HUNGARIAN CUISINE (1088 Bathurst, at Dupont, 416-534-7911) A no-frills neighbourhood bar, this Annex anachronism dishes up hearty Budapest-style schnitzels and stews under a giant projection TV. Dig deep into the menu full of misspellings to discover some one-of-a-kind specialties. Complete meals for $25 per person, including all taxes, tip and an imported beer. Open Monday to Saturday 5 to 11 pm, Sunday 5 to 10 pm. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Need some heat? If you're not headed for the tropics, check out these eateries.
CURRY TWIST (3034 Dundas West, at High Park, 416-769-5460) Soothing music, attentive service and startlingly tasty food make this the perfect dining equation. Best: tomato-rich Butter Chicken in assertive gravy; minced lamb kebabs skewered with both sweet bell and fiery jalapeño peppers; bread rolls -- deep-fried sandwich loaf stuffed with coriander, potatoes 'n' peas. Complete meals for $30 per person, including all taxes, tip and a domestic beer. Open for dinner Tuesday to Sunday 5 to 11 pm, for lunch Friday to Sunday 11:15 am to 2:30 pm. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN
EL SOL (1448 Danforth, at Monarch Park, 416-405-8074) Decked out in folk art, this family-run cantina is easily the best in town serving way-south-of-the-border fare. Best: 65-spice Pollo En Mole, chicken breast in an ethereal hot-chili-and-dark-chocolate sauce, sided with roasted tomato rice and flavour-intense, slow-cooked refried beans; super chili-spiked salsa. Complete meals for $30 per person, including all taxes, tip and a bottle of beer. Open Tuesday to Sunday 3 to 11 pm. Closed Monday. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN
FLIP, TOSS & THAI KITCHEN (141 Harbord, at Brunswick, 416-966-6955) Former Salad King cook Suzhen Sun offers first-rate takes on Thai standards that equal those of her ex-employer. Best: green-shelled New Zealand mussels in chili-tastic sweet sauce strewn with matchstick carrots and bell pepper; spectacular Spicy Eggplant in sweet basil-scented garlic chili; glass noodle salad with chicken, shrimp and coriander. Complete meals for $18 per person ($9 at lunch), including all taxes and tip. Open Monday to Friday 11 am to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday noon to 10 pm. Unlicensed. Delivery. Access: one step at door, no washrooms. Rating: NNN
lately, hungarian restaurants don't open -- they close. So when a new one does make the scene, it's cause for investigation. Could schnitzel -- so long out of the foodie loop -- be the next big thing?Hungarian Cuisine has been open for just over a year. The north Annex spot's vibe is strictly 70s sports bar. A giant projection TV permanently tuned to CNN or the hockey game looms over wooden tables and benches topped with throw cushions where blue-collar types belt back after-work beers.
As a blizzard outside turns Bathurst subarctic, the Literary Device and I hunker down for an old-fashioned winter dinner. Conspicuous on the menu of expected soups and stews, the appetizers include Langosh ($3.50), a Budapest street food. A handful of pizza dough gets thrown in the deep-fryer and cooked to greasy-donut consistency. Topped with chopped garlic and shredded mozzarella and sided with sour cream for dipping, this starter's seriously artery-clogging. And addictively delicious.
A tasty coarse pâté-like chicken liver stuffing fills large mushroom caps that are paired to form a ball, then breaded and deep-fried. Two sour-cream-dolloped crêpes wrapped around rich creamy chicken paprikash (both $4.50) are another winner. Goulash soup sees the regulation combo of carrot, potato and pork, and Jokai Bableves (yoh-kay ba-bla-vesh) recalls Mexican frijoles refritos, savoury red kidney beans in a smoky, sausage-spiked soup (both $4.95).
But where's the rye bread, and why is everything lukewarm?
Mains generate some heat. From the menu that lists "grounded" meat, "seefood" and "salomon," the Device takes co-owner Zsuszen Kovacs's advice and orders pork stew Brassoi-style, tender pink pork slices in a lovely white-wine sauce sided with spaetzle-like dumplings ladled with more marvellous paprikash gravy.
You don't have to be a bloodsucker to dig the Transylvanian Platter ($16.95), but being a meat-eater helps. Three schnitzels -- plain garlicky Gypsy, plain breaded Parisian and breaded and paprika-spiked Wiener -- get heaped next to decent deep-fried home fries and a side salad of tissue-thin, sugary and vinegary cucumbers ($1.50). Ask for the unadvertised Hungarian hot sauce, a cough-inducing sour red killer.
The only misfires we find are Tatar Bifsztek ($12.95), a shared starter of ground steak in what tastes like French's hot dog mustard, and tripe ($8.95). Like tongue, you either love tripe or loathe it, the absurd concept of putting cow stomach in human stomach being as off-putting to many as dead tongue on living.
As Wolf Blitzer warns of war overhead, we finish with crushed walnut crêpes (Palacsintak, $3.99 for two) and smooth chestnut purée ($4.95) topped with aerosol whipped cream and chocolate syrup, served in an ice-cream-parlour sundae glass. Hungarian Cuisine's no-frills fare is just the thing for the dead of winter, but no, I can't see it starting a second Hungarian revolution.
after the first revolution in 1956, Toronto became home to thousands of Hungarian refugees, many of whom opened restaurants along what's now the Annex's sushi strip and south down Bay. Student-friendly joints like Korona and Leslie's Hungarian Goulash Party not only had super-cheap eats in huge portions -- you had to eat through the first layer of food to get to the second underneath -- but they even served cheap plonk like Szekszardi. On a Sunday! In Toronto!!When Ontario's drinking laws were slightly modernized in the 80s, Hungarian spots seemed to go out of fashion. That, and the introduction of lighter nouvelle restaurant cooking as well as the explosion of Toronto's multiculti kitchens, made those Old World eateries staffed by servers in peculiar toeless and heel-less boots passé. But Country Style (450 Bloor West, at Borden, 416-537-1745) remains forever timeless.
The Hungarian word for platter is "fatal"? Coincidence? The amount of heart-attack-inducing cholesterol in the Wooden Platter ($25.30 for two) suggests not. After a meal of breaded Wiener schnitzel, grilled pork chops, battered and deep-fried chicken livers, rashers of deep-fried bacon and a pair of spiralled sausages sided with mild, pickled beets and more deep-fried spuds, I'm back on my macrobiotic diet for three days straight to counter the damage. Though portions are still as reasonably priced and large as back in the day, why a meagre side order of mashed potatoes costs three bucks puzzles.