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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Restaurant Review: Goulash Place, Danbury, CT


This past week, my son, Ian, my "meta-daughter", Devin, and I went out to Goulash Place, at 42 Highland Avenue in Danbury, for lunch after church.  This restaurant, opened in1977 by John Aczel and his late wife Magda, is perhaps the only Hungarian restaurant in Connecticut and has some very good (though not universally so) reviews online.  We arrived promptly at noon, parking in the small lot behind the restaurant, and were greeted by the restaurant's owner, John Aczel, coming out of his back door and informing us that the restaurant wouldn't be open until 1:00, so the three of us piled back in the car and went off to kill some time.

Upon our return, we parked and walked around to the front of the building, where we entered from the left-side door, set back from the street.  I was surprised by how small the dining room is, with only room for a bar in one corner, a small salad bar, and a half dozen or so tables.  Hungarian tchotchkes covered the walls.  John invited us to sit wherever we liked and gave us a couple minutes to look over the menu.

Having read several reviews of the restaurant, I already knew that I wanted to try the Transylvanian goulash but, as Ian ordered that, I selected the combination plate, featuring beef, pork, and veal.  Devin, since she's a vegetarian, had fewer options and ordered pea soup and palascinta (Hungarian crepe) with mushrooms.  I also ordered stuffed cabbage as an appetizer.  The youthful members of the party got rootbeer and I ordered a dark Czech beer, then John directed us toward the very small salad bar, featuring iceberg lettuce, sliced cucumbers, pickled beets, and just a few other items.

Stuffed Cabbage
When the drinks and the stuffed cabbage arrived, I poured the .5 liter beer, pausing to photograph it, as I knew that I'd never remember the name of the beer, which featured all sorts of accents, tildes, umlauts, and other diacritical marks that I didn't even recognize.  (Unfortunately, my cell phone was stolen the next day, before I could download the pictures from it, which also serves as explanation for why all of the photographs in this blog post are ripped off from other locations on the internet.)  The beer was quite good, dark brown like a stout, but with a lighter body and a bit more nuttiness.  The cabbage was astonishingly good, made with ground pork on the inside, but with bits of briskety beef in the sauce that covered it, and a nice dollop of sour cream to give it some tartness.

The Sampler Plate
When the entrees arrived, Devin asked me to taste test her mushroom palascinta to make sure there was no meat in it.  There wasn't, and the mushrooms were fantastic, particularly with a bit of cheese melted over the top of the crepe, and her soup was quite nice.  Ian and I traded bites of food, with him falling in love with with the wiener schnitzel (Hungarian: Bécsi szelet) and me deciding that he had gotten the better deal with his plate full of pork goulash and dumplings (essentially spaetzle).  My roast pork and beef were good enough, but were a bit overdone and, rather than being just "tender" had moved on towards "soggy.".  The dumplings were very good, especially with the meat juices.  The red cabbage added a lot to the flavor palette, but the green beans were canned and soggy and the carrots were indifferent.

John Aczel with his kolbasz.
I had noticed a sign over the bar advertising homemade sausages for $7.99/lb and, before leaving, I asked John for one.  Later in the evening, when I sampled some, I found that the smoked sausage was semi-dry, garlicky with just a bit of sweetness.  While I don't know anything about Hungarian sausage styles, I do know that I like what John made.

As Ian, Devin and I drove back to church after lunch, we discussed the restaurant and how we might review it.  Ian and Devin were both very happy with their food, but I was less so.  The salad bar was minimal, feeling like a throwback to the 1970s, back when "lettuce" meant "iceberg" and the beans and carrots were better forgotten.  We all agreed that the service was a bit on the slow side, but that it was very friendly.  The small dining room meant that the smoky-smelling drinkers at the bar were a pungent presence as we ate.  Would we go back?  Probably, but I'd definitely stick with the goulash rather than the sampler plate.

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