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Published: Thursday, 6/11/2009

Restaurant review: Budapest Restaurant ***

What you ll find at the Budapest Restaurant: Hearty, homemade servings of meat and gravy. Starch. Paprika. Good-for-what-ails-you chicken-noodle soup. 1950s lunch-counter decor. A couple of former altar boys trying to make a go of it against the odds.

What you might find: Strudel and crepes, made here on various days. Soap and paper towels in the rest room. Robert, a co-owner, playing upright piano and singing in a sonorous tenor.

What you won t find: Vegetarian fare. Low-fat anything. Burgers and fries. Alcohol (you can bring your own). The 21st century.

Located on a checkered section of Monroe Street between the Toledo Museum of Art and Ottawa Park, the Budapest doesn t appear to have changed much since a Hungarian-born couple, Barbara and Louis Szodi, purchased what was a long-standing restaurant location in 1959. Bought four years ago by its third owners, the eatery still relies on some of the Szodis recipes.

It s a taste that s headed for extinction. The goulash, for example, is slow-simmered chunks of local beef and fresh vegetables cut larger than restaurants typically provide. Today s cholesterol-conscious home chef would make a less fatty stew, eliminating those shiny dots of grease that also adorn the chicken soup.

Nevertheless, the Budapest qualifies as a guilty pleasure I m happy to indulge occasionally. Where else can you get a double dose of homemade starch: dumplings (pudgy little noodles) and mashed potatoes sharing a blanket of gravy on one plate?

And the leftovers particularly the spicy goulash tasted even better the next day.

Our favorites were chicken paprikas ($5.95 lunch/$10.45 dinner); Hungarian beef goulash ($5.95/$10.15), and stuffed cabbage ($5.95/$9.95). Dinner portions are generous.

Chicken paprikas is often made with a sour-cream sauce but the Budapest employs its ubiquitous brown gravy. Tender chicken is on the bone with skin and can be white or dark meat.

The mountain of stuffed cabbage with ground pork is flavorful, but at lunch, the meat filling was skimpy.

Breaded pork chops, veal, and chicken were neither objectionable nor memorable. Nor were we much interested in the three salad offerings that arrive in little bowls: iceburg lettuce, shredded cucumbers dressed with vinegar, or thinly sliced vegetables in a pickle juice.

But here s something you ve got to love: One recent night, piano music wafted from a second dining area just around the wall. We ordered pie (unremarkable, baked by Strachn Bakery) and listened to an impromptu concert by one of the two Roberts who owns the place. That alone was worth the price of admission.

Contact Bill of Fare at fare@theblade.com.

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