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Balaton

13133 Shaker Square, Cleveland, OH - (216) 921-9691
Posted By Michael Stern on 8/13/2007 11:09:00 AM
Tables are bare wood and place mats are paper, but a meal at Balaton is Old-World elegant. Located in a storefront that was once a men's clothing store, this beacon of great Hungarian food originally opened on Buckeye Road in 1964. The current location, since 1997, is a lovely, well-decorated space that has the feel of a long-standing European cafe. It is family-run, and the day Jane and I ate there, some of the children were sitting at a back table doing homework, occasionally taking a break to help their elders bus tables.

Meals are abundant (half-orders of most items are available), but it is not quantity that sets Balaton apart. The food is spectacularly good. Wiener schnitzels are crunch-crusted and moist inside; paprikash (chicken or veal) is brightly spiced and luxurious; goulash is comfort-food supreme. I was especially smitten with Hungarian Lecso, a gorgeous length of smoked sausage served atop a stew of yellow peppers, tomatoes, and onions. And the potato pancakes? Fantastic! They arrive hot and crisp, the freshly-shredded spuds shot through with a subtle pepper kick. Chunky apple sauce comes on the side.

Desserts include a classic multi-layer dobos tort, flaky strudel, and palascinke, which are slim crepes rolled around apricot or poppy-seed filling.

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Scorecard

5 - Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
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The flagship of the Balaton menu, wiener schnitzel has a fine crunch to its crust with a thick vein of juicy, ridiculously tender meat within. This full-size portion is immense. On the side, of course, are little dumplings in gravy, plus a cup of chunky apple sauce.
"The flagship of the Balaton menu, wiener schnitzel has a fine crunch to its crust with a thick vein of juicy, ridiculously tender meat within. This full-size portion is immense. On the side, of course, are little dumplings in gravy, plus a cup of chunky apple sauce."
Michael Stern





The scored, smoked sausage atop this traditional Hungarian stew is delicious in its own right, all the better for its bed of tomatoes, peppers, onions, and dumplings.
"The scored, smoked sausage atop this traditional Hungarian stew is delicious in its own right, all the better for its bed of tomatoes, peppers, onions, and dumplings."
Michael Stern


In the kitchen, we watched potatoes being grated for these absolutely fresh potato pancakes. What's so especially good about them is the perfect texture balance: brittle crunch on the outside, just slightly al dente shreds of potato below that surface, and enough spud that has softened to buttery tenderness.
"In the kitchen, we watched potatoes being grated for these absolutely fresh potato pancakes. What's so especially good about them is the perfect texture balance: brittle crunch on the outside, just slightly al dente shreds of potato below that surface, and enough spud that has softened to buttery tenderness."
Michael Stern


Invented by the great chef Joszef Dobos, the Dobos Torte is super-thin layers of sponge cake, fresh buttercream icing, and a crisp caramel crown: the Queen of Hungarian Desserts!
"Invented by the great chef Joszef Dobos, the Dobos Torte is super-thin layers of sponge cake, fresh buttercream icing, and a crisp caramel crown: the Queen of Hungarian Desserts!"
Michael Stern


Palacinke are thin crepes wrapped around your choice of filling for dessert. This one arrived warm with a lode of apricot jam inside.
"Palacinke are thin crepes wrapped around your choice of filling for dessert. This one arrived warm with a lode of apricot jam inside."
Michael Stern


The only beverage to accompany Dobos torte: rich espesso, served in a fine china cup.
"The only beverage to accompany Dobos torte: rich espesso, served in a fine china cup."
Michael Stern


There is nothing fancy about the corner storefront that is Balaton. It is a simple place with simply fantastic Hungarian food.
"There is nothing fancy about the corner storefront that is Balaton. It is a simple place with simply fantastic Hungarian food."
Michael Stern



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