Hungarian Kitchen (HK), is a restaurant in North Fort Myers serving Hungarian cuisine. They are located in the Weavers Corner Plaza, on the Northeast corner of Bayshore Rd. and US 41. As of this writing, they have been open for about one month.
Always looking for good food, I had read some very positive comments about HK on social media and decided to give it a try. I like Eastern European food from time to time and my dining companion was more than enthusiastic about dining here, so why not?
The restaurant probably seats about 25 people at most. The restaurant furnishings are for now somewhat spartan lest for the doily-like tablecloths that cover the dining tables. I thought this only added to the homey feel this establishment has.
We chatted with one of the owners (and cook and sometimes server), Eszter. She told us she had run a house cleaning service for almost 20 years, but was tired of the commute and wanted to switch gears.
Eszter is very passionate about her cooking at one point showing us the Dutch bell peppers she used to cook lecso (letch-o), that delicious Hungarian pepper stew, but more on that later.
This is the menu for now. Eszter was very enthusiastic about adding new menu items in the near future.
We started with a bowl of Goulash, that wonderful beef soup (stew) seasoned with paprika. Here, the soup was made with potatoes, onions, carrots and celery. I thought it was good. However, I have come to favor goulash made in the Viennese style. This is more stew-like and is heavily seasoned with caraway seed, almost becoming a liquid rye bread. Don’t get me wrong, the goulash served here is good, I just prefer a different style.
Along with that, we ordered an onion salad. This was very minimalist but good. Onion slices are first washed to partially remove their sulfur compounds so they are not as sharp. They are them seasoned with salt, vinegar, sugar and pepper. It was interesting in between bites of our goulash.
Unfortunately, they were sold out of chicken paprikash, that very traditional Hungarian dish of braised chicken in a paprika/sour cream sauce. An adjacent diner, who managed to get the last portion of this saw me maniacally taking photos and jokingly asked if I wanted to take a picture of her food. Of course, I said yes! It looked good and a “must try” item on a second visit.
Being out of chicken paprikash, I ordered my second choice, stuffed cabbage rolls. At one time, it was said the Hungarian coat of arms consisted of meat and cabbage. That being said, the stuffed cabbage rolls are very good at HK.
The cabbage rolls and stuffed with rice and ground pork, the pork marinating in paprika for one to two days. Sauteed onion is also included, and the rolls are baked atop a bit of Bavarian sauerkraut with bay leaf. The rolls are served atop the cooked sauerkraut and their cooking liquid and topped with sour cream. I am used to cabbage rolls cooked in an almost ubiquitously present tomato sauce. They were very different here. Although on the fence about this dish after my first taste, I was a believer as I finished my plate.
They served a variety of schnitzels at HK. For those that do not know, schnitzels are usually either pork or veal slices that are pounded thin, which also tenderizes then by breaking up the muscle fibers in the meat and usually fried. Schnitzel-like dishes show up all over the world such as the Latin American milanesa or the Japanese tonkatsu.
Probably the most recognizable schnitzel is jagerschnitzel or hunter’s schnitzel. It is breaded and fried and served at HK in a mushroom sauce. The restaurant also serves zigeunerschnitzel or gypsy schnitzel. None the less, gypsy schnitzel is served at HK with lecso, an incredibly savory stew of Hungarian wax peppers, onion, tomato and paprika cooked in bacon fat and/or with sausage. This dish can be ordered breaded (German style) or non-breaded and sauteed (Hungarian style).
My dining companion would have none of this and ordered schnitzel Pariser (Parisian) style. This is battered, but not breaded schnitzel which is topped with cheese. At HK, crepe batter is used. It was suggested the dish be ordered with rice but we could not pass up in house made nokedli, the Hungarian version of spatzle. This was an interesting version of schnitzel, but I think I prefer a sauce with mine. I can see now why rice was recommended, as although very good, the house made nokedli would have been that much better with some sort of topping. My dining companion loved this dish, however, and would order it again.
When we were chatting with Eszter, she had mentioned that there were a number of items available off the menu from her kitchen. These ranged from desserts such as Dobos torte, a Hungarian sponge cake layered with chocolate buttercream and topped with caramel, breads like German potato bread, to meats like artisan kolbasz. Kolbasz is the Hungarian word for sausage. When she had told us she had smoked kolbasz that took five weeks to prepare and was smoked with corn cobs and cherry wood, I couldn’t resist. She was kind enough to bring out a sample, served with bread, salted tomatoes and sliced Dutch pepper.
I really think this was Lecso Kolbasz, a smoked sausage used in lecso. It was fantastic and to me, almost the highlight of the meal. I think what made this so special was that you probably cannot buy this sausage anywhere in the area. I made sure I bought some of this before I left.
We finished the meal with a poppy seed crumble cake, a classic German dessert. This is a three layer cake with sort of a drained yogurt/flour crust, a thick layer of vanilla flavored poppy seeds and a topping of butter, sugar and flour crumbles. I do not have much of a sweet tooth, but it was good and my dining companion loved it.
I thought the food at HK good to very good and will be back for more. If you go, be sure to check on the availability of off menu items from their kitchen. You may be, as I was, pleasantly surprised.