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On the Road

On the Road: A Big, Strong Pittsburgh Belly

A goulash master shares his tricks.
By Published Oct. 21, 2022

There’s something very satisfying about finding a diamond in the rough. Hazelwood, a neighborhood a few minutes from downtown Pittsburgh, can accurately be described as “the rough”—a fact my cabbie was sure to reinforce—and the unassuming Hungarian restaurant Józsa Corner as “the diamond.” It occupies a distressed whitewashed building along the railroad tracks where the owner, Alexander Józsa Bodnar, a veteran of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, rules the kitchen.

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One Friday a month, Bodnar hosts Hungarian Night. You step through the main entrance directly into the kitchen, where Bodnar is feverishly preparing the coming meal. He welcomes everyone warmly. You then pass from the kitchen to the dining room through a sledgehammered opening in a weathered brick wall, which looks like the Hulk himself busted through one night in search of paprikash. Guests cozy up, elbow to elbow, at long tables in a converted living room where an ancient red velvet sofa and an old piano rest quietly unused.

Bodnar enters the dining room through the hole in the wall with a plate of yeasted fry bread called lángos and a bowl of mushroom paprikash to be spooned over the top, chanting “Egyetek, vegyetek, hadd nőjön a begyetek,” a saying that promotes the virtues of eating for a “big, strong belly.” What follows is a simple meal with a personality as big as our host: peasant soup (so called for the many bones it contains), haluska, chicken paprikash, and goulash.

Although I’m dining with strangers, the mood transforms into one of a familiar dinner with close friends. Hours later, I leave, patting my own full, strong belly.

This article was originally published in the December/January 2017 issue of Cook's Country magazine. Alexander Józsa Bodnar passed away in February of 2022 and Józsa Corner has since closed.