Pierogi it or not

The Amber Rose brings East Europe to North Dayton

By Paula Johnson

Photo: The Warsaw Medley at The Amber Rose

It was with great excitement I anticipated my visit to The Amber Rose. Hailing from a city where a sweeping second wave of immigrants settled to work in the steel mills, the pierogi was king in our town. Eastern European cuisine was ubiquitous, though not in restaurants. I could only remember one restaurant that served food old-Europe style, and I never visited it because this was the food cooked at home by everyone’s Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Slovak or Lithuanian baba. And this is the food that’s on the menu at The Amber Rose.

Old World ambience

Located in North Dayton, The Amber Rose is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The building itself, built in 1910, formerly housed a general store and deli with living quarters upstairs.  It’s a perfectly charming space with beautiful stained glass transomed windows fronting the dining room. The bar, a beautiful Turkish marble, spans the length of the dining area. Pressed tin ceilings and hanging lamps complete the Old World cafe feel. The restaurant’s menu reads like the greatest culinary hits of Eastern Europe, and there are even a few Italian dishes for those who prefer their pasta not in pierogi form. The beverage menu includes a selection of unusual beers and wines from several countries whose cuisines are featured. The cuisines represented have a lot in common in terms of ingredients and flavorings. Though it feels like variations on a theme, each country’s food is distinctly its own.

Culinary crash course

A few fellow players from the Dayton City Paper team accompanied me to sample what for them would be new foods. As such, I was in charge of ordering so we could investigate a range of the many offerings on The Amber Rose menu. We began with the Deluxe Potato Pancakes appetizer ($7). Disappointingly, their version was more like bar food, as it was topped with cheddar cheese and bacon instead of the traditional oniony pancakes served with apple sauce and sour cream. A specialty of the restaurant’s founder, Elinor’s Signature Turtle Soup ($4.50) was up next. This soup is extremely popular in New Orleans, but not often seen elsewhere in the U.S. The soup was thick and tomatoey with small chunks of meat, green pepper and onion. The taste was acceptable, but not a table favorite.

Show me the schnitzel

Germany, Poland, Lithuania and Hungary were the countries represented with our lunch choices. The Lovely Katie sampled the Hunter Schnitzel sandwich ($9), a pretzel-crusted pork loin on a pretzel roll with lettuce, onion, tomato and dark mustard. The pork was pounded so thin that there was practically no meat. Sarah Smile tried the Chicken Paprikash ($10). Described as a paprika-and sour cream-based stew with carrots and celery, it arrived served over spaetzle, thick egg noodle dumplings. We all agreed that it was surprisingly bland but not unpleasant. Again, the word “acceptable” comes to mind.

The Warsaw Medley ($18) was assigned to Wanda Woman. Cabbage rolls, sausage, sauerkraut and a potato-filled pierogi comprised this platter. This pierogi was almost deep fried, rendering the dough slightly tough. The sauerkraut was quite tasty, and we were happy with the cabbage rolls and sausage for the most part.

It’s my pierogi-tive

My platter, The Lithuanian Sampler ($19), featured a similar cabbage roll, sausage and the stand-out kraut. The unusual item was the virtiniai, Lithuania’s version of the pierogi. Every culture’s got a dumpling, the pierogi being Eastern Europe’s varietal, but this one was new to me. These bacon-topped meat-filled pockets were boiled, rendering the dough soft in texture, unlike the fried dough used in Wanda Woman’s Warsaw Medley platter. The sausage was fine, and I enjoyed dipping it in the dark mustard, but I found the cabbage roll to be mushy and in need of some black pepper. There’s that word again: “acceptable.”

It was with great excitement I anticipated my visit to The Amber Rose. It was with much more limited enthusiasm that I left my lunch outing. The quaint European ambience of the space and the things they did well make me want to return to try a few dishes I didn’t have the opportunity to taste on this first visit. This restaurant reminded me of home and the foods of my childhood, and that helps tip the scales to an even balance for The Amber Rose.

The Amber Rose is located at 1400 Valley St. in Dayton. For more information, please call 937.228.2511 or visit theamberrose.com.
Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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