There used to be this restaurant on Main Street in Vancouver called The Budapest, and I would go there with my grandmother and my Auntie Lynn and Uncle George, and we would get two Transylvania Platters and extra spaetzle and red cabbage with apples and then desserts, and it was as if we had traveled back in time to a place where one’s liver didn’t merit a passing thought and vegetables were more garnish than mainstay. But old people get sick and slow down, and my grandmother died and the owner had his own troubles and the restaurant closed and for awhile I felt that nothing would ever be the same again. For a long time I would pass the old Budapest on my travels down Main, and every time I would peer in to see if things had changed, if they’d come back, if I could have a cabbage roll even one more time.
No luck. Years passed.
And Vancouver is an amazing place to be a food enthusiast, because there are so many wonderful things to taste and try and fall in love with, but even though everything is here sometimes there’s only one of a thing, and when a hole is left by something really special, it’s hard to fill. In this city, something will always take the place of whatever disappears, but it’s never, ever the same.
But every once in awhile, something amazing happens. Owners recover, and restaurants come back. The Budapest is now the Danube, and it’s just on the cusp of city and suburb, but there it is and it hasn’t changed a bit.
We went and started with the langos, a bread made with fried dough and served with sour cream and minced garlic, and I honestly have no better words than “sour cream” “fried” and “garlic” to describe this thing – it is perfect, crisp and soft and hot, exactly what you want when you step into a restaurant from the cold and dark and damp of a Vancouver November evening.
And then we had the halusky, which we only tried because a woman I work with has a Slovakian boyfriend and she shared the recipe for halusky with me and I knew it was worth a taste – it’s basically spaetzle and bacon tossed in sheep’s milk feta until the feta melts and coats the noodles like a sauce.
My friend Paul described it as the best mac ‘n cheese of his whole life.
And then we ordered one Transylvania platter, between the four of us. The thing is apparently supposed to serve two, and I seriously wonder what anyone was thinking back when we’d order two of them – the plate is massive. It comes with two large pieces of chicken schnitzel, two large pieces of pork schnitzel, sausages, pickles, cabbage rolls, spaetzle, fried potatoes, and cabbage. It is beautiful. Perfect. Meaty.
And at the end of it, we still managed a bite of dessert. The thing I like is called a “Kreme,” a vanilla custard-whipped cream-stacked pastry thing that reminds me of a place I’ve never been to but where I somehow feel I belong. It’s decadent, but it’s cold, and it manages to refresh while still being rich.
If you go, wear your eating pants. It’s a high-calorie experience, but it’s soothing and wholesome and you won’t have better, lighter, more delicate schnitzel anywhere, and it’s the one place where memory and reality match up, where everything is just as good as you remember. There isn’t a better way to spend a few hours on a rainy west-coast evening.