The first time I went to visit my brother in Corvallis, Oregon, I did my usual search for interesting places to try. I had thought some he might know and some he might not. Our father had come here when he was five with the family from Hungary. Growing up, my father didn't cook too much, but when he did, it tended to be Guylas stew or Palaczintas, a Hungarian crepe. On occasion, we would go to the Budapest
, the two Hungarian restaurants in Los Angeles. Eventually, both restaurants closed, and that was it for Hungarian food in Los Angeles. I never had the foresight to have my father teach me his recipes for the guylas and palaczintas, so with his passing, Hungarian food was something that was lost to me. Imagine my surprise, many years later, when I found out that there was a Hungarian restaurant in Albany, OR, a scant 15 minute drive from my brother's house. On my October 2010 trip to Oregon I arranged a dinner with my brother, his family, Roadfood's Mr. and Mrs. Chips and their son Sam to try Novaks. I didn't have high hopes---after all, I didn't think of Oregon having much in the way of a Hungarian population to keep a place busy and wondered how authentic it could possibly be there.
Dinner time came and we all met. Walking in, it had a nice feel to it. Upon opening the menu, I saw all the Hungarian dishes I knew and much more in addition. Baskets of fresh bread with whipped butter were whisked to the table. One bite of the pumpernickel and I was hooked.
Everyone ordered something different and we were all happy. Mr. Chips ordered a favorite of his, a Hungarian Longos fried bread, which was shared so we could taste the interesting blend of fried bread, fruit preserves and garlic.
Suffice to say, everyone enjoyed their meals. Even though we were stuffed, we did have to share the Dobos Torta, a delicious Hungarian dessert whose closest similarity might be a tiramisu.
We left satisfied from the excellent food and company. After many years, I had finally found an Hungarian restaurant that brought back my childhood memories.
In December 2012 I made another trip to Oregon, a combination of visiting my brother, helping some friends move up to Tigard( a suburb of Portland) and also taking a week's time to do some Roadfood trips and visits to Central and Coastal Oregon. I spent a marvelous day with Mr. Chips and a great dinner with him and Mrs. Chips in the Portland area. My plans for taking my brother to Novak's for his birthday didn't work however------he and the family were in a BBQ mood so we went to BrewBQ in downtown Corvallis. I feared that I might not make it to Novaks, but decided to try them by myself for lunch. This turned out to be an excellent choice.
When I arrived around 11AM at Novak's it was quiet, with the breakfast crowd gone and the lunch crowd yet to arrive. The waitress was extremely friendly and accommodating, taking time to answer the multitude of questions I had. In the meantime, I spotted an older woman wearing an apron coming in and out of the kitchen. Something told me that this might be Mrs. Novak. Shortly, an older gentleman smiled at me and sat in the booth in front of me. A regular, I assumed. I had seen several people in and out and got the impression they had many regulars coming to eat a few days a week.
Even though they have a wide variety of meals available and several combinations, I didn't see the exact combo that I wanted to order. Easily enough though, I ordered the Pá
rizi Szelet off the dinner menu. This is a slice of pork tenderloin, battered and crisp fried. It is served with whipped potatoes and a delicious cream gravy. The meat was fork tender and the batter just thick enough to supply a little crunch.
To complete the meal I wanted to have, I ordered a side dish of a cabbage roll, cooked in a slightly sweet and sour sauce and topped with sour cream. A lot of food for a lunch, but I was up to the challenge. Everything was so delicious I used the bread to soak up every tiny bit of gravy from both empty plates.
I was stuffed, but knew I could not pass up dessert. Hungarians are very serious about their desserts and make some of the best desserts that you can get. This time I tried the nut bar, a thin bar filled with a delicious nut mixture inside. Again, it was so good I practically licked the plate.
When the waitress came, I had a nice conversation with her. I asked about the name. She told me that the Novaks founded the place and were still active in it. I asked if it was possible to meet them so I could give my compliments. A few minutes later, Mrs. Novak appeared. She was the woman I had seen earlier with the apron on. We had a nice discussion about the history of the restaurant. The Novaks had been in the aerospace industry, working for Lockheed. When that industry took a dive in 1970, they decided to pursue their dream and moved up to Oregon to open a Hungarian restaurant. 40 years later, it is thriving and several generations of Novaks have worked in the restaurant, with Karen Novak the current owner. Mrs. Novak still spends time in the kitchen. With the excellent food, it makes sense that she is still there. I had a chance to meet Mr. Novak too and get some pictures of them.
Finally, the time came to leave. I got a nice handshake from Mr. Novak and a hug from Mrs. Novak. I left, feeling like I was part of the family too now. I can hardly wait for my next visit to Oregon, for dinner with friends and family at Novaks.
Novak's Hungarian Restaurant
2306 Heritage Way SE
(541) 967-9488 www.novakshungarian.com
<message edited by EdSails on Tue, 01/15/13 1:30 PM>