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October 16, 2009

Of Hungarian food, homemade ice cream and more

RoCK1016.jpgAnd to think I once worried that Robert of Cross Keys' guest posts wouldn't have enough food in them. If you don't understand what I'm talking about, wait till you get to the third paragraph. I'm expecting next week's guest post to be on the South Beach Diet. Plus, it has high drama. Here's RoCK with an excellent Free Market Friday. EL

Ohio Amish, Hungarian-Canadians, and Jamie Farr
This past week I went on a vacation to Detroit. Yes, Detroit.   Now I’ll get into what I actually did in the Motor City next week.  For now, I’ll touch on some of the places I found on my way out there. ...

My desire to avoid toll roads, notably the Pennsylvania and Ohio Turnpikes, gave me a chance to see parts of US 40 and 250 that I’ve never seen before.   I came to two realizations.  First, it is very scenic.  Second, there are no doubts that stimulus dollars have found their way to the political battleground states. My entire route was one long repaving and guard rail replacement project.

In Mount Eaton, Oh., I found a great little place called the Hilltop Market.  It was part grocery store and part Amish bus station.  Since I already had a car, I was in no need of a one-way ticket to Gary, Ind.or Canton, Oh. Instead I availed myself of the wares of the grocery store.

I loaded up on various Amish meats and cheeses, including jerky, sausage sticks and a rather large block of Baby Swiss.   I was about to check out when I saw a sign for homemade ice cream.  I knew I shouldn’t, but when would I be in Mount Eaton again?  Anyway, for a cold day there were quite a few of the plain folk enjoying a cone outside the door, so I figured it must be good.

Oh, it was good. Quite good.  The wife and I split a double scoop of Carmel Apple and Buckeye, which is chocolate with peanut butter candies.   I was very impressed.  It had a great rich and creamy texture, good flavor composition, and was packed with apples and candies.  It was at a premium ice cream level except for the price.  For what would be about a pint of ice cream, I think I paid $1.50.

A few hours later I was in Toledo, Oh. at Tony Packo’s, a Hungarian hot dog restaurant known for being frequently mentioned by Corporal Klinger on M*A*S*H.

Tony Packo’s is a genuinely fun place.  I mean, how can you not enjoy a place that pays homage to Jamie Farr?  Also, you have to love a place that asks celebrities to sign its hot dog buns.  Where else can you see baked goods autographed by the likes of Burt Reynolds and Barbara Bush?

The food at Packo’s is also pretty good.  And being that it's in the Midwest, the portions are huge.

I went with Tony Packo's Feast. It features a Hungarian hot dog, which is like a smoked kielbasa, topped with chili sauce, mustard and onions; a cup of chili; a stuffed cabbage filled with pork, beef and rice; and a scoop of the sweet-hot pickles and peppers.  All of it had a lot of flavor, and it all seemed to work well together.

The wife had the chicken paprikas, a chicken breast simmered in a mild paprika-based sauce served over dumplings.  I found it bland.  She, being from the Midwest, found it comforting.

The next day we drove into Windsor, Ontario.   Not having had my fill of Hungarian food from the night before in Toledo, I ate lunch at the Blue Danube.

Now the Blue Danube is more of a traditional Continental restaurant, while Tony Packo's is more of a bar and grill.  Nevertheless, both are Hungarian, and I can’t get Hungarian back in Baltimore, so I’ll forgive myself for falling into a mini-rut.

At the Danube the wife and I split a kettle of goulash.  This goulash showcased just how wonderful a spice Hungarian paprika is, with a deep and complex flavor.  I grew up thinking that paprika had no flavor.  It was just something people put on deviled eggs for aesthetics.  I didn’t grow up with soup like this.

I followed the soup with wiener schnitzel, while the wife had chicken topped with mushrooms and cheese.  Her chicken was good, but the schnitzel was maybe the best I’ve ever had.   Too often, schnitzel is heavy and greasy.  This was not. It was very light, and the veal wasn't subdued by its breading.

After lunch I talked to the owner, who fled Hungary in the 1960s.  She told me about her difficulties at the border crossing -- at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel in 2009.

Her complaints proved justified.  

I drove through the tunnel, and proceeded to the customs gate.  I thought I would have no delays. Passports and all other IDs were up to date.  Everything seemed to be in order.  And then the endless questions began, and for whatever reason I must have been giving off a worrisome vibe.  Next thing I was told to park the car and leave the cell phones. The wife and I had to go wait in a room out of sight while the car was searched.

While I was sitting there, all I could think about is that I’m going to be cited for the Amish cheese, sausage and jerky that was in my trunk.   Even though I bought it in Ohio, I was expecting to be accused of smuggling Canadian foodstuffs across the border.

About twenty minutes later we were released with no explanation. Nothing was said about the meat and cheese in my trunk.  I guess if they were looking for something in particular, it was not Baby Swiss.

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 11:23 AM | | Comments (8)


When RoCK is detained as a person of interest, we're all in trouble.

You hit the jackpot! That is why you were stopped.

Yours was a car merely picked at random by the US Customs computer.

I am surprised you were not told this.

Maybe Lissa made a call to one of her Detroit connections to pull a fast one on you.

we got the open the trunk lotto too, RoCK with a small child on board. it's all luck (or not...)

When TFN used to have a show on featuring home chefs with their signature recipes, someone made Hungarian Goulash. I printed the recipe and made it several times, delicious! unfortunately, the recipe disappeared, TFN cancelled the series and I haven't been able to find one nearly as good ever since.

It featured smoked paprika and regular (but good) paprika. A great combo!

Coming back from a Christmas trip to my husband's relatives in the Fatherland, we were weighted down with numerous shopping bags of wine, sausage, stollen, hand-knit sweaters, wooden Christmas ornaments, etc. The guy in line in front of us, who was coming back from Amstemdam was commiserating with us about the hellish time we were going to have getting through customs with all our stuff and kids, whereas all he had was the one backpack. Oddly enough, the customs folk waved through without a search the exhausted and harried parents with bags and bags of crap (us), and last we saw were picking apart the seams of all the clothes of the young man visiting Amsterdam. Clear case of profiling... ;-)

Good one, Trixie. I don't have contacts at the border, though.

Personally, I can't wait to hear where you ate in Detroit, RoCK.

I've eaten at Tony Packo's. Fun place, food isn't bad.

Crossing the border since 9/11 is difficult, annoying, time-consuming and random. You feel any safer? I don't.

I'm not sure how much of it was random. I was driving my father's car, and that point seemed to be of interest to them.

What I find troubling is the SWAT like appearance of the guys working customs. I understand that the potential for a conflict is quite real for the people working at border crossings; nevertheless, their appearance is not what one would expect to see in a free society.

Until this year, Canadian Customs staff were not armed. In all my years of reading Detroit newspapers cover to cover, I can't remember a single shootout at the bridge or the tunnel, either side.

The SWAT type teams appeared after 9-11 (originally, they were National Guard), and, for the life of me, I can't figure out why they need M-16s at a border crossing.

When I was a campus police officer, the first thing they told me was to stay a step ahead of threats, but never escalate needlessly, because they you cut off a lot of options to solve problems. Unnecessarily militarization of the border is needless escalation.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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