Wisconsin May 03, 2019
Wisconsin’s Polish Fest Is The Most Delicious Way To Celebrate Summer
Though Wisconsin tends to be known for our German ancestry, they were not the only immigrant group that traveled to the Midwest to set down roots. In fact, a higher percentage of Wisconsin residents report Polish ancestry than in any other state. Nearly half a million Wisconsinites have Polish ancestors, the sixth most of any state in the US. The town of Sharon was named the most Polish town in the country, with more than 63% of the town identifying as Polish. They tend to be a bit overshadowed by the beer and brats of their German neighbors, but Polish folks in Wisconsin have been here since the 1850s. From paczki to pierogies, you’ll find folks enjoying Polish food all over Wisconsin. But the biggest Polish celebration in the entire United States takes place in Milwaukee in early June, and it’s a pretty delicious way to kick off the major festival calendar.
The Polish impact and heritage in Wisconsin can sometimes get overlooked, but with so many state residents having connections back to Poland, it's not surprising that in the land of so many festivals, Wisconsin's Polish Fest is the biggest in the country. If you're looking for a great festival from folks with decades of experience in putting them on, where else would you go but here?
Polish Fest takes place on the second full weekend of June on the Summerfest grounds in downtown Milwaukee. Though there are hundreds of festivals on the calendar, this is considered the first big one every summer. It's a celebration not just of Polish culture, music and food, but also of warm weather, rebirth and shaking off the winter doldrums.
There is fabulous artistry, beautiful crafts, awesome music - but let's be honest, you didn't come to Polish Fest for those. You came for the food. Flavorful stews and gravies, dumplings and sausages all combine for a plate full of delicious, unique food. But make sure you save room for the pierogies.
Most every nationality has their own version of a stuffed pocket or dumpling. But there's just something very comforting about a Polish pierogi. The simple dough is usually stuffed with a mashed potato-like filling - it's actually a meal that didn't require much to create and stretched budgets and pantries - and served with a horseradish or sour cream topping. Get fancy and you might have some fried onions with bits of bacon alongside.
These little pillows of perfection are a quick bite, but still flavorful and for many, feel like a taste of home. Their mothers or grandmothers used to make pierogies by hand at home and Polish Fest is one of the places where you can try numerous different styles of the delicious little dumplings.
For dessert, you might make an exception and have pączki out of season. Much like a dumpling, nearly every culture has a sweet treat they traditionally eat on Fat Tuesday - or the day before Lent starts. In Poland, that's an amazing jelly donut of sorts. The treat was meant to use up items from the pantry that you weren't supposed to eat during Lent. Often with a plum filling, these guys far surpass your standard sugared donut and getting to sample them in June is another bonus of the festival.
There isn't a kid who grew up in Wisconsin who didn't learn how to polka, and this festival will give you ample opportunity to brush up on that long-dormant skill. If you think polka is only oompah music and old people, think again. Polish polka is a fabulous mix of a bunch of different cultures that's sort of constantly changing and evolving. It's fast and the dancing is athletic. A pocket of early Polish immigrants settled in Texas and combined their ideas of polka with what they heard from Tecate music. Polka, at its core, has a pretty simple meter and that allows for a very cool mix of styles to work well and turn what you know of traditional polka on its head.
Take some time to digest and watch some amazing dancers, listen to music you never imagined and head into the shopping tents to find intricate paper art and colorful pottery, among other important goodies.
Then head back out to polka some more and work up an appetite. There's still plenty of food to enjoy and we've only just begun.
You will want to eat your way from one end of the grounds to the other and then grab some pierogies to take home and have again tomorrow. Polish Fest is a totally underrated spot on the Wisconsin festival calendar and your stomach will thank you for circling the date on the calendar now. Come hungry!
Polish Fest takes place at the Henry Maier Festival Ground along Lake Michigan in downtown Milwaukee.
Address: 200 North Harbor Drive, Milwaukee, WI, 53202.
In 2019, Polish Fest is on June 14, 15 and 16. It’s open 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday.
For a full schedule, to buy tickets and find out all the information you could ever need,
check out the Polish Fest website.
If you love pierogies, you can get them and more delicious Polish eats year-round at this fabulous little diner in Wisconsin Dells.