Saturday, May 26, 2012

Goulash on the Road: Sandra's Restaurant in Florida

We spent spring break in Florida, visiting family.  So there would be no home cooked Slovenian meal that week.  I hoped to find  the next best thing: A restaurant that might offer something close to Slovenian fare, when Tuesday came around.

But I had my doubts.  This wasn't New York City, where last month we had enjoyed a wonderful Fat Tuesday lunch at Balkanika.

We were in Punta Gorda, a small city on Florida's southwest coast.  It is a pleasant, low key vacation spot with a resident population that is mostly white and over sixty.  We had eaten at some nice area restaurants over the years, mostly casual seafood places.  But the town is not a hotspot for ethnic dining.

On Tuesday, we were on our own until dinner time.   So we set out from our charming waterfront motel, a funky 1950s-style resort, and headed into downtown Punta Gorda.


"I don't suppose we'll find a Balkan restaurant here," I said.  Maybe we would find a Greek or Middle Eastern place, but that also seemed unlikely.

My husband was the one who spotted it: a sign for a German restaurant.

Well, why not?   I figured we could expect to find standard German American fare. Maybe bratwurst and sauerkraut, at least.

Sandra's Restaurant went far beyond that.  It promised Authentic German and European Food--and it did not disappoint.

Inside, we discovered an inviting space, with a bar in front and then the airy dining area, complete with a fireplace.  On the wall, an article from a local newspaper provided some background.  Sandra's had opened just four months earlier.  The owners were a young German couple who had previously operated a catering business in Germany.

At the very back, there was even a mini-grocery.  I inspected the packaged German foods, lined up on a counter.  I got a good laugh when I spotted the bread dumplings, in individual boiling bags.  They looked very much like my homemade version, though undoubtedly faster to prepare.

Sandra's menu offered an impressive array of foods, along with helpful descriptions of each dish, including the country of origin.  Along with traditional German fare, many other European cuisines were represented.  Italian. French.  Swiss.  Spanish. Greek.

Austrian and Hungarian.

Bingo! Slovenia's neighbors. Close enough.

I zeroed in on the perfect choice.  Hungarian goulash with spaetzle.  I wondered how it would compare to my Slovenian version, which I'd made with beef and sauerkraut.

That goulash was delicious: Tender cubes of beef and pork in a just-right paprika and tomato sauce.  The contrast of the two meats added interest.  It was less tangy, of course, without the sauerkraut.  I might try it this way myself, the next time I make goulash.

Those thick yellow spaetzle reminded me of rezanci, the homemade egg noodles I'd served with chicken paprikash.  At the time, I thought they were a little too thick.  This confirmed it!

My husband had a tasty fish sandwich, which featured fried pangasius.  He ordered a side of sauerkraut, so I got to sample that, along with a sip of his dark Austrian ale. Both were good, although the German sauerkraut was a little sweeter than what I had tasted at San Francisco's Slovenian Hall.

I had spotted the perfect choice for dessert:  Apple strudel.  My grandmother used to make it, and I keep planning to tackle it myself.  It would have been the perfect finale to the meal.

But we were too full.  Maybe next time.

Sandra's Restaurant in Punta Gorda, Florida.  Recommended, especially if you like authentic German food.

Here is the website:

And Sandra's does seem to be gaining a following,  judging from reviews in places like this: Sandra's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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