Paprika took over the old El Trebol space – a sweet Nicaraguan restaurant that had lived there since 1979 – almost four years ago, and I finally got over my miff and went. And it turns out my miff was partially unfounded, because owner Gabrielle Seckar is the niece of former long-time Trebol owner, Ivania Palacios!
Sra. Palacios decided to retire, and Gabrielle, with her Swiss German husband Petr Seckar and Czech friend Bruno Herren, opened the multi-culti Paprika. And while Gabrielle, the main chef, with the assistance of Bruno, is not cooking up her native cuisine, they’re continuing the tradition of a family-run, neighborhood spot serving home-style food for Mission residents.
This modern little Eastern European place looks like nothing we ever saw in Hungary or the Czech Republic. For one thing, there’s none of the god-awful, bright fluorescent lighting we encountered in every restaurant. Paprika is warm and inviting, yet still has a bit of a Euro industrial feel to it, with its glossed concrete floors and clean lines. There are lovely delicate pen & ink drawings of household items on a red accent wall, sparkly strings of light in the windows, and jazz standards tinkling in the air. Those little seating alcoves are very inviting, too, with a great view of the street – and there’s always something to gawk at when you’re sitting in front of 24th Street Bart.
The food itself is multi-cultural too, a blend of Hungarian, Czech, and German, with some Italian thrown in for good measure.
The menu isn’t very extensive, and I’m not sure how often they change up the items. They’re known for their rare and hard-to-find beers. On our first visit, I arrived first and ordered up this monster:
A Krusovice Dark, a Czech beer. It had a hint of coffee to it, and wasn’t heavy, for all its darkness. I liked it, but followed it up with a glass of the recommended Pinot. The BF had the Staropramen lager, also Czech, which he found a little flat.
We started off with the Caprese salad:
The dish that typifies this name is usually mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. Here, they had the mozz and tomatoes, but drizzled that with an herbed olive oil, and added sundried tomatoes and olives, the whole thing swimming in a balsamic/olive oil dressing. This dish was light and tasty, but the sundried tomatoes hadn’t had much time to soften, and they didn’t add much. But it was a good start to our meal.
I ordered the Paprika goulash with pork and gnocchi . . .
I had a sneaking suspicion that the gnocchi isn’t house made, but it was fine and light and not a bit doughy. The goulash gravy was a bit thin (perhaps I should have ordered the Szged goulash, also with pork but made with cream) but very flavorful, and the pork was tender, garnished with scallions. Good warm bread was thoughtfully served with, to sop up all the sauce – and sop we did, because thin or not, it was tasty. Despite its hue (and the name of the place) they don’t go too heavy on the paprika.
The BF ordered the plate of two sausages with sides.
The BF LOVES sausages, so when I told him we were going somewhere that had multiple sausages to choose from, he was excited. He selected the German spice and Swiss Bockwurst. I loved their spatchcocked presentation, with primary colored squiggles of mustard and ketchup – a little whimsy on the plate. His mashed potatoes were creamy and peppery, and held a lake of a paprika-influenced gravy. I controlled myself, but vowed I’d get the potatoes next time. Cornichons were the garnish, along with a bright, tart sauerkraut that did taste homemade. This kind of food is right up the BF’s alley, and he deemed it “good.” That’s code for “freaking amazing,” to you and me. I heard the happy noises.
On our second visit, we started out with a Caesar salad.
It was refreshing, garlicky, light – everything you want in a Caesar, really, although no discernible anchovy. And I think the parmesan was pre-shredded.
I ordered an Argentinian Malbec this time, and the BF had a Weihenstephan Hefe – a typical German wheat beer, with a nice clove taste to it, from a brewery that’s said to be the oldest in the world. Well! We liked it.
For my main, I went with the chicken paprikash….
…. because it came with those potatoes! And more of that luscious gravy. The chicken was fine, but I preferred the pork. As I usually do.
And the BF had – wait for it….
The sausage plate! But this time, with different sausages. He opted for the kielbasa and the sweet Hungarian. We both loved the Hungarian sausage; it did, indeed, have a sweetish, slightly smoky flavor to it. The kielbasa tasted like any kielbasa, which was fine by the BF. Not much more to say here, as it was essentially the same dish.
And that’s the thing. If you want to be a regular here, you have to really, really ADORE sausages and goulash. Because baby, that’s it. They have a cheese and charcuterie platter, but I would be too full for dinner if I snacked on those beforehand. They also have a soup, which could be nice. They even have a vegan sausage option. Gabrielle says that they want to add more vegan options to the menu, and plan to reassess early next year. They have desserts, which we were too full to try … I would like it if they had maybe a couple other options. Maybe a schnitzel? Or some nice knedliky, little Czech dumplings? Hmm? However, Gabrielle said it was difficult with such a small kitchen they had to work with, handed down from the previous restaurant, and so they focus on the goulash, which people seem to love. She also wants to add new drinks to the menu, too.
Paprika definitely feels like the kind of place you can have a very fine, not-run-of-the-mill stein or even a boot of beer and a snack, in the best European tradition. Tellingly, Paprika was awarded a spot in the coveted Michelin Guide for 2017, quite a coup in our ever-evolving Mission food scene. It has a nice neighborhood feel to it, and the service is fast and friendly. Gabrielle told me they love their customers, and enjoy them as one would cooking for family. “I love what I do,” she vowed. While I’d love to see a few new items on the menu from time to time, it is refreshing to have an ethnic cuisine change-up in the Mission, served with so much passion.
3324 24th Street, between Bartlett & Osage