Haning out in Rockford: Old times, new times—part five

Food is where you find it

I have become enchanted by the little Royal Crown Bar Restaurant just across the street from Drew’s flat in Budapest. I plan for my first day alone. My son has to work the first three days of the week. Later in the week, he has budgeted a couple of vacation days so we can go to Vienna together, but now it is my first day on my own, and I set out to look around.

After I spend some time walking, the mall opens, and with it the Internet Café. I spend time at the café writing an article for The Rock River Times. It is quite an interesting task. It takes a while to figure out how to get online to my AOL account. All the instructions are in Magyar, and the Y and Z keys are reversed. I sign my e-mail to my son “Zour Dad.” Almost none of the punctuation is in its ordinary place on the English keyboard. Frankly, that kind of thing forces me to look at the keys, and here that is impossible. I make do by skipping all of that and notifying The Rock River Times staff that they will have to do quite a bit of editing. I type the whole article as an e-mail; this is the only way I can figure out to handle the situation, and send it. (They really did an excellent job of fixing it up.)

Then I am ready to eat lunch. I walk the short distance back from the Mammut and enter the charming little café. The man of the previous evening is here, and he asks what I will have to eat. We are going to eat out later in the day (it is my birthday), and I don’t want to eat too heavily so I start my Royal Crown adventures with galuska, a veal soup with paprika and sour cream. It is excellent.

That evening we have dinner in a trendy restaurant in the nicer part of downtown Budapest, an area that is rapidly developing as a restaurant and bar scene. The dinner isn’t quite up to snuff, even though Drew’s friend who writes for Gourmet magazine has recommended it. The salad is quite good, but the dressing is sweet, and that really gets my goat. (Really, it is time to stop putting Balsamic vinegar in absolutely everything.) The pork joint I order has been baked, not boiled, and as a result, it is too salty to eat. People who don’t eat these kinds of foods should not be allowed to prepare them. Dori inquires about my dinner, and I tell her that it should have been boiled. She agrees that is how her mother would do it. So now we are kind of O for 2 on the trendy places but the little places are doing quite well. Sound familiar?

Later in the week, I talk Drew and Dori into going to the Royal Crown for a light supper. They have soups. Drew has the garlic soup, and he notices that it actually has garlic in it, unlike the same dish at the trendy restaurant the night before. Dori has a bean soup, which she shares with Drew, and I have some pork medallions that come on a bed of home-fried potatoes (described as potato chips on the English version of the menu). This meal is good but not absolutely memorable. I plan another lunch.

And quite a lunch it turns out to be. I squeeze it in between two Rock River Times articles. On the menu it is listed simply as chicken with Roquefort salad. I love this kind of menu simplicity. A good salesperson always delivers more than he or she promises, and that is certainly the case here. (I hate menu descriptions that run on and on… Topped with this: on a bed of that: seared and roasted: blah, blah, blah. ) The salad is peppers (of course) with cucumber, tomatoes and yogurt sprinkled with bleu cheese. The chicken breast is stuffed with a salt cured ham, which is the Hungarian equivalent of proscciuto, and goat cheese. I liked this dish so much that I copied it for my new menu.

I stop for a glass of wine every night, and I am starting to develop friends, an engineer and a circus acrobat, both of whom speak pretty fair English. I try to squeeze in dinner another couple of times before I leave but manage only one final trip to eat. For my last meal, which Zsuzsanna (Susan), the owner, prepares for me herself, I choose the beef with red wine. It turns out to be a perfect Alice B. Toklas Beef Bourguignonne served with a noodle that is like spaetzle. Homemade noodles and good red wine beef gravy, it is hard to go wrong with that. She sits with me and tells me that she is the owner. The gentleman I thought was the owner is her boyfriend and a chief judge in the local court system. He was hanging out because her cook was on holiday, and that was the only way they could spend time together.

And so I reflect upon the fact that even here in Budapest, you get the good food at the little unpretentious places, and rather average food at the trendy highly decorated restaurants. It is as though if you spend all that time worrying, about your surroundings you don’t have enough energy left for the real mission, to provide excellent food to your customers. And then there is the whole issue of what is it your customers really want? Hmmm…

Owner of the Irish Rose (Rockford) and Irish Rose North (Rockton) restaurants, Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are also available on his Web site: IrishRoseRockford.com and featured on the Chris Bowman Show, WNTA talk radio AM 1330.

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