01 September 2011

Budapest's Historic Cafés - Centrál Kávéház

Second stop on the Budapest café tour--Centrál Kávéház.

It was a rainy Sunday morning and my guidebook told me it opened at 8:00am.

My guidebook lied.

So I hung around like a stalker waiting for the doors to open.  The rain made it particularly awkward. But it gave me a chance to take several photos and really look at the place.

It reminds me of the Cheers exterior.  Do you see it too?

Then it occurred to me that I could hang out at the Great Market Hall (top 5 Budapest experiences!) while I waited.  That wouldn't feel like wasting time and the guidebook said it opened at 7:00am daily.

The guidebook lied.


So I paced and lingered and tried not to look like a weirdo hanging at the corner while I basically looked like a weirdo hanging at the corner.

When I saw the staff at the Centrál finally unlock the doors at 9am, I waited about 2 seconds before I ran across the street to go inside.

I walked in shooting photo after photo--I know they thought I was annoying.

But look at the place.

Sure it's been renovated, but this cafe has been here since 1887.  Back then it was open 24 hours!

This was the place to be in Budapest at the turn of the century and was even the birthplace of radical literary magazine, Nyugat.

Finding a table was easy, but pouring over the pastry case was not.

 I think you can see why...

Ultimately, I chose pretty conservatively.  It was only 9:00am.

First, I ordered the Zserbó I had seen in the case.  The only translation was, "walnut & jam."

I learned Zserbo was created by Gerbeaud Cukrászda about 125 years ago.  It was so good that now most coffeehouses serve it too.

It's thin layers of sweet yeast dough separated by a combination of apricot jam and sugary ground walnuts topped with a smear of chocolate.  We'll bake it soon, but for now I can tell you it's rich (in a good way) and delicious.  I love sweets that are so packed with flavor that they can satisfy you in small doses.

Not quite done, I asked the waiter for his pastry recommendation.  He said to order the Diós Svájci Kifli (walnut danish) and he did not steer me wrong.

It wasn't too sweet thanks to the walnuts.  I also tasted the orange zest they added to the walnut filling to brighten the flavor and combat the natural bitterness of the nuts.

The pastry was nice and flaky with enough bread-y-ness to it that it wasn't a big, nutty, sugarball.  Yeah, that's how I would describe most Danish. 

Turns out Centrál was an outstanding start to my wet morning.

Definitely worth the wait in the rain.

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