Hanging Out in Rockford: Blame it all on Anthony—part one

It’s my last day in Budapest. I have been here for two weeks visiting my son Drew, who works for himself. Last night, I was strangely unsettled. I left Drew and Iza alone, and went out by myself. I rode the 59 street train down to the Mammut (the huge mall that is across the street from where Drew used to live), and walked the short distance to one of my hangouts in Budapest, the Royal Crown. I sat at the little bar, watched the European version of CNN, and drank six pálinkas and three short Czechoslovakian beers.

Afterward, I was starving hungry and out of forints, so I walked into the Burger King next to the square and ordered two cheeseburgers. They were the worst ever. I don’t understand why anyone in Budapest buys American fast food, but they do. I sat on the street train on the way back eating the French fries, the hamburgers themselves being almost indigestible. I missed my stop, and had to get off the train and then catch it back the other way. Finally, I got off at the right corner, and walked the block to my little apartment. I stop at the little street bar to have another pálinka (fruit brandy, sort of like grappa). I am out of money, but the woman who runs the place pours me a drink anyhow. I have become a regular.

But now, on the last day, the last day in Budapest, I stop at the street bar and pay for my drink from the night before. I walk the couple of blocks to my son’s apartment and ring the bell. He has coffee waiting, and after he works a little while, I sit and read a novel by Paul Auster (to whom he has introduced me). He asks if we should go to the baths. I want to—it will be the perfect way to finish off my trip to Budapest. He wants to take me to the Gellert. The Gellert is a wonderful hotel on the Danube that has baths attached. I am very excited.

We catch the 61 street car to Moscow Terrace, and then the 18 to the Gellert. The hotel itself is amazing. Truly, this is Old-World beauty and elegance. They also have one hell of a brunch (and it’s free if you are staying at the hotel), and the coffee is great. That’s why I made the trip by myself earlier in the week. (Although the price of brunch has more than doubled since my last trip four years ago.) We spend our time soaking in the various tubs and watching the beautiful Hungarian women.

Drew does some laps in the swimming pool and then announces he is hungry. I am, too. He calls his friend Anthony, whom I had met earlier in the week. Anthony is this 6-foot-5-inch, handsome black man who has become my son’s best friend in Budapest. He works for a start-up Web company called logmeon. They are competitors with gotomypc.com. He has a wonderful sense of humor, and is one of the most sensitive young men I have ever met. It’s easy to see why my son has become such close friends with him. Anthony suggests a Serbian restaurant where we can meet for lunch. It’s one of my son’s favorites.

We walk across the Danube from Buda to Pest on the green bridge that is in front of the Gellert, and catch a bus to the neighborhood of the restaurant. I want a small beer, but Drew is in a devilish mood and orders us two large Czech beers that he says are stronger. We wait for Anthony to show up, but Anthony is a little slow coming, so we order a couple of pálinkas from the gorgeous Hungarian girl who is waiting on us at the bar. Then, we have some more Czech beer. We get tired of waiting and order some Ewe cheese. It’s sort of like the Greek fried cheese dish Saginaki. Finally, Anthony shows, and we order some more beer and some more pálinka. We’re all feeling really good by this time (Anthony’s fault totally, for being so late, and we tell him so), and, in between my flirting with the beautiful bartender (who is a really good sport putting up with two drunk American guys and one drunk American father, I keep saying that I can get her an American visa), we decide to order the Serbian meat plate for three.

The plate comes, and it looks like we are feeding an army, a Serbian army that likes meat. There are three or four kinds of Serbian sausage, fried potatoes and, well, you get the picture. And then, Anthony didn’t get his portion of fried cheese (because he was late), and so we have to order some more of that. We manage to eat all of this massive plate, except one meat patty that Anthony has boxed up to take home.

More next week.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

from the June 13-19, 2007, issue

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