Stephen Travels

And he's ready to take you with him.

Jama Michalika, Krakow, Poland

Jama Michalika (Krakow, Poland)

Jama Michalika, Krakow, PolandOpened in 1895 by Jan Apolinary Michalik, the restaurant’s name derives from its humble beginnings. “Michalik’s Cave” was a single room without any windows in the back of the patisserie — a primitive den that was the only place he could afford. Students from the nearby Academy of Fine Arts would eat here for free, sort of: Their payment was their original works of art.

As the café grew in size and popularity, it became a hub for the city’s cultural leaders and influencers. Everyone from cabaret singers to puppeteers would convene here for performances. Artists, aristocrats, authors, politicians, and professors would congregate for intellectual conversation, all while enjoying the café’s highly regarded Polish cuisine and fine selection of cakes, creams, coffees, and liquors.

I could still feel the spirit of these Polish luminaries as I took a seat in one of the booths with the sturdy, finely carved wood ends, across from a table with half a dozen chairs whose backs were as tall as me. The Art Nouveau décor and furniture transported me back nearly a century. Green curtains, carpeting, and upholstery give it a serious atmosphere, where I could imagine the debates that raged throughout the 1900s, relieved by the paintings, drawings, frescoes, and caricatures hanging from the walls. Colorful lampshades and lots of stained glass, including a pyramidal ceiling window, liberally throw colored light about, tempered by the white light in the brass sconces.

Jama Michalika carries on its duel tradition of cultural and culinary arts. You shouldn’t be surprised if a party of ambassadors or writers sits down at a neighboring table, or if a Nobel Prize–winning poet gives a reading. Nor should you be surprised by the wonderful meal that you’ll enjoy while taking it all in.

Fork and KnifeTry This: You can start with a fresh and simple salad of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and chicken, or dive into the more serious fare with a flight of Polish sausages and hams. For the main course, try the fillet of pork with mushrooms, rice, and boiled vegetables, or go for the quail baked in a cranberry-cream sauce. The hazelnut torte finishes your meal off perfectly, but the cream, fruit, chocolate ice cream, whipped cream, banana, and cherry vodka concoction may ultimately prove more tempting.