A meal at Balaton is Old-World elegance without pretense or frippery … and happens to be some of the most delicious food in the Midwest. Located in a storefront that was once a men’s clothing store, this beacon of great Hungarian fare originally opened on Buckeye Road in 1964. The current location, since 1997, has the feel of a long-standing European cafe. It is family-run, and I well recall the time several years ago when Jane and I ate lunch while some of the children were sitting at a back table doing homework, occasionally taking a break to help their elders take care of customers.
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 scored 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.