So my wife and I are away. Every time we go away, I search for food/ restaurant options that are either local/ specific to the area, or jus something we've never tried before. Im always looking for new tastes or ingredients to expand my culinary library and experiences. More things to mess around with back home in the kitchen.
Being vegetarian often makes this a little challenging, cause we are either faced with the same old 2 or 3 options, or they pair vegan vegetarian with a health food option, which is not necessarily a bad thing, as we all need to watch our health, but that usually minimalizes the authenticity of the flavors (Nott every vegan or vegetarian is that way cause of health reasons).
I came across this restaurant that serves, as they put it 'Classic Czech, Hungarian , German and Austrian '. I haven't really experienced much of those cuisines because I found them to be heavily meat based, and there is only so much a recipe could be modified (to vegan/ vegetarian ) before I looses its connection to the original recipe. But, at the end of the list of countries, it added vegetarian and vegan cuisine. In my experiences, I find that it's usually a good sign when a reataurantt puts it out there, right up front, that they provide vegetarian and vegan food ( not just options). It is because of this that I wanted to try this place, cause it appeared that it wasn't just going to be a throw together, to make the one token vegan in a group happy just to shut them up, but they would put effort into a dish that would be compatible with the cuisine they offer to everyone else .
The reviews were good, but one stood out. The patron was a walk in. when he entered the restaurant, the woman told him it was closed ( The website lists the open days/ hours as 5pm Wed - Sun). Not sure exactly when this guy entered the restaurant, but I assume it was within normal dinner hours. Anyway, he kinda said to her that the website says they were open. She basically said they were closed and turned him away. He did not give a good review or high rating. Other than that, the reviews from people who ate there were pretty good. Im not one to really go buy others reviews, especially online when they could be planted by the establishment to make them appear better, or sabotaged by one jackass who thinks they are God when it comest to cuisine and feels important to shoot aa place down, ass if they are experts. But getting a general idea to whaat you may be walking into is always a good, especially when far from home, on vacation and want everything to work out. I did keep this review in the back of my mind, and came up with a plan B juts incase I ran into a similar situation. Didn't want to be left without dinner.
The day before we expected to dine at the place, I had my wife call just to confirm they intended to be open on the day and time we would be in town. She called during their ' open hours / and day'. Its rang about 8 times. Just when my wife Wass about to hang up, they picked up and a woman with an accent said " Hello?". My wife thought for sure that she dialed the wrong # and asked what time are you open until. The woman, in aa kind of rude way, basically said they're open when they are open, and if its slow, they just shut down. My wife then asked if they would be open the next day ( day we would be there). Woman, kind of in an annoyed way pretty much reiterated her method of determining if she would be open or closed. The woman then asked if my wife would want to make a reservation. Not knowing exactly what time we would be in town, or even if we would be able to successfully cross the border ( Niagara Falls area ) so she said she'd call back when we know specifics. The woman hung up. My wife turned to me and asked if I was a sure about this place ( with a look, basically implying that it's all on me if we have any issues). I said, it something we haven't tried before, they offer a decent amount of food we eat, and Im looking forward to it. I got an non enthusiastic ' OK' from her. Just to be clear, this isn't a vegan or vegetarian restaurant, they just have a decent selection of food we can eat that are comparable to their meat counterparts. And also some dishes that just happen to be vegan.
The following day, we get into Canada no problem ( almost). We're walking around. It comes about 4:30pm ( 1/2 hour before when the place is theoretically going to open ). We are about 1.3 miles from the restaurant, no car, Im not a cab or public transportation kinda guy, its hot out, but not unbearable. Basically, we are walking and intend to walk to the restaurant. I said to my wife, lets give this place a call. I know they dont open til 5 ( Theoretically ), but lets see if we can make a reservation now, or determine if its not going to work out, so we can come up with a plan B, and not waste time ( or effort). She calls, no answer. Then we decided, lets walk towards the restaurant, this way , if we call and they can take us right in, we didn't waste any time, and if not, we 'll just find somewhere to eat in the area. We both agreed, and headed towards the restaurant, which was kind up a steep hill ( of coarse), and the sun started to come out ( of coarse). halfway there, my wife calls again. After about 10 ringsss, the same woman picked up. Still a little cold and abrupt, but my wife managed to make the 5pm reservation. My wife hung up, and gave me that look. I said we're half way there, at this point, we're all in.
