Mon
Mar 28 2011
11:00 am
Fast facts:Homeland Cafe
Rating: (Enthusiastically recommended)
Cuisine:Polish, with some Spanish, Latin American, and German
Price range:(lunch): $7.50 to $9.50
Summary:Extraordinary home-made delicacies ranging from pierogies to paella, made with love and care.
Address:154C Talmeda Rd, Oak Ridge TN 37830 Map
Phone:865-483-4818
Website:http://homelandfoodcafe.devhub.com

On a quiet side street in Oak Ridge sits a tiny jewel of a restaurant called Homeland Cafe. This may sound odd, but Homeland Cafe offers both the best Polish food and the best Spanish paella I have ever eaten. It is a marvel.

The restaurant has existed for several years in various locations around Oak Ridge and moved to its current home on Talmeda Road three or four years ago. The original owner moved away last year and sold the restaurant to an Oak Ridger named Maria Ramirez. In her tenure as its new owner, Ms. Ramirez has developed a mastery of such Polish staples as pierogies, stuffed cabbages, sauerkraut, and goulash (an occasional daily special). With the exception of the kielbasa, everything is homemade from scratch. Ms. Ramirez invests time, love, and soul into her cuisine, and it shows clearly in the end product. This is comfort food at its very best.

Her cooking heals me.

Lunch dishes include Polish staples like wonderfully rich stuffed cabbages, kielbasa with sauerkraut, three heavenly varieties of pierogies, and a Polish sampler that includes a little of each of those. The pierogies are served with an optional mushroom sauce, which I recommend, and with optional toasted onions, which are ever so slightly sweet. Savory crepes are also on the lunch menu, with the ham and cheese crepe being my favorite.

The sauerkraut at Homeland Cafe deserves special mention. It is made from scratch and cured to just the right consistency; since it's not overly fermented, the cabbage maintains great body and texture. It is well-seasoned, then blended with a little bit of Polish sausage and a tiny amount of shaved carrot. These elements give just a hint of flavor, lifting the dish above the mundane and transforming it into a memorable experience in its own right. Paired with the kielbasa or the sporadically available three-bean-and-vegetable soup, the sauerkraut practically sings. It is without doubt the best I have ever eaten.

The soup du jour is always a treat. Frequently, the soup specials include lentil, garbanzo with ham, or couscous. The soups are consistently rich and hearty, made from homemade broths, with special attention to each one's delicate balance of flavors. Each soup is a testament to Ms. Ramirez's refined culinary talent. Great soups are an art form; those at Homeland Cafe are quite often masterpieces.

After spending some time perfecting the art of Eastern European cooking, Ms. Ramirez decided to augment the Polish cuisine with a few Spanish and Latin American dishes. For lunch, she added a Spanish tortilla to the menu; this is a potato omelet served with grilled red peppers, ham (sometimes prosciutto or Serrano, if they're available), and a tomatilla/crema sauce. It's a substantial dish, hearty and lush, but with a surprisingly delicate texture.

The daily lunch special may run the gamut from goulash or schnitzel to paella or pasteles, which are Puerto Rican tamales, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. Whether the dishes are Polish, German, Spanish, or Latin American, they are uniformly sublime.

Paella is the jewel in the crown at Homeland Cafe, but if you're interested in that dish, you'll have to call a couple of days in advance and specifically request it. Unlike mostPaella restaurants, which cut corners in the preparation of that notoriously labor-intensive dish, the paella at Homeland Cafe is made the traditional way. Rice is cooked slowly in home-made shrimp broth in a traditional paella pan and infused with saffron. (In most restaurants serving paella, this is where corners are cut -- the rice is either overcooked, undercooked, or just bland. Homeland Cafe does it correctly, without cutting any corners, but the preparation takes hours.) Chorizo, whole chicken legs, and shellfish stew slowly in that shrimp broth, adding their own notes to the dish and absorbing the saffron's perfume. Traditional paella always includes something red and something green; at Homeland Cafe, the red ingredient is usually red bell peppers, and the green ingredient is often lima beans, snap peas, or green olives, depending on the chef's preference that day.

It's never the same dish twice, but it is consistently the best paella I have ever eaten. The rice is supple, rich, velvety, and aromatic. It is an achingly beautiful dish, and it only costs $10.

Regular lunch prices range from about $7.50 to about $9.50. Dinner is a few dollars more, and the dinner menu is more extensive. As I understand it, Ms. Ramirez will make tapas for dinner, if you give her a few days' notice and you're nice to her. The restaurant serves beer but not wine or liquor; customers may bring their own wine. With seating available for only about two dozen people, reservations are probably a good idea.

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Anonymous's picture

Lunch

This Place is a joke

Anonymous's picture

Lunch

This Place is a joke

Anonymous's picture

Don't try in on Sunday! Rude and poor service.

I ordered spinach esplanadas. I was served hamburger esplanadas, and when I pointed it out to the waitress, she finally admitted they did not have the spinach. She asked if I wanted something else, and when I declined she loudly threw our bill in the form of a register receipt clipped on a clipboard onto our table. I have had poor service in Oak Ridge before, but never this bad.

Anonymous's picture

Response to misleading review.

A similar review was posted on the same day in Tripradvisor.com by Mr. Nathan J. Below is my response.
As proud chef and owner of this well regarded restaurant I confess that I was shocked by the rudeness of this customer and his malicious review. I greeted him and his lady companion, cordially thanked them for their first time visit, took their order and brought it to their table. Minutes later he called me to the table. He was agitated. He had eaten the salad and cut the empanadas in half. Pointing with his fork at the empanadas he disparagingly repeated several times: "Do you see any spinach here? Can you see? Open your eyes! This is hamburger! This is not spinach! I did not order hamburger!"

I had certainly made a mistake! I apologized and offered to correct it but he wanted nothing from me. He was scarily enraged. I said fine, left quietly and waited until the lady finished eating. I did not charge for his drink and salad. When I delivered the bill I did not say a word and left promptly because he was still agitated and I wanted to become invisible to avoid further trouble. I certainly meant no disrespect.
After they left, customers at a neighboring table expressed their sympathy and sorrow for the insolence they had witnessed. I excused the offender thinking that perhaps he had a bad day. Sadly, his subsequent malevolent behavior seems to confirm their diagnosis. I wish him well!

Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. Hopefully, it will not happen again!

In my restaurant everybody is treated with respect. I always thank my customers and give them my good wishes. When you come to my restaurant I want you to feel good that you came and wish that you will come back. I, Maria, personally guarantee your satisfaction

bizgrrl's picture

This restaurant sounds

This restaurant sounds wonderful. I can't wait to try them. I've been in the mood for German food for quite some time.

Russ's picture

Schnitzel

You should. If you're in the mood for something German, call her in advance and request it. Her schnitzel is fantastic: perfectly breaded, just the right seasoning, and cooked not one second too long. It's basically perfect.

reform4's picture

Must have worked on it for a while then.

I went about 3 months after the transition from the first owner and all the Polish dishes were really really lacking. I may have to give it another try.

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