Chef Krisztina Ponti shows her love for her Hungarian heritage through her cooking. At the Shaker Square restaurant, she serves the wood platter ($59.95), which comes with enough food to feed six farmhands.
“Back at home, when you go to your grandmothers, she’s so happy to see you, she wants to give you everything,” says Ponti, who co-owns Balaton with her sister, Erika. “When I go back home, it’s showing their love. We want to give you the same experience.”
The meal, which is billed to serve two or four people, arrives laden with golden brown discs of veal, chicken and pork that are breaded, pounded flat and fried. They’re topped with two smoked Hungarian sausages fancifully cut into curls, as well as fistfuls of thinly sliced deep-fried onions.
And if that wasn’t enough, it also comes with salad, cabbage and noodles, pickles, dumplings and lemons to cut through the salt and fat.
As one of Cleveland’s culinary institutions, Balaton has been family-owned since Ponti’s great-aunt immigrated to Cleveland in the late 1950s. Here, you’ll find pizza crust-sized langos ($6.50), fluffy frybread served with sour cream and garlic oil, alongside rib-sticking dishes such as schnitzel ($18.95 small, $25.95 large) and chicken paprikash ($16.95 small, $19.95 large) — enormous meals you can enjoy in a beautiful wood-floored dining room that radiates cozy charm.
For Cleveland’s large Eastern European community, it all feels familiar, comforting and like a little piece of home. And while some of these dishes have fallen out of favor in Hungary following post-Soviet liberalization, Balaton is keeping these recipes alive.
“There are less and less Hungarian restaurants in the country,” says Ponti. “It seems like we have customers from all over searching for our cuisine.”
13133 Shaker Square, Cleveland, 216-921-9691, balaton-restaurant.com