Hungarian Mishmash

Several intriguing European items are on the menu. These include the sausages, representing a variety of nations: the aforementioned cevapcici; the Bavarian special, a platter of smoked turkey sausage garnished with gherkins, onions, and mustard vinaigrette; and "the wieners," a choice of one or two slim Kosher foot-long hot dogs. This time we tried one of the sausages, a mild bratwurst, nestled in a tangle of sauerkraut and grilled onions, garnished with juniper berries (a spice commonly added to sauerkraut and a favorite of northern European countries). A basket of fresh rye bread accompanied this dish, the caraway seeds providing another strong note to rival the juniper berries.

Other entrees weren't nearly as lively in either description or execution. The "Bay Harbor Boid," a half chicken supposedly marinated in the juices of citrus and garlic and then char-grilled, lacked their sweet and pungent influences. In addition, the skin, initially crisp and promising, acted instead as a mere subterfuge for an incredibly dry bird. Steamed vegetables and brown rice, a menu substitution for Long Branch fries and coleslaw, gave the illusion of a light meal; however, the melange of summer squashes and peppers had been bathed in butter.

We were surprised by an odd plate of grilled grouper, the catch of the day. Though moist and juicy, the fish had been described as a fillet -- but prepared as a steak. This piece looked like swordfish, sliced and chewed like a tender steak. Indeed, to cut it into bite-size pieces, my guest used a steak knife -- a remarkable utensil to use with fish.

First courses also merited a mixed review. An unappetizing, weak mustard vinaigrette, salty like bouillon, dressed the house salad, a casual, insipid toss. The mozzarella sticks seemed as if they were frozen, uninspiring deep-fried sticks of semi-elastic cheese. However, the split pea soup, pleasantly nutty and accented with ham, proved that this cafe has some positive Eastern European leanings that can be given greater emphasis than the mediocre American dishes that clog the menu.

We finished with the house dessert, the advertised oven-fresh apple strudel. Served cold, the pieces of apple were outnumbered two-to-one by raisins and tasted largely of lemon zest, an ingredient that should be only one of several in apple strudel, not the dominant flavor. Not exactly a dessert upon which to base a reputation, however "old country" it is; I've had flakier strudel in Italian restaurants. Weakened by hunger, it might have once satisfied me. But a second time? I'd rather make like a chef and walk.

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