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By: Zdenko Kahlina
Gourmet Cafe – Special place for birthday selebration
It was our 35th anniversary and I wanted to take my wife out, to a special place for dinner. Bistro Praha poped in my mind and decision was easy to make. It was, and continues to be, a crossroads of the city’s arts crowd, of Euro-ethnicity, a place for a full dinner or a late-evening glass of bubbly.
Bistro Praha on its new location: 10117 101 Street, Edmonton
I clearly remember Bistro Praha’s previous location, which was the ground floor of a spectacular brick heritage building, the Ramsey Block. It was actually my older brother who introduced me to this place sometime back in the 90-s. I dined in their stately dining room, noshed on solid Mitteleuropa, and enjoyed the complete paucity of vehicular traffic outside. My brother expecially loved this place, as it always reminded him on his heritage and good old Europe.
Bistro Praha at the historic Kelly Ramsey block
Sadly, arson destroyed this gorgeous spot and sent Bistro Praha (plus its neighbour, Co Co Di) packing. Bistro Praha eventually reopened in the former digs of Moon Garden, just a few steps north of Jasper.
Bistro Praha was first opened in 1977 by Frantisek Cikanek, a cello player from Czechoslovakia so in love with life that he needed a restaurant to echo those of his native Prague, if only to entertain his friends. One of the things he looked for was the kind of cafe he was used to frequenting in Prague (Praha). He wanted to hear classical music and eat familiar Czech delicacies in a restaurant in which he could feel at home. Not finding one that met his needs, in 1977, he decided to open his own.
The historic Kelly Ramsey block with Co Co Di and Bistro Praha restaurants.
For more than 30 years, Bistro Praha has been a fixture on the Edmonton dining scene. During that time, it has developed into much more than a restaurant; it has become an Edmonton institution, so much so that saying, “Let’s eat at the Bistro!” can only mean that you are talking about going to The Praha.
Frantisek passed away unexpectedly a decade ago. He may have burned the candle at both ends, but, oh my friends, the light it gave off. Longtime staff and partners in Bistro Praha, Milan Svajgr and his sister Sharka Svajgr, kept the legacy alive.
It’s still difficult to comprehend Frantisek’s passing. “Graham,” he used to say. “When we get old, we’ll sit in the Bistro Praha with our riding crops, and when the ladies come by, we’ll lift their skirts.”
Bistro Praha – back from the ashes at new location
Bistro Praha – back from the ashes
Then came the 2009 fire in the historic Kelly Ramsey block that housed Bistro Praha in Rice Howard Way. For two years there was no Bistro Praha. The downtown was poorer for it. Then, in the spring of 2011, Milan, Sharka and Daniel Schultz reopened a stone’s throw from the original site, on 101 Street just north of Jasper.
Nothing has changed -nothing needs changing! The menu is the same as 30 years ago -and still great. The Old World ambiance, the solid wood tables and chairs built to last 100 years, are unchanged.
Only one thing has changed. The washrooms are much improved!
Patrons and special guests mingle with each other during the grand opening of Bistro Praha in Edmonton Alberta on February 1 2011. The new Bistro Praha reopened after the storied restaurant was burned out of its old location in March 2009.
Bistro Praha is the place to go if you want a warm atmosphere, authentic goulash, cabbage soup, wiener schnitzel or a range of European style dishes. It’s also the place to go to people watch. You never know who is going to be sitting at the next table. Over the years, the Bistro Praha has served the likes of Kirk Douglas and Joni Mitchell and almost every celebrity who has visited Edmonton knows about the Bistro Praha’s fried cheese dish. But whether you are famous or not, the way you will be treated will make you feel like a celebrity, an old friend and a valued customer. Come and find out for yourself. I am confident that it will be the first visit of many more to come.
Bistro Praha’s new digs are decidedly Old World, replete with large oil paintings and no-fuss, heavy wooden tables. The meat-driven menu presents multiple versions of schnitzels, a smattering of pastas, and a concise selection of cured and roasted meats.
