Polombia at Time Out Market (Chicago)

I’ve been meaning to write this review for a long time because it was one of my favorite finds from my work trips to Chicago last summer.   I love interesting fusion cuisine, like The Escobar Kitchen in Orlando’s Lake Nona, which expertly combines Puerto Rican food with sushi.  My wife and I used to love a Casselberry pizzeria called Del Dee’s, which served excellent New York-style pizzas along with Thai food (and one of the best Thai iced teas ever), due to the Italian husband and his Thai wife who owned and operated the restaurant.  Alas, it did not last.

Chicago is arguably a bigger food city than Orlando, and one of the few places that could honestly be called even more diverse.  That’s how we ended up with a restaurant as cool as Polombia (https://www.polombiachi.com/), a Polish-Colombian fusion restaurant located in the Time Out Market Chicago, a sprawling food hall with plenty of diverse dining options, from fresh pasta to barbecue, Greek to Indian, Southern to Korean, baked goods to bars.  The Time Out Market sounded like a great place to drag two work colleagues in a Lyft for lunch, and I already knew I had to try the most unique cuisine combo of all.  I definitely over-ordered at Polombia, a joint venture by visionary chefs Cynthia Orobio and Phillipe Sobon, but I wanted to try everything, so I regret nothing. 

I started with meatless emparogi ($12), a lovely quintet of empanada-pierogi hybrids.  These beautiful little pockets of dough were stuffed with potatoes, caramelized onions, chives, sofrito (a classic Latin seasoning blend of garlic, onions, sometimes tomatoes, olive oil, and other aromatic herbs, spices, and vegetables), and a swirl of aji crema, blending elements of a spicy Colombian hot sauce with cool cream to balance out all the acidic ingredients.  There was also a version of these emparogi with all the same fillings, plus short rib, but I held off on that, at least for this dish.

This is bigos, or hunter’s stew ($8), rich with shredded beef, Colombian chorizo sausage, and sauerkraut in a tomato-based stew.  I have loved bigos at Polish and Ukrainian restaurants, and this was a unique take that added Latin American flavors.  It lacked the sweet, tangy touch I remember from the bigos I savored at Veselka in New York City, but this was a very different version of the classic dish.  I think I might have also enjoyed it more in the winter than a particularly hot day in July, but don’t get me wrong, I liked it, and I’m very glad I tried it.   

I couldn’t stop myself from getting an order of two arepa-ski ($14), cornmeal patties topped with ricotta cheese blended with honey, shredded pickled beets and carrots, and the protein of our choice.  Those choices included mojo-roasted chicken, vegetarian lentils, and coffee-braised short rib, so this time I opted for the short rib.  The order came with aji sauce that reminded me of a thicker chimichurri, bringing some acid and spice to contrast against the richness of the meat and the sweet creaminess of the ricotta.  I was so excited to order all this food, I didn’t notice on the menu that I could pick two separate proteins, or else I would have.  But I have no regrets.  These were some of the more creative arepas I’ve ever tried, and the short rib was incredible.  I always love short ribs, and these were so well-seasoned with the coffee rub and braised to ideal tenderness, I didn’t think twice about missing out on the chicken and the lentils.

These were a beauty to behold:

And for dessert, I got kolaczki ($4), six light rolled pastries filled with guava and fig preserves and dusted with powdered sugar.  I might not have bothered with desserts, but I couldn’t turn down two of my favorite fruits for pastry fillings.  The sticky sweetness of the guava and fig worked so perfectly with the light, buttery pastries, and I was so glad to have those flavors to choose from.   

Since this is an Orlando-based food blog, I try to space out my out-of-town reviews, and I’ve been saving this one for a while.  Orlando only has one Polish restaurant that I haven’t been to yet, but my wife and I dearly loved another restaurant, Polonia, that closed several years ago.  That really introduced me to Polish flavors and dishes that I now love and crave and dream about.  Being from Miami, I’m also familiar with all kinds of Latin food, and very fond of it too.

I’m always excited to try chefs’ interesting takes on fusion cuisine, blending together ingredients and dishes and entire cultures, creating something unique and new that pays homage to the original inspirations and influences.  While Chicago certainly has some traditional Polish restaurants due to its large Polish population, I absolutely had to try Polombia while I was there.  I couldn’t schlep all the way up there and leave without trying it.  This was the exact kind of meal that I started this blog to write about, and I’m so glad I was able to visit and work my way through the beautiful, singular menu that Cynthia Orobio and Phillipe Sobon created.


The Escobar Kitchen

The Escobar Kitchen (https://theescobarkitchen.com/) is one of my favorite kinds of restaurants for two reasons:

  1. It offers a really cool, creative fusion of two wildly different cuisines that you’d never think of combining, but I’m glad somebody did.
  2. It’s hidden inside a place that you wouldn’t expect, so not a free-standing restaurant where anyone can just come along and find it.  As a self-proclaimed food writer, I live for writing about restaurants like this, and I take great joy and pride in introducing people who might never find or even learn about them on their own.

