Wunderbar


Following the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 a refugee family was relocated to the small Illinois town where I grew up. I became friends with Martha Kraczel, the daughter. Her father worked with my father in the foundry. He also made home made wine and sausage and always gave some to my father. Mr. Kraczel was a very generous man. I lost track of Martha Kraczel, but I have never forgotten her or the kindness that lived in her heart. Eastern European people live from their hearts, not their heads.

“Eastern European hospitality is unbelievable, the warmth and total giving,” Imre Vilaghy tells me. Whenever he went to visit his grandmother, his Nana, no matter what time he arrived she would run into the kitchen and cook. This left an indelible mark on Imre, “Hospitality is the spiritual motive for everything I do. Food is important, good food makes good people.”

Imre Vilaghy was born in Baden, Austria, a small town about fifteen miles south of Vienna. It was once the location of the Emperor’s summer spa and the sulphur hot springs. Since the Emperor’s time there have been casinos in Baden, one of his palaces is still a casino. Imre’s grandfather and father both ran casinos. During a visit home a few years ago, an older gentleman employee at a casino recognized his name, took him aside and began telling delightful stories of working with Imre’s father and grandfather.

After apprenticing at a hotel chain, Imre left Austria at 17 and began training as a special education teacher. He spent time in Hamburg, back when the Beatles were playing nightly at a club down the street, and in Ireland and Scotland. He went to South Africa and worked setting up farms where handicapped people could work. He arrived in Columbia County in 1978 and briefly helped run Hawthorne Valley Farm. Then, being an entrepreneur, he started baking bread.

“Bread was an essential part of the diet in Europe and I couldn’t get good bread here so I made it myself. Suddenly I had 12 employees and a company.” He founded and ran Our Daily Bread for 12 years.

In 1995 Imre opened the Oasis Cafe on Warren Street. That’s where I first met Imre. I had my morning coffee at the Oasis and often returned in the afternoon. I’d usually sit in the corner with my Vienna coffee and write. I wrote the better part of a novel there. I loved the Oasis. It was very special because of the people who frequented the place; you never knew who you might run into. Writer Dawn Langley Simmons and artist Mikail Chemiakin were regulars, Jean McMullin, Vladimir Bachinsky and Sedat Pakay, Augie, Jennifer, Kim, Chuck, Jerry, Mike, Johnny and a host of other colorful and delightful characters, locals, new arrivals, pioneer antique dealers, tourists, I even ran into Meryl Streep there one day. “A place to meet and talk is good for the growth of the community,” Imre believes.

We talked politics, local, national and international, art, cooking, hunting, gardening even auto mechanics. I can’t think of a topic that wasn’t discussed at the Oasis and the conversation was always filled with laughter and passion.

Imre often talked of a dream he had; to open a restaurant where people from every segment of the community could gather and talk, meet and get acquainted with each other, share food and hospitality. “A delicious meal at a reasonable price,” Imre always said.

When Imre closed the Oasis he took a year off, then saw clearly the need for such a restaurant in Hudson. He purchased Kappy’s, the former Lawrence Tavern, and opened up the space to what it once was. July 19th Wunderbar opened serving dinners only, but beginning this week they’ll serve lunches, too. Imre works hard, but keeps joy a priority, “If the business takes over, the fun goes out of it and that’s no good. Both my sons are working with me now which I’m very happy about.”

Imre describes the menu as basic fill-you-up food, “We have special salads and fish, too. I leave the creativity to my chefs.” They do a great job; the food is delicious.

The house specialty is Beef Wunderbar, thinly sliced beef braised then cooked in a root sauce and served with potato dumplings. It’s Nana’s recipe, the meal his Hungarian grandmother cooked whenever he came to visit, “I gave the recipe to my chef. I came back later, walked into the kitchen and the aroma knocked me out, I was instantly back in Nana’s kitchen.”

Wunderbar is a no pressure, no pretense sort of place to hang out, meet friends, make new ones and have a decent meal at a decent price. It’s about neighborhood and family, good conversation and quality of life in a community that socializes together. It’s Imre’s dream. “It’s my neighborhood restaurant,” he smiles. Wunderbar literally translates from German as, wonderful. Wunderbar is indeed wunderbar, a dream come true.

We’ll talk next time From The Road.

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