Callum H.W. Scotney (left), Amanda Farias and Paradis display their breads; goulash with bread dumpling is a classic.
PRAGUE EUROPEAN KITCHEN (638 Queen West, at Palmerston, 416-504-5787, theprague.ca.) Complete meals for $12 per person, including tax, tip and a juice. Average main $8. Open Monday 10 am to 6 pm, Tuesday and Wednesday 10 am to 10 pm, Thursday to Saturday 10 am to 11 pm, Sunday and holidays 10 am to 5 pm. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
For those of us who cherish the long-running Prague Deli, word that the beloved Queen West landmark's new owners have rebranded it Prague European Kitchen is cause for concern.
Oh, the three-week-old resto still looks the same from the street, the signage from its last incarnation as Prague Fine Food Emporium intact over the window. But once you push open that familiar front door, it's clear that this Prague is playing in an entirely different league. Gone is the long display case groaning with headcheese and bratwurst, replaced by a stand-up bar, a few tables and chairs, a cuckoo clock and not much else. Why all the empty space?
"We're thinking of holding private events on Sunday and Monday nights when we're closed for dinner," says Prague toque Jake Paradis. "Maybe a little Serbian dance party carrying the roasted pig around, that kind of vibe."
That news calls for a Balkan cocktail ($10), a lethal shot of schnapps-like Slivovitz, sided with a half-dozen or so insanely addictive pigs' ears deep-fried and dusted with smoked paprika. A larger portion of said ears paired with a fiery mayo detonated by Hungarian banana peppers can also be had as a $5 starter. Why, they even serve buck-a-shuck pierogi.
"They're made by the same woman who's been doing them for 27 years, but the potato filling's mine," says the ex-Jump chef de partie.
We doubt she'd recognize them as the foundation of the Prague's superb brunch-only Benny ($12), pan-fried and topped with two poached eggs, some on-trend shredded ham hock and a sweet paprika hollandaise.
Prodigious plates of suckling pig ($14 lunch/brunch) cover more conventional ground, a great whack of tender pork and crackling in mustard gravy complete with apple sauce and enough doughy bread dumplings to sink a battleship.
At dinner the pig finds its way into palacinky crepes ($18) - aka Czechoslovakian tacos.
The Prague has been serving pickled beets since Origin's Claudio Aprile was knee-high to a Brussels sprout, and the new version's no different, though the salad now contains a crumble of fresh quark cheese, the odd spicy smoked hazelnut and a few wayward strands of watercress ($8/$9.50 dinner).
Except for the wilted dandelion greens that accompany the smoked sturgeon and grilled fingerling potato salad ($11/$11.50) and the tough outer leaves that wrap the otherwise tasty cabbage rolls stuffed with roast duck ($12/$13), they're the only greens we'll see.
Beefy wine-braised sauerbraten short ribs ($16/$17) arrive on the bone over a heap of deep-fried spaetzle and house-made pickles. Those same crunchy cukes show up on the substantial Champion Hlebicky sandwich - Black Forest ham, shaved turkey, smoked Edam, hard-boiled egg and potato salad on a pretzel bun ($7.50) - and as architectural garnish for the bacon-rimmed Caesar ($8.50) with Russian vodka.
From the mini-deli at the back of the 30-seat room we opt for impossibly crisp eggplant schnitzel mit sauerkraut on a kaiser ($7), a bowl of tripe soup ($4.75/$6) and a slice of our favourite honey chocolate cake ($4) to go, proof that the future's exactly the same as the past, only twice as expensive.