It’s Been 10 Years Since ‘The Polish Luther’ Was Created. Chicago, How Will You Take Your Paczki This Fat Tuesday?

Video: In honor of Paczki Day, Brandis Friedman, Joanna Hernandez and Paris Schutz of WTTW News make a paczki burger, or “The Polish Luther.” (Produced by Nicole Cardos / WTTW News)

For Jenny Pfafflin, “Paczki Day” has always been an unofficial holiday.

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The Andersonville resident said even though she’s not Polish, growing up in the Chicago area meant celebrating the jam-filled fried donuts every Fat Tuesday.

“Especially as you got older and you got your first 9-to-5 job, it became like this kind of exciting office holiday,” Pfafflin said.

“You would come in and somebody would bring in some paczki.”

The holiday turned into something even more exciting in 2014, when Pfafflin was working with the Cicerone Certification Program.

That’s where she and her two coworkers decided to make a Luther burger – a cheeseburger normally sandwiched between two glazed donuts – with paczki.

Pfafflin said she replaced the bun of her Redhot Ranch burger with a paczek sliced in half and called it “The Polish Luther.”

“It was just a goofy thing and it became a little bit of a tradition,” she said.

Read More: This Chicago-Area Home Baker Makes Hundreds of Paczki Every Year. Here’s How She Does It

Pfafflin said she doesn’t think she’s the first to put cheeseburgers inside paczki, but she believes she might have been the first to come up with the name “Polish Luther.”      

She and her coworkers (who called themselves the “lunch bunch”) recreated the sandwich each year until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.    

Though the “lunch bunch” has since stopped making “The Polish Luther,” (Pfafflin is now a brewer and marketing manager for Dovetail Brewery) Jonathan Surratt, another member of the original crew, said he recreated it in 2022 for his blog Bounded by Buns, where he posts about the sandwiches he makes.

“The Polish Luther” paczki creation. (Credit: Jonathan Surratt)“The Polish Luther” paczki creation. (Credit: Jonathan Surratt)

But he didn’t stop there; Surratt, who’s a web developer by day, has also made a fried chicken sandwich with paczki. And this year, he made an Italian beef sandwich with paczki.

Despite the seemingly unusual paczki fillings, Dominic Pacyga, Columbia College professor emeritus of history, said paczki variations are common.

“They’re so very different today,” said Pacyga, who specializes in Polish-American history.

A Bridgeport native with Polish descent, Pacyga said he and his family would eat paczki most Sundays after Mass.

But the paczki he said he grew up eating, made with plum, rose or raspberry fillings, aren’t the only kind available nowadays.

“They’re just huge and they’re filled with everything … all kinds of stuff that no Polish grandmother would have ever filled their paczki with,” he said.

For instance, J.P. Graziano Grocery Co. is serving uo giardiniera paczki, which are filled with vanilla custard and chocolate cream and then “spiked” with giardiniera seasoning.

Or there are paczki from the Polish-Columbian street food eatery Polumbia, which include flavors like coconut guava and café con leche. (Polumbia’s owners said they also offer a paczki burger, which they started serving in 2021.)

There are even paczki made with flavors like hatcha miso, offered by the Japanese comfort food pop-up Mom’s.

That’s where Pfafflin said she placed an order for Packi Day this year.

Whether it’s “The Polish Luther” or a “paczki burger,” or unique cultural fusions, Pfafflin says the celebration of paczki across Chicago brings people together.

“It's a Tuesday every February when you kind of maybe are in the doldrums of winter and you just need a little pick me up,” she said. “So it’s just something to look forward to.”

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