4800 2nd Ave
M-F 11-6, otherwise by appointment
Need an adventure? A new place with new food? A restaurant completely like any other in the whole of Pittsburgh? Well you’ve hit right upon it! Jozsa Corner is a tiny Hungarian restaurant in Hazelwood and is at the very tip top of my recommendation list at this moment in time. You have to make an appointment with the chef, not a reservation – an appointment, and when you go for dinner he just brings you pile after pile of food, you know not what till it arrives. Mysterious enough yet? You have to go – trust me, you’ll love it!
Hazelwood is a neighborhood with a strange feel, particularly in the area surrounding Josza Corner. Jozsa Corner is right next to the tracks, and there is barely a building around it for a block in all directions. It is all by itself on its little corner. It seems desolate, and on an overcast, rainy day perhaps even foreboding, but once you make your way inside this joint everything changes. The front room where you enter is the kitchen. In a flurry of cooking action, a jolly fellow named Alex, who is chef, owner, and waiter all in one, greets you and takes a moment to get to know you. You see, dining here is more like you are going over to his house for dinner than it is like a restaurant. Alex wants to know your name and find out a little bit about you because you are more than a customer to him. You are sure to feel welcomed and comforted by his nature, as well as his family members, who are sometimes there to help with the preparations.
You’ll be lead through the tiny kitchen to a room in back that is only slightly larger and which is decked with two long tables with rows of chairs on each side, a stand-up piano, posters and knickknacks, and a small table with goblets for the stuff you BYOB’d. There is a plate of crudités to start you off, and once you get settled Alex will start bringing the food. He starts with a freshly fried and slightly salty Langos each. Langos is ‘Hungarian fire bread’, or a deep-fried dough disc that can be served savory with a pinch of garlic salt, or sweet with sugar and cinnamon. It is simple and delicious and I crave them.
The rest of the meal may be any number of dishes made with chicken, beef, or pork (or all veggie, which he is quite experienced at doing for all the vegetarians out there) all of which are deliciously homemade. His grandmother taught him everything he knows about cooking, and he affectionately makes almost everything in her style, which is with old world techniques, homemade ingredients, and lots of dill. For instance, he will buy a chicken or two and use all of it in various parts of your meal. You might get a pile of chicken cracklin’s on your crudité plate, a bowl of chicken noodle soup, some braised chicken breasts, and the remaining chicken thighs cooked into the specialty of the house, chicken paprikas. By the way, if you are considering that you might stop reading this review because you are afraid to eat anything but white meat chicken breasts, STOP! If there were ever a place to try dark meat, this is it, because everything is cooked so delightfully. I’ll leave the cracklin’s up to you, but you should really try a few of them because he went to all the trouble of making them and he likes them an awful lot.
Now I want to highlight some of the dishes he has prepared for me in the past. His haluska is totally amazing. Haluska, sometimes known as haluski, is buttered egg noodles with cabbage. Alex fries his a little bit so the butter is browned as are some of the soft noodles. He makes big heaping bowls of it, which I can gobble in seconds flat. MMM, that stuff is good! Alex also makes a Transylvanian Gulyas (or Goulash to the rest of us) which is great because he serves with it his homemade Kolbasz sausage, MMM! The aforementioned braised chicken is crispy, salty, and served with plenty of dill and is superb (and a special delight when you have it cold the next day for lunch). Finally, the Chicken Paprikas is unbelievably tender and served with homemade chunky, thick, delectable dumplings and a cucumber salad. The dumplings reminded a friend of mine, Maureen M., of the dumplings her grandmother of Eastern European origin would hand-cut when she was a child. Not to overuse MMM, but MMM! When you talk to Alex, which you will, you will find out how proud he is of all these dishes, as he should be because they are a joy to eat.
And finally, he makes his own loaves of bread special for the night you come in. He calls it Peasant Bread and it is warm and fresh from the oven when you get there. I think this demonstrates the purpose of appointments rather than regular restaurant hours very well. You see, he can put all of his effort into making the best possible meal this way, and I mean meal in the sense of a complete rounded experience. Otherwise, he would be spreading himself too thin and having to streamline the cooking process to accommodate the unpredictable flow of customers. And I’m so glad he does it this way – it sort of feels like you were driving through Transylvania and your car broke down in a terrible rain storm, so you hike a mile and find a lone mansion and figure you’ll use their telephone to call for help so you knock on the door and not only is it not Dracula, but you get to come in, warm yourself, and eat a great big home prepared meal with the nice man and his family. How often does THAT happen?! Like, never….and that is why it is so special! It is completely like no other place in Pittsburgh, and I am sure you are intrigued by now, so you have to go. After all, it’s not in Transylvania, it’s Jozsa ‘round the Corner.
Into a conversation with Alex – he has some GREAT stories and he loves to hear yours too.
Whatever he brings you!
Make sure to call and make an appointment with Alex. If you just stop by, he is likely to be closed or unable to serve you because he only planned for the people who called ahead. You must have a party of at least 4 on off-nights, and you should be prepared to be accommodating to Alex’s needs (in time and day) because, after all, he is making you a giant meal from scratch. Make sure to bring cash because he doesn’t accept cards. Oh, and don’t expect anything fancy, its all paper plates and plastic forks. Don’t worry though, the food is so good that you won’t care a bit.
On the second Friday of every month, Alex has a Hungarian Culture night where you can meet with other people and there is live Hungarian music and sometimes a movie. The best part about this is that you get the multi-course meal like any other night that you would make a special appointment, but it is way way discounted. On a normal night, it costs about $20 a head including tax and tip, which is already a pretty good deal. By the way, you must make an appointment to be at the culture night as well, so make sure to call ahead and let him know you are coming.