Paczki Have Their Day As Chicago Celebrates Mardi Gras

CHICAGO (CBS) — If you’re still mulling over breakfast ideas, look no further; it’s Fat Tuesday, and people all over the country are grabbing paczki.

Bakeries were busy places Tuesday morning, as people line up for the rich, sugary Polish treats many Catholics give up during Lent, which begins the day after Mardi Gras, on Ash Wednesday.

Christopher Watson has been going to Central Continental Bakery in Mount Prospect before dawn for 15 years as part of his honey do list. He said he expected to wait in line at least an hour to stay in his wife’s good graces.

“My wife is still in bed, and I’m picking them up for her and her co-workers at Harper College,” he said.

Mina Dunn got to Continental Bakery around 4:30 a.m., and there was still a 15- to 20-minute wait.

“I was pretty surprised at that,” she said. “They’ve got a massive variety. I think there’s over 30 different paczki here. It’s pretty amazing.”

Central Continental Bakery has built its reputation over the past 38 years. Stacey Brau has been there for 21 of them.

“Every year, it gets bigger and bigger. Word spreads. People come from all over,” she said.

Steve Oslizlo drove all the way from Hobart, Indiana, to buy a truckload of 120 sweet treats. He said the more than 170-mile round-trip drive and $488 tab was well worth it for the Polish confections.

“They’re gourmet paczki. It looks really good,” he said.

Oslizlo estimated he’d eat at least six of the paczki himself.

The paczki at Central Continental Bakery average about 380 calories apiece, but on the last day before The 40 days of Lent, the talk is of feasting not fasting.

“I diet the week before so I can binge this week,” said Cheryl Brown, of Glenview.

Manager Bobby Czarniak said customers get the culinary equivalent of a papal dispensation.

“We don’t count calories on Fat Tuesday,” he said.

That’s a good thing for the paczki pilgrims who lined up out the door.

“They even take days off to come in, because they know the wait is going to be long,” Brau said.

You can definitely call it a craze.

Over the last five days, the 35 workers here at Central Continental Bakery churned out more than 60,000 paczki, because during Mardi Gras, the focus is clearly on the binge before the benediction.

If you’re not sure what a paczki is, it’s kind of like a doughnut, but without a hole. Instead, it’s cut in half and stuffed with a sweet filling like chocolate icing, Bavarian cream, custard, or fruit jam.

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