Busy man, tasty sandwich at Ken’s Roadside Diner

After years of working with computers, Ken Kurtyka returns to the kitchen with an impressive menu

  • Ken Kurtyka of Ken’s Roadside Diner in Gill prepares a Polish Reuben made with kielbasa. Columnist Tinky Weisblat enjoyed this sandwich for lunch recently. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Polish Reuben made with kielbasa at Ken’s Roadside Diner. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

For The Recorder
Published: 6/14/2016 3:33:58 PM

Ken Kurtyka doesn’t get a lot of rest. As the proprietor of Ken’s Roadside Diner on the French King Highway in Gill, he is on duty six days a week from April to October — and frequently finds himself working the seventh day as well.

“So far (taking the day off) hasn’t worked out that much,” he told me when I stopped by to interview him and eat lunch a couple of weeks ago.

In the winter, Kurtyka serves as food-service manager at Berkshire East. At this time of year, he also runs Kurtyka’s Berry Farm, a pick-your-own strawberry establishment on Plain Road in Greenfield.

The Greenfield native got his start in the food business at Turnbull’s Restaurant. He worked there in high school and college, moving his way up from dishwasher to cook.

He studied hotel and restaurant management at Holyoke Community College and went on to cook at and manage a number of Massachusetts restaurants and hotels.

Eventually Kurtyka “took a break from all this fun stuff” and reinvented himself as a specialist in information technology. He was laid off last year after more than a quarter of a century in that field.

“This was for sale,” he told me. “Here I am.”

“This” is a kitchen on wheels formerly known as Skip’s Roadside Diner on Route 2 near the turnoff to Turners Falls. The owner for the last decade or so, Skip Scipione, made a name for himself preparing Polish-American lunches as well as basic hamburgers and hot dogs.

Kurtyka has extended the restaurant’s hours to include breakfast and has added seafood to the menu — shrimp, scallops, clams and haddock. He told me that the fried haddock, for which he uses a recipe and technique he honed at Turnbull’s, is particularly popular.

He has also added more seating. In addition to a couple of tables near the kitchen, the diner now features a shady canopied area in the back.

Kurtyka would not dream of altering the basic Polish menu, however. “The Polish food is a real staple. I am Polish. It’s part of my heritage,” he explained. He enjoys making his own Polish (and other) foods, particularly the cabbage-based stew known as kapusta.

He takes pride in preparing simple, good dishes. “I like quality food,” he told me. “Lots of people come back to the window after their meal and say how much they enjoyed it. Hopefully I can keep that quality up and keep (the place) going.”

Kurtyka is happy to have retained many of the customers who patronized Skip’s. His clientele varies from teenagers to people in their 80s, and he sells a lot of lunches to people who work in Turners Falls or in the nearby industrial park.

The new breakfast hours tend to be slower than lunchtime, but Kurtyka believes that once word gets out that he is serving breakfast, he will attract more customers. “I get a lot of repeat business for breakfast,” he noted.

For my lunch, he prepared one of the diner’s most popular menu items. The Polish Reuben is a delectable melted sandwich that features kielbasa, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and spicy brown mustard in place of the traditional Thousand-Islands dressing.

I had no trouble finishing it on the spot.

Ken’s Roadside Diner is open from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

Ken’s Polish Reuben

Ingredients:

a little melted butter

2 slices seeded rye bread

2 slices Swiss cheese

1 three-ounce kielbasa patty (if you can’t find a patty, use a regular kielbasa link and slice it thinly)

4 ounces sauerkraut

spicy brown mustard to taste

Instructions:

Heat a grill pan or griddle. Brush butter on 1 side of each slice of bread. Place the bread on the griddle, buttered side down. Cover each slice of bread with a slice of cheese.

While the cheese is melting, place the kielbasa patty and the sauerkraut elsewhere on the griddle to brown the patty (on both sides!) and warm the kraut.

Drizzle mustard on top of 1 slice of bread. Cover it with the warm sauerkraut and then the kielbasa patty. Put the two slices of bread together, and serve warm. Serves 1.

Tinky Weisblat of Hawley is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” and “Pulling Taffy.” If you have a suggestion for a future Blue Plate Special, please email Tinky at: Tinky@TinkyCooks.com
For more information about Tinky, visit her website: www.TinkyCooks.com


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