We get too the restaurant at exactly 5pm ( my wife said we'd be there at 5, not taking into consideration the walk we had ahead of us, the temperature, the hill, the blisters on our feet from walking 6 miles ( at this point). My fear was we'd get there at 5:01pm, and the woman would tell us we were late and shut down. Would have made for aaa great story, but that didnt happen. We picked up the pace, and arrived punctually.
First thing I notice, as walking towards the establishment, was it looked like a really old home ( in good condition). Had a sign on it that said 1850. The I notice the window its open. I was like, oh crap, no air conditioning, and we're hot and sweaty. Worse than being uncomfortable, was me anticipating my wife adding that to her argument as why we should have went with plan B from the start. I didn call any attention to it, and hoped she didnt notice.
We open the door to this little old house and walk in ( I let my wife go first, as I was a little afraid lol, and she's a bully). Looked like someones living room was cleared out and a few ( 6 ) tables were placed, and I don't mean this in a bad way. No lights were on, so it was dark, but kinda cozy. Towards the back of this small, dimly lit room, was an elderly woman in silence. No words were spoken. The woman looked at my wife, and kinda nodded towards a table across the room. My wife said , oh, we should sit at that table ( only on of the 6 tables Wass set, and had 2 menus place on it. The woman nodded again. My wife turned back at me. Boy, do I wish I had a picture of that look, and we proceeded to the table, sat down and viewed the menu. In general, we knew what we would be getting, as I always preview menus because of our restrictions. The woman comes over and first explains to us how some business is calling her, but the business doesnt match up with the number coming up on her caller ID, so she argued with them and hung up on them. She then said " Are you vegan/ vegetarian? ". We answered yes, but I was kinda surprised that she knew, as we didnt say anything, we hadn't really opened the menus yet, and we dont look like vegans ( who usually look unhealthy, probably due to lack to vitamins and nutrients ***Generalized statement. Im allowed to stay it cause I am one
, but its true, usually they claime to be the most healthy, but their color is off and they're too thin***).
The woman sees we are sweating, disappears , and comes back with some kind of wipe for both of us. We wiped our sweat away, and proceeded to view the menu and order. When going to a restaurant where there are new things to try, I usually go overboard, as I like the variety, and never know ( in this case) when the next time Ill be in the area, so I want to get a full sample of what there is to offer.
This is what we got:
- Pickled Achocha ( a Peruvian cucumber like veggie. Not sure of the connection to European food other than it was pickled)
- Garlic Bread
- Cauliflower soup ( Yeah, my wife looked at me like I was crazy ordering soup on such a hot day).
- Vegetable Goulash served with dumplings and red cabbage chalamada.
- Savoy Patties, served with roasted potatoes and red cabbage chalamada
The woman disappeared into the kitchen, and we heard the pots, pans and cooking noises. She was the only staff ( Greeter, chef, server..)Oh, and we were the only ones in the restaurant start to finish.
Considering she was the only one, the service was timely. She came back with the Pickled Achocha and Garlic Bread. The achocha were pickled in vinegar with onions and carrots. It was not too salty or vinegary , as many veggies that are pickled this way often are. It was also served with a sprinkle of chopped dill. Im not sure if they were initially pickled with dill, but the fresh dill on top was actually a great way to boost the dill flavor, and give it a 'dill pickle' feel to it. The texture of the Achocha was not soft, yet not crispy. kinda like when you have a pickled tomato. Although not a ground breaking flavor ( as Ive had many pickles in my life), but i loved the subtle flavors, the texture, and especially the boost of dill flavor from it being sprinkled freshly on the dish . I will likely try and grow this leggy next year and hopefully duplicate the dish. I will also use the add fresh dill technique to other pickled things.
By this point, the woman was slowly warming up, we were slowing cooling down and my wife took her first bite out of the garlic bread. Once again, the look on her face was priceless ( in a good way). I head the crunch and then saw the look of delight as she munched on the bread and said that I had to try it. It was listed as a Rye Bread Sourdough, pan fried to get crispy then brushed with garlic and oil. Once again, not flavors that are new to me, but the outer crunch, then the doughiness of fresh baked bread in the center were spot on. Probably the highlight of the dinner. Mmm, I'd go back again today just for another piece . Must have been a caste iron pan to ge that crispiness.
