I apologize for not posting since March, but things have been quite hectic and I just honestly haven’t made the time to write up my meals. I’ve been posting pictures and quick reviews over on my Instagram, but it’s been too long since I’ve done a full write-up.
On Wednesday, we met some friends for dinner over on the North Side for some authentic Hungarian at Huszar. We were greeted by the owner Judy, who was an outstanding and patient guide to their menu and the cuisine that her husband cooks up in the kitchen. Judy opened up the restaurant after her Hungarian father (who owned the bar that was there previously) passed away and named it after the branch of the Hungarian military that her father had served in. Judy was wonderfully passionate and heartfelt about all of the elements of the restaurant and
The meal was extremely special, hearing the insight on each of the dishes and how they ended up on this very straightforward and authentic menu. This is real Hungarian cuisine, which the city is severely lacking. Do yourself a favor and make the voyage to the very corner of the North Side and get some stick-to-your-ribs comfort food.
As a sign it’s been far too long since I did a proper update, I only got a picture of one of the three appetizers that the table shared. The Taste of Husvar is their take on the universal meat and cheese board that’s found its way into every higher-end Pittsburgh restaurant. The meats were a selection of a soft dry-cured salami, hard scout sausage, and smokey kielbasa. Directly next to the meats, easily confused with ketchup was their homemade “special sauce”, a wonderfully salty red pepper paste that complimented the rich and fatty meats and cheeses beautifully. The cheeses were two types of standard imported and fresh sliced, nothing to write home about and clearly not the star of the dish. The hardboiled egg was perfectly cooked with that luminescent yolk and a beautiful smooth richness throughout. The challah was a unique addition, as were the grapes and grape tomatoes, and dill-seasoned fresh vegetables, but the plate worked overall as a nice shareable and knosh-able plate.
The two unpictured appetizers fared FAR better. The Fried Cheese (Rántott Sajt) was lightly coated and perfectly fried to a rich and deep golden brown, allowing the wonderful cheese within to ooze out. Served with a sweet Hungarian style tartar dressing and white rice (trust me it works), the whole dish was delicious. Salty and aged notes from the cheese, fatty oil and crunch from the fried coating, and sweet and sour from the tartar with the earthiness and root of the white rice. A really well-composed and tasty appetizer.
The must-order and stand-out of the appetizer selections are the potato pancakes (Tocsi). A plate-sized disc of finely-shredded potato, crisped to an outstanding golden brown, seasoned perfectly with salt, pepper, and garlic, topped with meted shredded cheese and sour cream. Crunchy layers gave way to smooth and earth insides which practically melted together with the cheese and sour cream. A light hand with the salt went a long way to keep us going back more and more. We had to order two, they were that good.
With the protein-heavy and deeply rich entrees that we ordered, we had to do a few sides of their house salads. The red cabbage salad (Káposztasaláta) was outstandingly fresh and crunchy, with wonderful herbs and seasonings like toasted caraway seed throughout. The sour vinegar punch worked ideally in between bites of my steak to break through the heaviness of the garlicky meat and mountain of fried onions (more on that later). The cucumber salad with sour cream (Uborkasaláta) was equally delicious with the sour cream becoming more of a dressing/sauce over the pickled and thinly sliced cucumbers. The nice light crisp of the cucumbers in the velvety sour cream sauce were wonderfully salty and sweet and also provided that much-needed respite from the main courses.
Talking with Judy the owner as we sat there, she walked us through each of the entree options and answered our multitude of questions with a wonderful zeal and evident passion. I would have been happy ordering any of the entrees, but ultimately I decided on her favorite dish, the steak smothered in fried onions (Hagymás Rostélyos) She says that she tries to order it everywhere she goes when she’s in Hungary and I can see why. Pounded out thin and marinated in garlic, herbs, and heavily spiced with pepper, the steak was a flavor explosion. The generous cut was cooked to a wonderful medium, the meat was tender and juicy, and it was well-butchered without a hint of gristle or fat. The co-star was the 50 pounds of impossibly thinly sliced and flash-fried onion rings covering the steak and most of the plate. Again, perfect restraint was shown in over-seasoning or salting the onions as the steak provided enough of a flavor bomb for both of them. The onion rings weren’t greasy but the crunchy fry served perfectly to elevate the already explosive steak while balancing out the flavors. The wedge fried potatoes (which were also the side with the pork loin) were excellent. Crunchy and crispy on the outside, with soft pillowy mashed potato insides. You could tell great care had been taken with the fried potatoes and they weren’t some throwaway side that came with the plate. The fresh vegetables that appeared again and again were a nice break from the heavy steak and potatoes, but I could have done without the strong red onion; the cucumbers and red pepper did the job just as well on their own.
The pork loin with bacon strip (Cigány Pecseny) that my wife ordered was also very tasty. Pounded out thin and lightly pan fried, topped with a gorgeous thick cut slab of bacon, it had wonderful flavor throughout and was also served with those amazing fried potato wedges. I had to take a picture of the Chicken Paprikas because it was too pretty not to. The cornerstone of the Hungarian “meat and dumplings” dishes, it was a generous portion of chicken and house-made dumplings (nokedli) covered in their delicious paprika cream sauce. I will definitely be back to get an order in these upcoming months as the weather turns colder.
We couldn’t leave such a sweet host without having a sampling of their authentic desserts. The chocolate torte was lovely but standard, with a nice dry crumb and rich buttercream icing and having that good European balance of not being too sweet and using mostly dark (and not milk) chocolate. The palcsinta (of which you can choose apricot, strawberry, nutella, cottage cheese, or apricot and ground walnut paste) was a wonderful crepe extremely similar to a blintz. The crepe itself was eggy and soft, with that wonderful sweet light sponge texture, it enveloped the filling in a harmonious balance. We opted for both the nutella and house-special Gundel (apricot jam, ground walnuts, and rum) and both were delicious. The nutella was by far the richer and more decadent of the two, with the traditional jam and nut paste reminding me of a Kifli, or traditional Hungarian walnut cookie. The standout for me was the Kremes, the Hungarian version of a Napoleon with crispy and flaky puff pastry under a layer of powdered sugar, barely containing a tall layer of fresh whipped cream and vanilla custard. The fresh pastry flaked apart wonderfully, painfully fresh and light as air daring to float away with clouds of whipped cream, were it not kept down by the smooth and velvety custard.
There is hardly a better feeling than walking into a restaurant and instantly feeling like a regular, like you’re welcomed, and like you belong. From the very first smile from Judy and the earnest and attentive service from Mike (our waiter), to settling up the bill and walking back to our cars, it was a wonderful and personal experience. So often you can feel like just another table, serviced as quick as possible to turn into another faceless and nameless party, throwing your money into an abyss towards who knows what. Having that personal touch and feeling not only welcomed, but invited and guided through the meal is something that you just cannot get at a larger, more commercial restaurant. Please go see Judy at Huszar, get some potato pancakes to start, a big ole honkin plate of meat and carbs for your entree, and some Kremes for dessert. I guarantee it won’t be your last trip.