Following the uprising in 1956, we were blessed for a time with a neighbourhood of Hungarian restaurants. Magyar refugees poured into the downtown Toronto area, leaving their mark in Kensington Market, as well as the stretch of Bloor St West between Spadina and Bathurst. It felt like an offshoot of the university’s neighbourhood, full of inexpensive places to eat.
And now, so many years later? The inevitable gentrification has transformed the area, so that only one remains, the venerable “Country Style.” I was there a couple of weeks ago, impressed that their ambience was essentially unchanged, and that they had somehow survived; they had never been my favourite.
Tonight, however, I didn’t feel like going downtown, even though Erika –who’s having a birthday—and I both wanted to eat Hungarian food. What to do?
We had noticed a place right in our Scarborough neighbourhood for years. Feeling lazy, but still wanting to eat Hungarian, we made our first belated foray into the Cosy Hungarian Dining Room, just 2 blocks from home. I am embarrassed to report that a project that began in a spirit of laziness should have led to a splendid discovery. Did we deserve to find such a great place so close to home?
Don’t answer that.
I looked at the menu, aware that the prices were very reasonable, and decided to try to
make the evening feel like an event. The priciest item on the menu is the Flaming Wooden Platter for Two at $42.00. Aside to my Vegan friends: cover your eyes!
Does that sound expensive? Not when you consider that each person gets a cabbage roll (brought as an appetizer), a wiener schnitzel, a sausage, a pork chop, vegetables, potatoes & salad. The wooden platter makes a theatrical presentation, complete with big knives skewered through all that meat. Carnivores smile indulgently at such things.
The schnitzels were really big, and really clean tasting, without the residual grease I was accustomed to from –for example – the Hungarian joints of my youth down on Bloor St. The potatoes were exquisitely roasted. The main reason I wanted the wooden platter is that it’s a bit of a smorgasbord, giving you a sampling of the restaurant and its capabilities. We encountered breaded meat (schnitzels), roasted meat (pork chops), seared meat (the sausages), an irresistible tower of delight.
Dessert on this occasion was palacsinta. That reminds me of another bothersome Bloor St memory. The Blue Cellar Room offered something called “palacinka” which always seemed odd until google told me (a moment ago) that palacinka is a Czech crêpe. Aha! now i get it.
The palacsinta (Hungarian crêpe) I encountered tonight vanished like magic. I surprised myself, considering:
• we’d come here on a quick impulse
• I ate a big lunch shortly before
• I was already inexplicably stuffed from the wooden platter (i had expected to take some home in a doggie bag, NOT to be consuming all of it…)
Hm, I guess I was hungrier than I realized…?
Yet I devoured that dessert. I hope my mom doesn’t read this, but the palacsinta’s better than hers. Same with the cabbage rolls come to think of it.
I discussed it with Gabor, the chef, who explained that his mom –haha like mine—had made cabbage rolls at home using beef mixed with pork, making something firm as a meatball, whereas his were from beef & rice. They were soft inside yet held together brilliantly.
So now, my Hungarian restaurant experiences will be in my Scarborough neighbourhood. Cosy Hungarian Dining Room is very close to the corner of Midland & Kingston Rd. While it’s a bit off the beaten track, it’s very good and very cheap, just like the best places I remember downtown. I know I’ll be back.