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Blue Danube, Trenton

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I've long known that there was a Hungarian heritage in Trenton, thanks to a family friend raised there who went to school with Ernie Kovacs. But I never had an opportunity to experience the little bit that remains until this past Saturday night, when we met cousins there for dinner, since it is about halfway between our respective homes in Manalapan (them) and Philadelphia (us). Our meeting place was the Blue Danube Restaurant, just off South Broad at the corner of Elm and Adeline.



The restaurant, carved out of the first floor of a house with a kitchen addition in the rear, was suitably Mittle-European inside, with lots of dark woods and moderately dark lighting (though still sufficiently illuminated for easy menu reading). Lively violins and clarinets could occasionally be heard over the room's gentle din. Maybe there were 12 or 14 tables (about two-thirds of them four tops) in the two-level dining room, which seemed considerably larger thanks to mirrors on the raised level.

The food was old style: plentiful, rib-sticking and tasty. Nothing nouveau here. We started out with a pickled vegetable platter which was a little more mundane that I would have wished. Cucumber pickles, some celery, some carrots, one or two tiny pieces of cauliflower, excellent slices of pickled beets and some whole cherry peppers. There's lots more variety just walking down the pickled veggie aisle at a Russian supermarket, like Bell's Crossing in Philadelphia. Still, the pickles did their job in whetting our appetites.

Most entrees come with either soup or salad. Three of our party selected the salad which, as I would properly expect, was largely composed of chopped vegetables with just a few pieces of lettuce added to satisfy suburban American expectations. All agreed it was quite good; the selection of dressings was much akin to a Rt. 130 diner's. I opted for the cream of mushroom soup and was pleasantly surprised. Most COMs tend to be overly thickened, usually with cornstarch or a lightly cooked roux. While this soup had sufficient body, it avoided the pastyness I've come to dread. More important, the flavor of dried mushrooms predominated, much to my pleasure.

Since this was my first trip to Blue Danube, I wanted to experience as broad a variety of samples as I could, so I was grateful for the Touch of Hunedoara (which my cousin Jeff also ordered), overloaded with wiener schnitzel, stuffed cabbage, a Romanian sausage, and a noddle-fried cabbage mix. It came with a choice of another vegetable, so I selected more cabbage, this time red. The schnitzel was a perfectly cooked, thin, four or five-inch square of greaseless board of veal (next time I might go for the Jaegerschnitzrel plate, which is schnitzel with a mushroom [hunter's] sauce). The stuffed cabbage reminded me of one of the two versions my mother cooked: the sour one, which was braised with extra cabbage and sour kraut. (Her other version was sweet-and-sour, with a decided tomato presence.) The most interesting meat on the plate was the mititei, a Romanian (not Hungarian) beef-veal casing-less sauage. It's basically highly seasoned minced meat (I think I detected garlic and coriander among the many flavors) formed into a sausage shape, then grilled. Jeff didn't care for it too much, nor did his wife; I enjoyed it with dabs of the accompanying mustard, but given all the other wonderful things on my plate, it was the only protein I didn't completely devour.

Jeff's wife opted for the lamb chops, a bargain at $22. Five or six little rib chops cut from the rack and Frenched. She ordered hers with roasted potatoes and a dish of stringbeans cooked with onions and bacon; the beans were soft without being mush, and the onions and bacon elevated them considerably. The same beans were selected by She Who Must Be Obeyed, whose Chicken Paprikash (tender and flavorful) was accompanied by Spaetzle.

I purposely only dabbled with my noddles to leave room for dessert, since I've yet to meet a strudel I didn't like. In this version some substantial, firm pieces of apple (tasted like Granny Smith) were encased phylllo dough (I'm probably one of the few who likes the cakier type) and was adequate. Jeff enjoyed a pumpkin-cranberry cheesey cake, and SWMBO liked her plain cheesecake, which was considerably lighter than she expected.

You don't go to Blue Danube for dessert. It may be Central European, but it's not a Viennese cafe. With the cool weather upon us, it's an ideal spot for some heart-warming (and clogging) central European home-style cooking. Open for lunch as well as dinner, but the website doesn't list hours.

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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