Wishing you ‘Bon Appetit’ and ‘Dobrou Chut’
My wife and I ordered different entrees, and shared because we enjoyed both so much. She had the chicken and I had the schnitzel (they serve the best potato salad ever with the schnitzel!). She doesn’t drink alcoholic beverages, so our server brought her the really delicious mocktail, which she appreciated. I had my usual drink – beer.
The tomato and onion salad
Dining commences with a tomato and onion salad. I appreciate the tart and acidic presence of vinegar, but the tomatoes are woefully underripe and contribute little of the sunny juiciness these crimson treasures should possess.
Roast goose is next up. It is served with fluffy bread dumplings that act as edible sponges for rich meat drippings. A juicy tangle of bacon-studded sauerkraut rides shotgun; its fermented essence nicely offsets the delightfully fatty goose. The goose is sizable (and I ordered the half portion – be forewarned that portion sizes are substantial) and thoroughly satiates.
Smoked pork hocks come with sauerkraut and bread dumplings and features several rosy portions of smoky Schweinefleisch. Think ham rose to the power of ten and you approach the cured and smoked personality of this dish. Yellow mustard is a decent, if not overly imaginative, condiment.
When asking a server for dish recommendations, the classic wiener schnitzel was the next “must eat” after the steak tartar, and it didn’t let me down. The pork was tender with a crispy breaded coating, and, with the juice of a lemon wedge squeezed over top, pleasantly flavorful. I swapped the potato salad for roasted potatoes which, like the schnitzel, were delicious in their crispy simplicity.
Weiner schnitzel is one of Bistro Praha’s claims to enduring, city-wide fame. A squeeze of lemon adds a leap of citrus to golden, buttery bread crumbs and tender veal. A small scoop of creamy potato salad and a curl of cucumber add swatches of white and green.
On the menu, classics always have a central European theme: Hungarian sausage, fried breaded cheese, goulash, four variations on schnitzel – all perfect. The standard pan-fried potatoes or potato salad can’t be replicated. Nobody makes breaded fried cheese like Bistro Praha -a palm-sized thick cheese slice dipped in breading, then into oil to toast the batter and make the cheese inside warm and gooey. The escargots are sinful, swimming in drawn butter, tender and scrumptious.
I decided to bring my meal to a close with a piece of apple strudel. Served covered in icing sugar beside a mountain of whipped cream, as my fork crunched through the flaky pastry a trap door opened in my stomach and I was hungry all over again. It was a touch on the dry side, and, like the peach crepe, I would have preferred more filling in the strudel, but I still had no trouble clearing my plate.
The buttery flavor of the pan-fried peaches in the fresh crepe was very nice, but more peaches would have been even nicer.
The summation of a meal at Bistro Praha is an old school, Old World feed of meat and starch. Don’t expect anything fussy – thank goodness. I do miss their original location, though. Their new spot has dreadful acoustics and the room is so narrow that serves must weave among the chairs on tiptoe. Never mind; Bistro Praha still kicks it Old World.
At Bistro Praha you can have a lunch or light supper for under $15, or an entire dinner for $50. Only one dish has been added since 1976, a rack of lamb.
The explanation for Bistro Praha’s continued success in the competitive downtown Edmonton restaurant scene was clear to me with this visit. Big portions of comforting food made from scratch, and the friendly atmosphere and service give patrons plenty of reasons to come back again and again.
The ambience was lovely, the service was amazing, and the food was different, and delicious. Mouth watering… They had nice classical music playing and the artwork in the restaurant was stunning. I would suggest this restaurant to anyone who wants to enjoy good food, a nice, classy, yet casual environment, and a very friendly atmosphere.
In the new and wisely unchanged Bistro Praha, Frantisek’s spirit lives on. I know I’ll be back again.
Tags: Edmonton heritage