When you read restaurant reviews from Jane & Michael Stern, you occasionally see a few that they are especially enthusiastic about. They seemed to be particularly impressed by Al's Corner Restaurant in Barberton, Ohio, so I made a special point to make it there.
I was taking my mother up to Cleveland for the Monet exhibit at the Cleveland Art Museum, but not before swinging by Al's for lunch. We both really like Hungarian and other eastern European food, so we were expecting something special. And man, did Al's deliver!
When we arrived at 11:05, they still had the closed sign on the front window. Our hearts sank! But since we saw people milling around inside, we went ahead and walked in. Luckily, they just hadn't changed the sign yet. When you enter they have a glass case to your right and all the hot food inside steaming up the glass. The short menu is just above the case to the left.
My mother chose the chicken paprikash lunch special, which came in a huge bowl with dumplings and she got a side of pierogies. A piece of white bread also comes with the meal. I ordered the sampler platter, which is a small bowl of the chicken paprikash in the center, surrounded by a pierogi, a stuffed cabbage, dumplings mixed with cabbage, sauerkraut and a very large piece of sausage. I was asked if I wanted the mild or hot sausage and chose the hot.
Even though I would have preferred eating at a counter stool in the center of the dining room, I thought this might be uncomfortable for my mother. So she chose the first wood booth nearest the food case.
It only took us a bite or two of our food to realize how good this meal was going to be. We both swooned over the chicken paprikash. The chicken was as tender as could be, but I would have been as happy just eating the delicious dumplings in the paprikash sauce. The stuffed cabbage was simply the best I have ever eaten. And considering I come from a city where this is a very popular food, that is saying something. Even the sausage was terrific. Though not particularly spicy, it still had a nice bite to it and was incredibly flavorful.
The one item that neither one of us cared for was the pierogi. It seemed to be rather hard and not as fresh as the rest of the food. My mother also got a piece of cherry strudel for dessert, but only had two bites of it. Since I was so full from my meal, I didn't try it myself.
All together, two very large filling lunches, plus beverages and one dessert came to $17.00. Considering the portion size and especially the quality, you couldn't ask for a better bargain!
I plan on going back to try some other things at Al's soon, but since they are open for lunch only Monday through Friday, this can be difficult. But since Barberton is "only" an hour and half from Pittsburgh, I will figure out a way to do it.
So anyone who loves great Hungarian food, you must go to Al's. This places is assured to be on my best of 2007 list and is probably in my all-time top 10 Roadfood restaurants.
Here is the Roadfood review: http://www.roadfood.com/Reviews/Writeup.aspx?ReviewID=3765&RefID=3867