Over four years ago when I first came to Berkley as a chef, my first restaurant friends were my Coolidge Highway neighbors, Jonce and Ellie Ilievski of Ellie’s Euro-American Grill.
I would sneak through their kitchen door to say “hi,” and would be seated with their old country hospitality that I grew up with. I would be instructed by Ellie to have a plat of their fresh-smoked sausage, cheese and hot peppers, and then we would visit.
This kind of love carries over to their food, especially their Hungarian food. Ellie is the mastermind of the kitchen.
“My wife learned a lot from her mom,” Jonce says. “The influence is there.”
Even though Jonce and Ellie came from Macedonia, Jonce says, “In that part of Europe, we all cook the same things. All the ingredients are right there. You don’t know where it really comes from.”
The basics of Hungarian food are like most old world comfort foods: it comes from the farm, it comes from the land. It’s what you have on hand.
Jonce explained that the sauces pull most of their flavors from the braising of the meats, which are cooked low and slow without a lot of seasonings – onions, tomatoes, peppers, salt, pepper, vegetable seasoning, and Ellie’s secret seasoning, which she has never let me in on.
Jonce and Ellie cut their own beef — top round — which they buy locally for their goulash and beef Stroganoff. The same goes for the chicken that goes into their chicken paprikash.
“It’s more tender when we do it that way,” Jonce says. “Any other way tastes like sand. We’re picky, and we know what our customers like.”
Each of the Hungarian dishes has to be handled with individual care. There’s no assembly line food here, especially when it comes to the sauces.
“You have to watch the sauces when they’re cooking,” Jonce says. “You don’t want them to be too thick or too watery.”
Their pork paprikash has an intense flavor, and who doesn’t like pork? And the chicken paprikash is the bomb. The tender and buttery bone-in poached chicken is out of this world, and the fresh tomato coached down into the sauce imparts an earthy tang. Married with the paprika – Hungarian, of course – the sour cream mellows it all out.
Ellie makes her own dumplings for the paprikash. The dumplings are tender, like tiny tear drops – not too heavy or starchy, and they suck up the sauce, which gives this dish a double whammy. They’re better than mashed spuds. The same goes for the egg noodles that they use for their beef Stroganoff.
Goulash is on the menu, too – a sour cream-based stew made with beef and married with tomatoes, potatoes, bell pepper, bacon, garlic, caraway seeds and sour cream. What you have to try that a lot of people aren’t familiar with is the Szekeley goulash, which is made with pork and homemade sauerkraut that gives it the right amount of zip.
Now, for the home stretch: kreamish. It’s a rich, buttery puff pastry sandwiched with decadent classical vanilla custard. Topped with powdered sugar about three inches tall, a serving is rich enough to put a bear in hibernation.
Hey, if you’re going to go into a food coma, what better way is there to say, “Sweet dreams?” Chef Tom Keshishian, BerkleyLive Special Writer
Ellie’s Euro-American Grill, 2033 Coolidge Hwy., Berkley, MI 48072; 248-691-4441