In this case, The Escobar Kitchen is a food stall inside the Bravo Supermarket in Lake Nona.  Bravo is a supermarket chain that specializes in groceries from different Latin American countries, aimed at a Hispanic clientele (but anyone can, and should, shop there).  It has 71 locations throughout the United States, including several in the Orlando area.  I work near one Bravo and live near another, and I always find great stuff whenever I go, from frozen passion fruit puree to agua fresca powder mixes to fantastic tinned sardines nobody else carries to pizza empanadas a friend recommended.

But Lake Nona, a burgeoning new community all the way across town from me, has the biggest, nicest Bravo I’ve ever seen.  It took over a space that used to be an upscale Earth Fare supermarket after the location closed in 2020, at 13024 Narcoossee Road in Orlando.  Just to give you some context, all the Bravo locations I’ve ever been to have a cafeteria area where you can line up and get hot, fresh food to go — usually a mix of Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Dominican dishes, in huge portions.  You take your styrofoam box of food (kindly wrapped in plastic wrap to avoid leaks on the way home, because they fill it to capacity and beyond) and go eat it somewhere else.

But the Bravo in Lake Nona has a whole seating area, like a mall food court, and also features this business alongside their own cafeteria county.  Locally owned and operated by Chef Lewis Escobar and his brothers,  The Escobar Kitchen specializes in Latin Asian fusion — most notably sushi with a Puerto Rican twist.  That’s right, you heard it here first, true believers!

You can see from The Escobar Kitchen’s online menu that they serve dishes as diverse as “tereyaki wingz” [sic], General Tso ribs, arroz enchurrascado (a delicious-looking dish of yellow rice with skirt steak, sweet plantains, pigeon peas, and chimichurri sauce, served paella-style), and beautiful tempura-fried stuffed avocados.  They even offer familiar California rolls, spicy tuna rolls, and chicken rolls, for diners with a dearth of daring.

But the stars of the menu are the signature sushi rolls, inspired mashups of Latin and Asian flavors, presented in a way that I can only describe as sexy.  I ordered two of these rollicking rolls on my first-ever trip to Lake Nona, where I visited a cool couple at their gorgeous house to possibly buy an elliptical machine from them.  As desperately as I need to lose weight and get into better shape, of course my cross-town schlep had a culinary ulterior motive!

So here’s the hotness:
The presentation is beautiful, right?  I guaran-damn-tee that some hipster chef in Miami is going to come out with a similar menu at a hard-to-find restaurant with expensive valet parking and probably charge three times as much, if not more, and it probably won’t be as good.

This is the Tropical Sexy Salmon Roll ($14), with salmon, avocado, pineapple, cucumber, fried onions, and scallions, topped with marinated salmon and Escobar sauce.  You see?  It’s not just me that thinks these are sexy!  It’s even in the name.  Holy guacamole, this was a treat.  I could seriously eat this every day.   But ultimately, you could probably get a roll like that at any number of good sushi restaurants.  I wanted something with salmon or tuna to contrast with the next one, which is a better example of The Escobar Kitchen’s Latin-Asian fusion.  And the Tropical Sexy Salmon Roll tasted as good as it looks, so no regrets here, no shame in my game.

But get a load of the Paisa Roll ($15), a magnificent mélange of yellow rice, thin-sliced grilled churrasco steak, chorizo sausage, avocado and cream cheese, wrapped in sweet plantains and topped with chimichurri, honey wasabi, and a crunchy, crackly pork rind on the top.  This isn’t light, like so many sushi rolls are.  This is heavy in every possible way, but also awesome in every possible way.  Again, the presentation is killer-diller!

Here is a close-up of the two ravishing rolls I ordered, so you can really see the detail, all the ingredients, and the artful way everything was combined:

I hate that The Escobar Kitchen is literally across town from me, because this is the kind of restaurant I would try to drag local and visiting friends and work colleagues to, first to tempt them with the novelty and then to hook them on artful, creative fusion cuisine that satisfies, that isn’t just some Instagram-worthy hype.  It doesn’t get much more out of the way for me than Lake Nona, but this is definitely a reason to return, and for all my constant readers, the stalwart Saboscrivnerinos, to plan a Lake Nona mission of their own.  Tell me you’re not tempted!  Convince me you’re not considering it.  Maybe next time you need some groceries, skip your basic neighborhood Publix and bring your Bravo Team down to the Lake Nona Bravo, where shopping and dining can be a true pleasure.

(P.S. I made it back to Lake Nona over a month later with a rented U-Haul and bought the very cool couple’s elliptical machine, but didn’t have time to stop at The Escobar Kitchen again.  I’ll just have to return another time!)