Hidden away in a strip mall in the heart of Ewing, at 1400 Parkway Avenue, and open six days a week, is gem known as Barbara’s Hungarian Restaurant. The food is homemade and while many may not be familiar with the cuisine, it is rich and savory and apt to appeal to the American palate.
The restaurant’s owners, Laszlo and Barbara Kolarovszki, welcome customers into a different world away from work stress and Jersey drivers. Open arms and broad smiles are offered as Laszlo greets guests at the door and ushers them to one of the broad wooden tables.
The Kolaroszkis met in Hungary and have been married for 23 years but came to the States 13 years ago in search of new opportunities. They do all the cooking themselves. “I used to spend every day in the kitchen with my mother, cooking, since I was a little girl,” Barbara told The VOICE. “I would always help her.”
They began their business as a food stand at a flea market in South Brunswick in 2004; their popularity grew and they were able to open the restaurant in Ewing in 2009. So far they have won three awards: the New Jersey Monthly, 205 Best Restaurants, Reader’s Choice and Critics Picks; Best New Jersey Restaurants 28th Annual Readers Choice Awards; and urbanspoon.com Best North Jersey Restaurants, 2013.
Their menu offers variety of traditional Hungarian foods from goulash to vegetarian dishes like pea soup with noodle. The traditional fare is extended with daily specials such as oven roasted chicken, served with fresh vegetables. Prices are reasonable (averaging $12 per entree) and portions are large.
Barbara suggests, “Chicken Paprikas” (Csirke paprikas) for entree. This is a dish with chicken leg floating in boiled dumplings. Another alternative is chicken breast with mushroom sauce, and boiled dumplings, along with a cucumber salad as the side dish.
“It’s one of the most traditional Hungarian foods.” Laszlo said. “It’s like pasta for Italians.”
Only a few minutes after placing the order, two heaping plates of food arrive. It is clear there will be leftovers to take home.
The plate of food were served so warm that while the steam rose from the dumplings, tiny bubbles were popping from the chicken. The meal was served with sour cream on the side, which, in Hungary, is a tradition for chicken.
The cold sour cream mixed with the warm chicken creates a creamy, delicious mix. Every bite tastes like something made by a grandmother who has spent a whole day in the kitchen.
The kitchen is open and visible so the customers can see Laszlo and Barbara at work. Barbara runs the stove, while Laszlo washes every single plate and cup in the sink.
A recent patron, Graciela Leal, who attends Thomas Edison State College, told The VOICE, “It has a great atmosphere. It’s a very cozy place to eat, and to enjoy friendly conversations.”
While taking a bite of the Mushroom Goulash (Gomba paprikas) $11.99, with rice and peas, Leal continued, “They have a great service. The gentleman [Laszlo Kolarovszki] serving us was very nice, and funny. I feel like I can ask for anything and he will bend over backwards to try and get it for us.”
After working our way through the entrees, it was time to try some dessert.
Knowing that it was difficult to decide, Mr. Kolarovszki brought out a mix of apple and cherry strudels (Retesek). “It is very good” he said with a big smile on his face. From the first bite, the apple and cherry immediately melt on the tongue, while the sweet pastry surrounding the fruit falls apart gently.
Cliff and Barbara Pollock who drove all the way from Woodbridge to eat at Barbara’s, were willing to share their experience from dining in the restaurant. “The food tastes so good. It reminds of home and my grandmother cooking,” Mrs. Pollock said. ”We have a Hungarian/Polish restaurant in Woodbridge, but the food is much better at Barbara’s.”
According to Laszlo, “What makes us so much better than many other restaurants is the fact that we make our food from scratch, whereas other restaurants put their meals together straight from cans.”
When asked if they ever consider returning to Hungary the Kolarovszkis laughed and said, “No, we like it too much here in the States.”