In 1957, Joseph and Matilda Novak (known as Papa and Mama by regular customers) moved from Hungary to the U.S. After much goading from family and friends alike, the two opened Novak's Hungarian Paprikas in 1984 with their twin daughters. That original restaurant in Albany, Oregon, about a 70-minute drive from Portland, has expanded into what is now Novak’s Hungarian Restaurant, serving classic Hungarian fare and some dishes with an American twist, all with insanely delicious flavor.
We popped in for breakfast, and we had no idea what we were in for. We basically tried a little bit of everything: First, we sampled their locally famous chicken soup, which they still offer for free to anyone who is sick. The broth is heavenly and the noodles are thick and dumpling-like.
We then moved on to the “Coalminer,” a plate made up of two eggs scrambled with Papa's homemade Hungarian Kolbász sausage sautéed with bell peppers and onions, served with home fries and a buttermilk biscuit. Then came the breakfast quiche: a classic Lorraine with spinach and applewood smoked bacon topped with Cheddar cheese. I have never had a more light and flavorful quiche.
Next up was the “European scramble,” two eggs scrambled with their homemade spätzle, grilled bell peppers, green onions, and chicken sausage. I love späztle, but I had never had them in my eggs, and I certainly will again. It was a lot like adding matzo to your eggs, like my Bubbe used to, or tortillas like my friends in Mexico.
Although my dining companion and I were nearly fit to burst, we had to try to the French toast. Novak’s uses thickly sliced challah bread dipped in Mama's special egg custard. If you think you’ve had good French toast before, think again. Novak’s version is equal parts dessert and breakfast; rich enough to make you swoon without being too rich to indulge in. They also make a mean beignet: light, airy confections drenched in just the right amount of powdered sugar. As if that wasn’t enough, we also sampled their langoshe, served with strawberry jam; it’s their version of fry bread (a historically Native American specialty), and it made me wish this restaurant could be my neighborhood staple. Too full for dessert, we grabbed a brownie and a meringue cookie to go. Not surprisingly, they were delicious; a slice of homemade heaven.
As I left, Mama hugged me and asked if she would see me soon. I felt more like her granddaughter than a customer, a feeling I imagine most people who come to Novak’s experience.