Wandering the streets of Sopron, Hungary, I was intrigued and seduced by the rich smells of native cooking centered on savory meat sauces topping tender spaetzle or rice. This basic, simple fare was made with fresh ingredients and seasoned with hot and/or sweet paprika, certainly hearty sustenance designed to comfort and restore after a brisk walk or a spa treatment. And of course, this was not nouvelle cuisine, so we enjoyed the brimming plates.
So when I learned that Newtown's Iron Skillet boasted Hungarian specialties, I knew I needed to visit and attempt to relive the positive experiences of Sopron's native cuisine.
We located The Iron Skillet off the main thoroughfares of Newtown with a bustling and full parking lot. Upon crossing the threshold, we found ourselves in a small reception area with a modest bar, a few undersized tables and the cashier counter. Beyond, a large mural of a smiling wine family (could it be the owners?) beams about a cozy room filled with diners.
We settled into a corner table and ordered a bottle of Hungarian red wine, ready to settle in for a good meal and memories of our trip. We were surprised when our selected bottle of wine arrived at the table already opened, although our server poured a sample from the bottle and presented the cork as if that were the norm.
The menu was eclectic and extremely varied. We lingered over the Hungarian classics and the variations on schnitzel. The lengthy menu continued with American comfort meats (meatloaf, pork chops, steaks), several options of Italian chicken dishes and pastas, a number of seafood selections and even a few options for Chinese stir-fry. We elected to stay with the Hungarian offerings, the obvious favorite around the room.
The Horto Crépes ($5.95), one of the evening specials, provided a pretty presentation. The crépe, although denser than I prefer, was wrapped around tender pieces of pork and doused with a paprika and sour cream sauce, dotted with additional sour cream and dusted with fresh parsley. Leaving most of the sauce on the plate, we found that the mild, almost bland, flavors seemed to cry out for a heavier touch of sweet paprika.
Not so for the Oyster and Artichoke Soup (cup $2.95). The nicely balanced cream-based soup was chunky with succulent oysters and tender artichoke wedges. The soup broth was satisfying with good color and a smooth consistency. The oysters were so delectable that I was left craving just a few more.
As I'd experienced during my visit to Hungary, several salads were offered. With the goulash we'd enjoyed in Sopron, we'd been given a tasty cucumber salad. That the Iron Skillet's version of the Cucumber Salad (an option with entrées or $1 as a side) was every bit as zesty and refreshing as the original. The thin vegetable slices were redolent with garlic and white vinegar, complimented by the spicy tang of good Hungarian paprika. The traditional Coleslaw (another option with entrées or $1 as a side) was dry and tart with carrot slivers.
The Sauerbraten ($12.95) proved to be a full plate of savory, fork-tender, vinegar-tinged slices of beef that provided a pleasing aftertaste to linger on the tongue. Served with a crisp, riced potato pancake, the beef was also partnered with a flavorful stewed red cabbage that was full-bodied with great color and a piquant taste. The plentiful plate was completed with applesauce and somewhat tough spaetzle.
I was disappointed with the Chicken Paprikash ($11.95), which appeared to be baked chicken that was rather dry and covered with the simple sour cream and paprika sauce. The traditional version would have called for braising the meat and then simmering it slowly in a paprika-infused broth with sour cream added at the last for a moist and flavorful bird.
While finishing our wine, we mulled over the dessert selections, modest compared to the volume of the rest of the menu. With our coffee, we enjoyed Vanilla Crème Brulée ($4.95) and Apple Strudel, served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream ($4.95). I enjoyed the time-honored execution with cold, creamy custard capped with a crisp burnt sugar glaze and crushed vanilla seeds lining the bottom of the ramekin. Wrapped in a light pastry, the strudel was rich with cinnamon, apples and raisins and dusted with powdered sugar and drizzled with caramel sauce.
While the Iron Skillet provided some exceptional dishes — the soup, the sauerbraten and the dessert — some of the sour cream sauce dishes fell far short. We spoke with friends who are somewhat regular visitors: They shared that, although the kitchen execution can be somewhat uneven, the Iron Skillet is worth a return visit. ©
The Iron Skillet
Go: 6900 Valley Ave., Newtown, Ohio
Hours: Lunch: Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Dinner: Tuesday-Thursday 4:30-9 p.m.;
Friday-Saturday 4:30-9:30 p.m.;
Sunday 38 p.m. Closed Monday.
Prices: Reasonable to moderate
Payment: Major credit cards
Vegetarian Friendliness: Don't think about it