Summary: Jonas’ offers hearty, home-cooked Hungarian meals right in the heart of downtown Calgary.
Nothing warms the body on a cold winter’s night like a hearty Hungarian stew! Or so we hoped, when we decided to check out Jonas’ Restaurant one chilly evening after work. Despite being a weekday, they were booked solid – luckily, the hostess was able to squeeze us in before one of their reservations. The place felt more like a mix between a museum and a grandmother’s house than a restaurant – traditional Hungarian folk dresses were presented along the walls (and even up front on a mannequin!), and kitschy ornaments and Hungarian-language books filled the shelves. There was even a Hungarian language guide printed on the drink menu!
The basket of bread that came out before the meal came equipped with the rather unusual side of spicy green chilies. This is a working man’s bread – dense and filling, but not exactly what you’d call flavourful. We probably could have used more chilies.
The menu here is pretty basic, with a handful of soups and salads and a double handful of mains, along with a daily special. There aren’t really any appetizers other than the soups or the salads, but that’s fine – because the entrees here are designed to cure hunger. The entree portions are generous and they were delivered faster than a typical restaurant would be for just starters – though the fact that we had to be in and out in under an hour might have factored into that. I went with the Marhapörkölt tarhonyával, which I ordered by the English description of "Beef stew with egg drop noodle", since I didn’t have the slightest inkling how it would be pronounced in Hungarian. I wonder if something was lost in translation – as the "noodles" that came with the dish didn’t resemble any noodles that I’ve ever had in the past, being basically a bunch of dots. They made a pretty good side for the beef stew though, as they held the sauce very well and had a pleasantly springy texture (like a firmer quinoa). The beef, much like the bread, was strictly utilitarian – not the tenderest or juiciest, but in enough quantity to satisfy your day’s needs for protein and then some. The sauce, though, had an interesting tanginess to it that saved the dish from being overly flat.
Crepes are the name of the game for dessert – filled with anything from nuts & chocolate to jam to cottage cheese. For that homemade touch, they put sprinkles on everything! Even the bill is written up by hand – and touched up with a little whiteout, in our case ;) At $100 for the 3 of us, it wasn’t terribly inexpensive, but with plenty of leftovers available we at least got our money’s worth in calories.
I am ashamed to admit that I have been living no more than two blocks from Jonas for around 10 years but didn’t have the time to check it out. Part of the reason was the "Oh, it’s right there. I can check it out later!" mentality and part of it was their extremely inconvenient opening and closing hours (they close at 9 pm on Fridays and Saturdays and are not open on Sundays). Indeed, pretty much everytime I have walked by the restaurant, it’s been closed!
Nonetheless, Richard, Kent, and I finally managed to head out there in early January 2012 (we are only 11 months late, but better late than never) to check out this Calgary institution to homestyle Hungarian cuisine.
As soon as I walked in, I instantly felt like I was transported back to a small Eastern European restaurant that only locals know about.This tiny restaurant reeks of authenticity. It’s almost like you are sitting in an extension of their home that invited you to for a night out. In fact, it’s such a throw back, their webpage is still hosted on Homestead! WTF!
The proprietors have also done a nice job setting the ambiance. There’s classical opera playing in the background and the walls are adorned with what I can only assume are Hungarian gypsy clothing. There’s also Hungarian cultural references such as ornaments, toys, and even a language book artfully arranged around the place to give the place a relaxed home feel.
Our waitress expressed a huge surprise when I mentioned that I was a vegetarian…which was immediately followed by skepticism that I would be able to polish off two, TWO pasta dishes. I ended up going with the one that sounded the most enticing in -20C weather: the mushroom paprikash (aka goulash) with dumplings and the cabbage pasta. The former is the national dish of Hungary, the vegetarian version being a stew or soup of veggies (especially potatoes), seasoned with paprika and other spices. It was a good choice: the stew was hearty and warming and the sauce creamy without being too thick. The cabbage pasta was also very hearty and filling without being too plain or boring.
I also got a chocolate and nut-filled crepe for dessert. This one was a bit of a miss for me. I didn’t like the texture and the not-sweet-enough filling reminded me of Chinese desserts that always leave you wanting for more.
Kent’s 2 Cents
So I ordered the cabbage rolls, because what’s more Eastern European than cabbage rolls? Perogies perhaps, but this ain’t the Ukraine. Anyways, when I got the cabbage rolls I thought at first that they didn’t have any meat in them. Oh wait, turns out they were actually ALL MEAT. I got absolutely manhandled by that pair of rolls – pretty much could only finish one. Come to this restaurant if you’ve got something to prove.
Jonas’ will make you feel like you have Hungarian grandparents that are set on making sure you put some meat onto those skinny bones. Don’t expect to find anything too complex here – just wholesome, filling fare. Beware that beers aren’t cheap here ($8 for a Löwenbräu) – but they go so well with the meal that it’s hard to resist. If you’re looking for a place that warms the heart along with the stomach, Jonas’ is a solid choice.
||18/25 = 72%