locations before settling in a tiny nook within a strip mall in Northfield, Ohio. Initially conceived as a bakery, Bennett’s mother-in-law added a few tables and chairs to the space and opened up the menu. Soon, business was booming. Another location was built in Independence, Ohio, and the North High Street location in Clintonville opened for business with Bennett at the helm a year ago this month.
Boasting huge plates of hot, inexpensive Polish food, the Columbus location has thrived during the last 12 months.
“Here in Columbus, people with Eastern European heritage just started coming out of the woodwork,” Bennett said. “Everything just started to spiral.”
Folks who are apprehensive toward Polish cuisine, he said, are surprised to learn they’ve eaten it before, and liked it.
“I would say to someone who said they wouldn’t like pierogis, ‘Well, have you had Mrs. T’s before?’ And they’d say, ‘Yeah, I love Mrs. T’s!’ They had no idea they already have tried so much ‘Polish’ food in the past.”
Beyond the out-of-the-woodwork Eastern European population in the city, Bennett said Columbus is an ideal location for off-the-beaten-path eateries.
“Columbus is a food town; they love to support new, local places.”
The Cleveland location, he said, gets a lot of hard-core Poles, while Columbus has a younger, hipper crowd who are open to anything new, as long as it tastes good.
And unless you’ve been to Babushka’s Kitchen, you don’t know good.
Babushka’s Kitchen (4675 N High St.) is open Tuesday through Sunday. For more, visit www.babushkafoods.com.