Finom Coffee, a new coffee shop in the Old Irving Park neighborhood, is bringing back some of those classic dishes from the old country, and giving them a new spin.
When customers walk through the front door, they walk back in time. The landmark building dates back to the late 19th Century. It has been lovingly preserved by a team committed to coffee and conversation, as well as old world comfort foods. The name, after all, means "delicious" in Hungarian.
"There's not a lot of examples of it anywhere, really," Chef Rafael Esparza said. "A lot of the flavors - paprika, cumin, garlic onions - stuff people are very familiar with, just different ratios."
Take the goulash, for example, with its base of roasted root vegetables and off-cuts of meat.
"It's really nice and hearty for this time of year. We do ours with beef knuckle, some parsnip, carrots, potatoes. It's really nice and rich and filling," Esparza said.
A plate of bone marrow toast looks dainty, but look closer: that's an old-school schmear of veal brain, chicken liver and smoked bacon pate on that toasted sourdough. It's dressed with crisp, thinly-sliced watermelon radishes, pickled tomatoes and a generous shaving of cured egg yolks, then finished off with sel gris: a coarse French sea salt. Incidentally, it's also used to season a fried egg - along with a generous shake of paprika - that's crowned over a crock of Lecso.
"I tell people it's ratatouille or ragu. It's peppers, tomatoes, onions, paprika; and we just stew that down with some sausage, kolbasz sausage," the chef said.
A Farmhouse plate arrives with assorted meats, cheeses and a bit of radish with salted butter.
The coffees are also notable. But do try an original creation, like the Turkish Delight. Rosewater syrup and cardamom are combined, then topped with espresso and finished off with steamed milk. But just before serving, a crushed bouquet of rose petals are scattered across one side.
"The rose petals are a garnish, but it really adds aromatics. So when it comes to you it's warm, it's kind of like steaming in your face a little bit," Esparza said.
The library in back adds to the charm. The chef said they wanted to create a space where anyone feels at home, at any time of day.
"Get cozy and warm and kick your feet up and relax," said Esparza.
So Finom is the perfect antidote this time of year in Chicago. A place to go inside, curl up, have some hearty Hungarian food, and not feel rushed to go anywhere else.
WATCH: EXTRA COURSE: Unique tins of imported seafood from Spain at Finom Coffee, and baked goods from Spilt Milk Bakery in Oak Park.
4200 W. Irving Park Rd., Chicago