From Poland to Portland
Every brewery has a story and Threshold Brewing is perhaps one of the more unique tales. It begins with Threshold owner and brewer Jarek Szymanski growing up in Poland during the tumultuous aftermath of the Cold War, studying hard and angling for opportunities in the States. He landed in Portland at the age of 25 with a work visa and an internship in software engineering before winning the actual green card lottery (a real thing). His tech career took off and in his free time he fell in love with craft beer and home brewing. That brewing love turned obsession and in 2019 Jarek went full American Dream and opened Threshold with his wife Sara in their own Montavilla neighborhood.
Introducing Old World Beer Styles
Although modern styles like hop-forward IPAs and big barrel-aged stouts were initially what captured Jarek’s beer imagination, the past 4 years have seen him dive deeper into his roots and produce a growing handful of stylistically impressive and award-winning beers inspired from his home country. Polish Pilsners and Lagers, a Baltic Porter and even a historic 700-year-old smoked wheat style Grodziskie now intermingle with stellar IPAs, fruited ales and strong stouts on Threshold’s ever-rotating 12-beer tap list.
…and the food to go-with
What Jarek and Sara couldn’t stop thinking about though (and in Portland what is next to impossible to find): authentic Polish cuisine to go with their beer line-up. In early 2021, mid-pandemic, the Szymanski’s first introduced their Polish street food menu: the Zapiekanka. Or, Zapi for short. It’s a traditional cheesy, mushroom-filled open-faced and toasted baguette served with their signature house-made Zapi Sauce, a slow-simmered family recipe. Optional Zapi toppings include Polish Kielbasa and/or house-brined cucumbers. The Zapiekanka is quintessential to Poland, originating in the 70’s and found at outdoor kiosks in every town and city. The interpretations are varied and the topping options can be endless.
Since the initial menu launch in 2021, the Szymanski’s have perfected their recipe – the sauce alone includes 15 vegetables and spices slow-stewed for hours – and every component is made in-house or sourced locally.
In Pursuit of Zapiekanka Perfection
Arguably the most important ingredient though – the bread – was previously a quiet source of discontent for Jarek and Sara. The style, shape and consistency used for Polish Zapiekanka just wasn’t available from any baker here in Portland. “For the past 2 years, we’ve used the closest thing we could find – a relatively soft and denser French-style baguette – and it was delicious and everyone really enjoyed it… but it wasn’t quite perfect,” says the couple. “It wasn’t fluffy enough, it was a little too dense, it didn’t melt in your mouth.”
On a recent family visit to Poland earlier this year, the Szymanski’s sought out every Zapiekanka shop they could find and came home with fresh bread determination. They reached out to their Montavilla neighbor and German bakery Fressen (NE 71st and Glisan St.) and began a 2-month process of Zapiekanka baguette trials. The final result, as the Szymanski’s say, is something your Babcia would be proud of. A 12-inch-long yeast-driven loaf with light but supportive crust exterior, soft and fluffy inner texture and delicious savoriness. The added layers of spiced mushroom, Polish Morski cheese and house Zapi Sauce elevate Threshold’s Polish street food to a must-try and most likely your new food addiction.
Threshold Zapiekanka is available 7 days a week from their Montavilla taproom located at SE 79th and Stark St. The ‘Classic’ Zapi mushroom and cheese runs you an easy $10 with optional add-ons of authentic Polish Kielbasa and the brewery’s house-brined cucumber slices. Pro-tip: wash it down with their Piwo Polish Pilsner or gold-medal winning Neptune Baltic Porter.