Polish immigrant Mariusz Kurowski founded a successful business in the 1990s in Chicago selling a wide selection of Polish sausages and groceries. When he sold his share, he and his wife, Agnieszka, and his grown sons, Michael and Matthew, ventured to Arizona in search of sunshine and warm weather.
But like many former Midwesterners, the Kurowskis soon lost the ability to source traditional ingredients and cuisine from their home country. Knowing that others had the same problem, they opened A to Z Polish Market in Surprise on December 14, 2021.
Since then, the small grocery store with a full counter of deli, bakery, and hot food has become a destination not only for Poles, but also for people with German roots, as well as Hungarians, Romanians, Lithuanians, and others from the whole valley. . It is an oasis for those looking for a taste of the old country, or countries to be precise.
“Eighty percent of the store is Polish products,” says Michael Kurowski, the son of the owners who runs A to Z Polish Market. “Fifteen percent is German and there is a mix from all over Europe.”
They try to source the most important items from each country, he explains, like Hungarian spices and German sauerkraut.
“I would do more, but I really can’t,” says Kurowski. “That’s our main issue now, is shelf space.”
The market has four aisles packed with everything from jars of imported pickles, sauerkraut, beets, and jams to fruit syrups, baked goods, canned fish, candy, frozen foods, wine, and beer. Prices are comparable to or less than similar products at major grocery stores. For example, Babcia soup mixes are 69 cents, bags of Winiary dessert mixes are 79 cents, and jumbo jars of Krakow pickled cucumbers are $2.99.
They also stock the popular Zywiec and Okocim beers from Poland along with Polish wines made from fruits like cherries, strawberries, and blackberries, because grapes don’t grow well there.
Plum wine is another hit, and many Poles make it on their own. In fact, when A to Z brought fresh Empress plums from a farm in Idaho for home winemakers, “they were so popular it was unbelievable,” Kurowski says. “We had people take 50 pounds at a time.”
Just for the holidays, the market offers six types of glüwein, a spiced wine served hot and a staple at family gatherings for those of German descent. The store also has a bakery that produces homemade breads, cookies, and cakes.
“I arrive at 5 am with my mom and we bake all the breads at home,” says Kurowski. “The cakes too. Every weekend we try to make assorted cookies with a fruit filling on the inside.”
Only on Saturdays they do paczki trays, the jelly-filled donuts popular on Fat Tuesday. But plan ahead, they tend to sell out early.
Another big draw at A to Z Polish Market is the deli, which offers a variety of meats, cheeses, and pates. Some are brought in from New York or Europe, but most are custom built in Chicago.
“By having the business in Chicago, we were able to build very good relationships with the highest quality meat producers and suppliers there,” Kurowski said. “Everything is made to our exact specifications.”
For those who want to immediately evoke a taste of home, A to Z Polish Market has a hot food counter and outdoor patio for on-site dining. Everything is cooked from scratch throughout the day, with dishes constantly changing based on availability.
The popular counter lines up, particularly on Saturdays when people drive miles for a big shopping trip. Arrive early or late to avoid the rush. Store, deli and hot counter hours are 9:30 am to 7 pm Monday through Saturday.
The three things that are always available at the hot deli are pierogi, or dumplings often stuffed with potato, potato and cheese, or sauerkraut; golabki, or cabbage leaves rolled around seasoned ground pork and usually topped with sauce; and sliced roasted Polish sausage with onion. Most groceries sell by the pound for around $7-9, which means two people can easily fill up for less than $35 and take home leftovers.
All of these favorites rival what any baby can do. The tender pierogi have a fluffy mashed potato filling that is not lumpy or salty. The meat of the stuffed cabbages is well seasoned and silky, not greasy. Polish sausage is smoky with the perfect pinch of spice. Also, on a recent visit, a pork chop was browned, crispy, and moist. The red cabbage had an ideal balance of sweet and sour, the sauerkraut was tender and tangy, and the cucumbers were sliced thin, just as they should be, and featured balanced proportions of fresh dill and sour cream.
Another specialty Kurowski says people are looking for is zapiekanki., French baguettes loaded with mushrooms and sautéed diced onions, topped with melted cheese, green onions and Polish tomato sauce. They are only sold on Fridays and take 20 minutes or more to prepare, so she recommends ordering ahead of time.
Whether you’re of Polish descent, have Polish friends or relatives, or have developed a taste for meat- and carb-heavy cuisine over the years from growing up in the Midwest, the hot rod at A to Z Polish Market is perfect. Ribs satisfying.
And if you are Polish, you will feel especially welcome. All workers are fluent in English and Polish. Kurowksi attended Polish school during his education and even has a Polish high school diploma because he learned history, geography and other subjects along with the language.
“A lot of kids still do that in Chicago,” he says. The Windy City has the largest Polish diaspora outside of Poland itself, a population increasingly heading to Phoenix. That means hiring bilingual employees is essential, Kurowksi says.
“We still have a fairly small number of staff here, and it’s hard to keep up with how busy we’ve been there lately, especially with the return of the snowbirds,” he says. “Many of our customers only speak Polish.”
Polish market from A to Z
17221 North Litchfield Road, #50, Surprise