LAKE PLACID - Like many visitors who've eventually moved to the Adirondacks and opened a business in the Olympic village, Bogdan Polak's second language is English.
Polak grew up in communist Poland, and patrons to his new restaurant, the Redneck Bistro at 2192 Saranac Ave., can get a little taste of the countryside Polish cooking that's in his blood. Just a little. The main fare is American barbecue.
"I love the food," Polak said Dec. 10 at the Shipman Youth Center, just before giving a demonstration during the I Love Local Eats Cooking Series. "It goes back about 30 years. I've been smoking meat and doing barbecue forever."
Since opening the restaurant in August, Polak has grown a reputation among residents and visitors for introducing a unique blend of barbecue to Lake Placid. His taste for it started when he was a child in the community of Jaslo, located in southeastern Poland just north of the border with Slovakia.
"Back in Poland, we used to do a lot of it, but it was mostly sausages, hams, bacon and so forth," Polak said. "I grew up in the countryside, so I grew up with it. I loved the taste of it, and when I came here, you have Southern barbecue and you have ribs, anything you can imagine that comes out of the smoker."
During 1981, the year Polak left Poland, his home country was in turmoil. It was called the People's Republic of Poland at the time and was ruled by the Soviet-backed Communist Party. The popular anti-communist movement led by the trade union known as Solidarity was growing momentum, but after less than two years in operation, it was shut down. On Dec. 13, 1981, martial law was declared in Poland.
Bogdan Polak wraps bacon around a pork loin during the Dec. 10 I Love Local Eats Cooking Series at the Shipman Youth Center next to master of ceremonies Paul Varga, a radio personality from WSLP-FM in Lake Placid. Polak is the co-owner/chef at the Redneck Bistro in Lake Placid. (Photo by Andy Flynn)
"There were no freedoms whatsoever, and I couldn't take it," Polak said. "You couldn't speak in public. You couldn't do anything. They were spying on you. They were going after you. They had secret police."
Polak left Poland searching for the freedom to create a new life for himself.
"I defected, and I ended up in Austria in a refugee camp, applied for political asylum in this country, and I was granted one, and ever since I was here," Polak said.
Polak first moved to Rhode Island and then to Connecticut. He attended the University of Connecticut and began a profession as a landscape architect.
"It has nothing to do with cooking, but I got sick of it after a while," Bogdan said.
Eventually, Polak found a job cooking at Pirate, a restaurant in Norwalk, Conn. known for its Polish-style menu. He and his wife, Ania, were living in Connecticut at the time and began taking ski vacations to the Adirondacks. They liked the mountains so much, they decided to move to Willsboro, yet cooking wasn't part of the plan.
"When we decided to move up here, I had no idea what I was going to do," Polak said. "I applied for the first job that I saw advertised, and I got that job, so for the first five years I was working for Jay Ward."
Polak knew in his heart that he wasn't going to retire as a maintenance employee of Ward Lumber in Jay. Cooking is his passion, and now he's living the American dream in the Adirondacks.
One of the biggest challenges for Polak is convincing locals that the Redneck Bistro was created for them.
"We're not the tourist attraction," Polak said. "The premise was to create something for the working man. You look at our prices, and they are affordable. ... Other restaurants in town cater to the affluent or to tourists. Our base is basically the local population."
The Redneck Bistro shares a building with the Lake Placid Chocolatier at the corner of Saranac Avenue and Wesvalley Road. The lunch/dinner menu includes a number of Southern-style items and food from the grill, such as Southern fried chicken, Cajun catfish, ribs, brisket, smoked sausage, pulled pork, barbecue chicken, chicken wings, hot dogs and a variety of burgers. The full menu can be found on the Redneck Bistro's Facebook page.
The Redneck Bistro is open every day except Tuesday, from noon to 9 p.m. weekdays and Saturday. On Sunday, the hours are noon to 7 p.m. For more information, call 518-523-8095.