Moving on to the cauliflower soup. I originally wanted the potato soup, which was on the menu, but they were out of it. The two options are sauerkraut soup or cauliflower soup. I had a pretty good idea whaat the sauerkraut soup would taste like, so I went cauliflower. The best way I could describe it was something that would have been made/ eaten during the depression. Very simple and bland. If I had to guess, it was cauliflower, maybe some onion and garlic with water and salt blended up. There was a spice in there that I know I've tasted before, but I just cant place it. Also appeared to be thickens with some kind of starch, maybe potato. Not to the point where it was really thick, but definitely thickened. Kind of like the consistency of a slightly watery cream of wheat. It was ok, but I should have went with the sauerkraut soup, as I've never had it before. Later on, the woman ( who by now had warmed up a lot more, but still had that tough exterior) came over and said that she is trying new things to mix up the menu a bit. This is the first time she made the cauliflower , just to give the menu variety. She asked my opinion. I didnt have the heart to be brutally honest. I told her it was a very good. She replied really? I said look, I hate it all up! ( which Id did cause it wasn't bad, and a slight fear if I didnt finish what she had served , she may go off on me
On to the main course. The goulash was mine, the Savoy cabbage patties were hers ( although we all know I was going to taste both, and eat her left overs, again, partially cause I was a hungry, partially cause I wanted to taste everything, and mostly in fear of having anything left overland having the woman take me out back to kick my butt).
The goulash was a blend of fresh veggies ( carrots, onions, eggplant, pepper, zucchini, string beans, celery, potatoes, tomato and some red pepper). Its possible im missing something. The veggies were definitely fresh and the dish was not made in advance. The consistency was a somewhere between a soup and stew. The thickness was almost like the thickens if you added barley to something, yet I didn detect any grains. There was likely parsley in it. I did notice many ' spice specs' in the dish, but nothing specific popped out so it was hard for me to detect. The redness was likely from the paprika, and not aa tomato base, as it didnt taste tomatoey, but there was some tomato in as a veggie. Not one veggie dominated , jus an equal blend. When ordering, she did ask how hot I wanted it. Knowing my wife would want to try it, I told her mild. What was kinda cool, was when eating it, the dish had that feeling like it was going to be hot, but it never amounted to anything. Wish I knew how she did that. When ordering ,I was offered for it to be served with Spaetzle, dumpling or roasted potatoes. I went with the dumpling, but going in I wanted the spaetzle, but she said sampling first so I jumped on that before she mentioned the others , and decided to stick with it. The dumpling kinda looked like sliced matzoh balls. That had the consistency and tasted of steamed buns ( kinda like bay buns). Very good. The red cabbage chalamada was a also subtly salted and vinegared like the Achocha. Very good. Over all I was pleased. Kinda tasted like and Eastern European take on Ratatouille ( less heavy on tomatoes and peppers).
On to the next, the savoy patties, served with the red cabbage chalamada and roasted potatoes. The patties reminded me of lakes. Not sure was to what she used as the base, with shredded Savoy cabbage incorporated. They were very good, but would likely have benefited with more salt and a little thing, so there was a better crisp to non crisp ratio. ( There were no salt shakes on the tables, and didnt want to ask in fear of insulting her cooking
. This was a very intimate experience, having only on person act as server, chef, greeter...She was it. So, everything fell on her. She clearly was working hard, and doing a good job, We even started to appreciate her personality as the service went on. Possible a cultural thing, or not, but she is a unique individual ( just no warm and fuzzy)). The potatoes were great. Once again, likely made in a cast iron pan. They were tender, yet had one side that was perfectly crispy, Loved them.
So, what started out as an anticipated nightmare, actually turned out as aa delightful, interesting and memorable experience. I tried a few new ingredients, learned some new techniques and combinations, and will go home with some inspiration to try some of these things out. And as of now, it has passed the , was me and my wife call it , "The Diarrhea Test". (Sorry to bring it to this level folks, but its our warped sense of humor shining through). Any time we try new food or restaurant, as long as it tastes good and we dont get sick for the following 24 hours after consumption, then we consider it a plus. m almost 12 hours in and doing ok. I also apologize for the lengthy post. I can not sleep at all when I go away, so this is my way of passing time, and also documenting my interesting experience.
The following pics were mostly taken by me. (The cauliflower soup didnt make the cut). I didnt want her to see me taking pics, and it was dark, so the quality isnt treat. Sorry for boring all of you, or for those who made it this far, Maybe I put you guys to sleep