Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor tornado can keep me away from good food. For this restaurant feast, my food adventuring friend and I went out to the Northwest reaches of Stepford World — the suburbs — for some good eating. However, the weather picked a fine time to get angry. No sooner had the train pulled out of the station than the conductor announced that we were going to have to sit in a holding pattern because tornadoes were blowing across a few of the Northwest suburbs. Well, I had to make him understand that I didn’t care about some tornadoes. I wanted food and unlike people who have the good angel on one shoulder and the bad angel on the other giving conflicting advice, my stomach doesn’t have that issue. It said, “Go tell that fool of a conductor to get this train moving because there’s a certain beef stew that needs to know someone loves it. I’m hungry for Hungarian.” Actually, I just held my growling belly and watched the rain pour down in buckets. Just think, the sky had cleared and the stars were out when I got out to the suburbs. I love Chicago’s weather, but I love the restaurants more.
The Paprikásh, located at 602 West Northwest Highway in Arlington Heights, Illinois, was too quaint for its own good. Upon entering, it was evident that this was a family style restaurant. All tables have four chairs: one for father, one for mother, one for the son, and another one for his mistress that father and mother hate as much as their daughter’s lazy, shiftless, don’t-want-to-work husband. My friend and I are good at picking restaurants that have culturally live music: the xylophone and violin players at this restaurant, the Lebanese belly dancer — we’re going back —, the Ecuadorian band, and the table dancer at the Japanese restaurant. Wait, the table dancer was an episode out of my Berkeley days, and not a pretty sight when she fell — too much saki.
Since those at the other tables were drooling uncontrollably, my friend and I launched into our usual ordering of too much. We started with lángos, which were two pieces of garlic bread, and I don’t mean frozen Stouffer’s stuff. This bread melted on the tongue just like cotton candy. I actually wanted to have a cigarette after eating that bread, and I don’t smoke. We also had körözött, home made cheese spread, which came with bread that had a distant pumpernickel taste to it. Now you see it; now you don’t. The big hit appetizer that we downed was a hortobágyi húsos palascinta. This savoury crepe filled with chicken paprikásh was enough to have resulted in civil unrest in that restaurant if someone were to have messed with mine. Take my wife, please, but leave my hortobágyi húsos palascinta alone.
Not to be ridiculously over-indulgent, which is a good thing at times, we ordered a burgonyás lángos lescoval and a hargitai birka tokány. The burgonyás lángos lescoval was a potato pancake topped with green peppers, red peppers, and onions. Pancakes are not just for breakfast any more and I know I had a stupid smile on my face from enjoying the food so much. It gets better, though. The hargitai birka tokány, which were thin strips of lamb seasoned with black pepper, tarragon, bay leaves, and other herbs — they were too damn good for us to care what exactly they were — almost had me singing in concert with the xylophone and violin players. We have had our share of European food, but this meal took the cake. Hell, it took the entire bakery.
There is always the required sampling of at least one dessert. Even the waitress came back to take our orders with a menu of her own. We had a gundel palacsinta, two crepes filled with walnut cream and rum raisins, topped with a chocolate sauce and served on fire right at the table. I noticed that some people at the table across from us had the same thing, but the woman cutting the thing in halves dropped the knife on the floor and after briefly checking to see if the others saw her folly, bent down covertly, picked up the knife, and continued slicing the dessert. As nasty as that was, the desserts on our table were too tasty for me to lose my appetite. The other dessert was a dorbos torta. Just shoot me now because I know they’re serving that lovely piece of work in heaven. This was a cake consisting of six individually baked bases filled with chocolate butter cream and a crispy caramel glaze on the top. Europeans have a monopoly on pastries and cakes and I never would have thought a Hungarian restaurant would prepare such a delicacy that would make you want to serenade the baker to bake you some more just to shut you up and get you from under her window.
After the visit to Paprikásh, I have a greater appreciation for independent restaurants in the suburbs of Chicago. Yes, I am a purist, wanting only mouthwatering goodies representative of other countries from restaurants in Chicago proper. Wait, let me be honest. We went to Paprikásh out in Arlington Heights because the owner closed down the Chicago branch. Our waitress gave us a very detailed transcript update of why the Chicago restaurant met the axe along with some humour and we gave her a huge tip for helping us properly pronounce all those dishes we ordered. Yes, this was another winner, but you probably knew that already. My friend and I were quite glad we went out to the suburbs, despite the fact that we could have ended up in Oz from the tornadoes. Load up the family and friends and head out to Arlington Heights for some yummy Hungarian food. Make sure no tornadoes are in the forecast and leave mistresses and lazy, shiftless, don’t-want-to-work husbands wherever you found them. You will end up paying 100% of the bill anyway and you do not want to go up in a restaurant like Paprikásh and lose your appetite. I know I am going back with a heartier appetite.