Grubbin’ with Chef Big Rube: Chef Jake Bukowski is bringing Polish cuisine to the forefront in Fishtown

Yo, what’s good Philly grubbers!

I’m back this week in the Fishtown section of North Philadelphia, a place that, along with the city’s Port Richmond section, had many Polish immigrants settle once they arrived in America. They brought flavors that still wow the senses today, carried on by descendants like my guy Jake Bukowski, who never left the area.

Born and raised in Fishtown, Bukowski is a chef who wants to bring Polish cuisine to the forefront, the same way Mexican and Asian cuisine has hit the mainstream. I met Jake in 2016 when he was a sous chef at chef/restaurateur Michael Schulson’s Independence Beer Garden.

I was there for a Memorial Day weekend event doing my Big Rube’s Fried Chicken pop-up and Jake and I hit it off from the jump. Along with a love of food, we also shared an affinity for hip-hop culture and much more.

Jake’s story is very interesting. He attended high school at Masterman, was fortunate to have classmates from all different backgrounds, and then kept it local to study film at Temple University.

He graduated with his degree but found immediate work in the early 2000s with chef Andy Brown at Marigold, the farm-to-table gem imagined by Judy Wick. A few years later, Jake found himself in Chestnut Hill at a Cuban cuisine spot as its executive chef before a big move to the Kimmel Center to work with Iron Chef Jose Garces.

The stops continued, returning to work with Schulson at Sampan and on his rotisserie lunch truck. He then crafted in the kitchen of chef Peter McAndrews at Monsu in the Italian Market. He was also instrumental in the opening of restaurants at SugarHouse Casino.

Jake is versatile and always meets the challenge of stepping out of his comfort zone to collaborate with some of the best chefs in the biz. He’ll tell you he always wanted to do his own thing, and he did. He went back to Fishtown and worked the kitchen at the Starboard Side Bar called the Galley. It was a role he took on in September 2018, and one my guy stepped into ready to create.

He started out making your typical quasi bar food until a light bulb moment hit him — make what you love. Along with pierogies, Jake started with what’s now a Galley staple he calls “The Loaded,” featuring mashed potatoes, onions and bacon. He’s got a mean short rib cheesesteak. I had a few things, except for the bacon (no pork for ya boy).

Then Jake took a deeper dive with a kielbasa to die for and a Heluski dish made with egg noodles, cabbage, oyster mushrooms, bacon and a Yakisoba sauce, adding a little  Asian twist. Another authentic Polish dish folks are crazy for are the galumpkis, made with Napa cabbage and hand rolled with Picadillo beef, rice and a spicy tomato sauce to die for.

All in all, Jake’s efforts to bring the cuisine of his culture back into his stomping grounds — albeit gentrified — means he’s about to hit a home run by giving folks a “flavory memory,” as my grandma would say. The Galley at the Starboard Side Tavern is on the corner of 2500 E. Norris St. I urge you to get ya ass over there. In fact, I’ll even meet you there so we can all hit up some great Polish grub.


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