Birmingham fest delights all the senses

40th annual event features singing, dancing, and food

8/18/2014
BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Members of the Hungarian dancing group Kis Szivek from Detroit perform during the Birmingham Ethnic Festival Sunday on Consaul Street as the aromas of Hungarian specialties fill the air.
Members of the Hungarian dancing group Kis Szivek from Detroit perform during the Birmingham Ethnic Festival Sunday on Consaul Street as the aromas of Hungarian specialties fill the air.

Call it the best-smelling festival in town.

John Huszti, his son and two daughters caught a whiff of the Hungarian specialities simmering up and down Consaul Street the minute they stepped out of their car Sunday at the Birmingham Ethnic Festival.

The Husztis ordered up what Mr. Huszti — a first-generation Hungarian from Grosse Pointe, Mich. — knows as “szalonna sutes” (affectionately dubbed Hunky turkey) and got a cold beer to get their afternoon started.

“This smell is really good,” said John, Jr., as he ate the bread covered in bacon drippings, onion, green peppers, and a tomato slice.

Chicken paprikas, kolbasz sandwiches, and stuffed cabbage topped off the menu for the 40th annual Birmingham festival, which concluded Sunday. The two-day event featured singers, dancers, and vendors catering to those whose roots run to the old country.

PHOTO GALLERY: Birmingham Ethnic Festival

Peter Ujvagi, whose family immigrated to the United States from Hungary in 1956, sported a bright green T-shirt that said, “It’s a Hungarian thing. You wouldn’t understand.”

Of course many of those who come to the annual festival themed “A Weekend in the Old Country” do understand.

Visitors take in the 40th annual Birmingham Festival, which is billed as ‘‍A Weekend in the Old Country.’
Visitors take in the 40th annual Birmingham Festival, which is billed as ‘‍A Weekend in the Old Country.’

Gabor Balazs and his wife, Gabriella Baki, both are natives of Szeged, Hungary, a Toledo sister city. They met in Toledo during college, married, and made it their home.

The Birmingham festival, they said, reminds them of wedding celebrations and festivals in Hungary. Much of the food is authentic, although as Mr. Balazs pointed out, there are a number of different ways to make stuffed cabbage even among his own family members.

“The stuffed cabbage from the Hungarian Club is very good,” he said, pointing to the group’s food tent.

While the East Toledo neighborhood has become increasingly diverse since becoming home to a large Hungarian population after the 1956 revolution, the Hungarian Club is having a growth spurt.

Baba Ujvagi, co-president of the club, said the group recently purchased a house next to its club at 224 Paine St. Plans call for converting the home to a cultural center and library to store its collection of photographs and artifacts. It also will be a guest house for visitors who come to Toledo through exchange programs.

“We’ve been working at it, cleaning it up,” she said. “It’s coming along.”

Cathy Soley, the festival’s entertainment chairman, said many Toledoans with Hungarian roots aren’t sure where to go to learn more about their heritage. The club wants to become a resource for them.

“I can’t be more proud of my heritage,” said Ms. Soley, who described herself as 100 percent Hungarian. “It’s a rich, diverse culture steeped in tradition.”

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.