Once in a while something will cross your path and keep doing so for what seems to be an inordinately large number of times in a short span, almost as if you’re being led towards it. Now, weird as this may sound especially when one is talking about something as mundane as a restaurant you need to bare with me for a moment and allow me to explain.
For the past year or so Nancy and I have been talking to people who have crossed our path for whatever reason, be it someone looking at the home we are selling, a friend we’d not seen for some time, or even my own mother, and have all somehow managed to get on the subject of a certain restaurant and how we need to visit this place because the food is so great. The restaurant in question is a small Hungarian place named Jonas’ and after not being able to avoid the subject we decided it was time to visit for ourselves (after all it seemed we had to).
Jonas’ is located at 937 6th Ave. S.W. at the base of one of the many apartment towers in the city centre. Parking is not too bad with a parkade on the same block and if you arrive after 6pm the street right out front is free. The location is small and has a very homey feel to it, the Hungarian embroidery on the walls, traditional dance clothing and souvenirs on display while not exactly what you’d expect are interesting while adding warmth and a little bit of a sense you’re not just dining in Calgary anymore. I’ve visited small and interesting places in Eastern Europe that have the same sort of decoration and couldn’t help but feel as if I was traveling again, the many patrons speaking in Hungarian added to this feeling and I truly enjoyed the experience.
Rosza and Janos Jona opened Jonas’ in 1998 after emigrating from Hungary where they operated a number of restaurants, and pubs as well as a hotel. They wanted to create a place in their new home where people could enjoy simple delicious homemade style food and I’d say they have succeeded in doing just that.
We were warmly greeted upon our arrival by Rosza and seated with our friends. Around us were tables filled with many patrons happily eating, with many speaking Hungarian, something which I immediately thought was a good sign. As with any restaurant, you know you’ll get some of the best food of the right style in a place full of locals who are of the same ethnic background as the items being served.
We looked over the menu after saying our hellos, it’s not a very large one and given the small, family-run nature of the place it’s what one would expect, besides I’ve found that smaller menus often mean that the food is better and more carefully prepared then it would be at a location with an extensive variety of offerings. My hunger increased as I looked over the items listed; Goulash, Schnitzel and Cabbage Rolls are all things I truly enjoy and having had a Ukrainian Grandmother who was an exquisite cook, making fresh perogies and cabbage rolls for me all the time I know how good food of this type should taste.
Rosza took our drink order and returned shortly with a basket full of sliced rye bread, butter and slices of fresh jalapeno peppers. Our dining companions who had been here many times said we should butter a slice of the rye and eat it with the peppers, now Nancy and I have both been to Hungary but neither had encountered this before, it was delicious and since I love peppers I’m going to have this at home. Nancy and I began by sharing a bowl of beef and bean goulash($6) that was full of flavor and quite enjoyable, I would like to have had an extra big dolop of sour cream in it but really liked it none the less. Across the table they shared a Uborka Saláta or Cucumber salad with yogurt ($5.50) which they let us try, it was refreshing and tasty. Things were starting out very nicely.
I opted for the Schntizel in a regular order for $15.50 (most everything on the menu is also available in a smaller size), Nancy and one of our friends ordered the regular Marhapörkölt tarhonyával or Beef Stew with Eggdrop Noodle ($15.50) while our other companion asked for one of the vegetarian offerings ordering the small Rántott Sajt petrezselymes burgonyával or Breaded Cheese with Homemade Potato ($13). My schnitzel arrived piping hot and crispy, three large pieces of pork with lemon wedges for flavor, a side of yummy potatoes and mixed veggies that while they seemed to be the same as your basic frozen variety tasted good and didn’t detract from the meal at all. I was in heaven, this was exactly what I’d hoped the meal would be, just like home made simple good food that was simply served and great tasting. Nancy’s stew was full of thick pieces of beef that while not fall-apart tender were nicely done and full of flavor, the egg drop noodle reminded us of larger couscous to see it but Nancy was very quickly informed it was not couscous by Rosza upon hearing the statement that it looked like that dish. Across the table the dishes looked and smelled just as good as ours the same great stew and the breaded cheese that was two crispy triangular pieces with the same sides as my dish. Each entree came with that most common of garnishes in the part of the world these dishes come from namely tomato and cucumber slices.
Each one of us thoroughly enjoyed our meals and the large portions made it easy to quit as soon as we were done but I for one had no intention of not sampling the dessert menu before I left. Rosza brought the menus back and I looked at what was on offer, the others were soon deciding that I had the right idea and were making choices of their own. Nancy had the idea that since the Crepes stuffed with Ground Nuts and Chocolate Sauce (Gundel Palacsinta) that I wanted was two pieces in the regular order ($8.50) we could share, this was not going to happen and she had her own small order ($4.50). This was the choice of a third at the table also with the last diner in the group ordering the Crepe stuffed with Apricot jam (Sárgabarack vagy Eper Lekváros Palacsinta) that was a childhood favorite ($3.50).
We very much enjoyed dining at Jonas’ and whether we were somehow meant to visit there or not all I can say is that I’m pleased that the people who brought this great little piece of Eastern Europe to our attention crossed our path. If you’re looking for good, simple, honest food and are tired of the “more is better” attitude that permeates the local restaurant industry I strongly suggest that you pay a visit to Jonas’, you will not be sorry you did.