Hanging Out in Rockford: Two Sándors—the conclusion

My son Drew and I are in Villány at the Polgár Wine Cellar: http://www.polgarpince.hu/. We are touring the wine-cellaring area with the second Sándor of our visit south.

Sándor takes us to a particular holding area and asks if we like pálinka. I am the original pálinka kid. Miraculously, he produces two very shiny, spotless wine glasses and pours us each a sample of first one pálinka and then another. There are lots of different fruit flavors, but the traditional pear and another unusual flavor, quince, stand out in my mind. Now remember, we have already had several half-glasses of wine upstairs. The pálinkas start to make me feel giddy. Sándor turns out to be a really charming host, and we are having a really good time. You can hear a podcast of our clowning around at Budacast.hu.

He needs to go home, however, and we ask him for a recommendation on a place to eat. After all the wine and pálinka, it is of the utmost necessity that we get some food in our stomachs. We haven’t eaten since the not-very-good European breakfast at the hotel. Sándor drives us in his car to a winery that is open and serving lunch. We pull up in front of the Róth Cellar, and I exit the car, slamming the door behind me. Suddenly, my son is emitting a string of expletives. I turn to him, wondering what on earth could lead to this hollering, only to discover that his hand is trapped under the door I have closed.

I stand there, kissing my son’s bruised and battered fingers, and feeling like an idiot. He seems to be all right, though—no fingers broken—and we enter the winery. There is almost no one there. I am not sure we should stay. I feel as though we may be imposing on people who otherwise might be on their way home, but they assure us this is not so. They say they are waiting for a large party that is to come later in the day, and so we sit and order from another beautiful Hungarian waitress.

Again, wonderful food. This time, I give in and have the traditional gulyas (goulash) with galuska (noodles like spaetzle, which in German means sparrows, having to do with the way the dough looks when you drop it in the boiling liquid). Again, score one for traditional Hungarian cooking. The meal is a wonder, but it is my observation for the most part that if you want to have food like this now in Hungary, it is almost necessary to go to the country.

The beautiful waitress is having a good time with us, and she wants us to see the new cellar room. I am being lazy and eating slowly, so Drew goes ahead without me. But then he is so impressed that he makes me come downstairs. The journey is enlightening. They have constructed a genuine rendition of one of the old cellars. It seats approximately 150.

After lunch, we walk back to the train station—walk, walk and walk some more. We get back to Pécs and our hotel, and that night we go out looking for a place to have dinner. Again, the walking thing, walking and walking. Finally, we sit in a little Greek restaurant and have stuffed grape leaves that turn out to be canned. I cannot complain because Drew had warned me that they would be so. We wander on (and on) and finally settle on an Italian restaurant that Drew had wanted to go to in the first place.

The Italian restaurant turns out to be excellent. I sit there, drinking Czech beer while Drew eats a salad with virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I deliver my usual diatribe against the ubiquitous use of balsamic vinegar. Drew seems unimpressed. Then, the waiter brings my simple spaghetti with virgin olive oil and garlic, and I finally shut up. The noodles are perfectly al dente. My appetite satiated, my son takes me back to the hotel. Soon, we are both asleep. The next morning we will return to Budapest, and soon I will be returning to the U.S.

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 July 18-24, 2007, issue

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