Restaurant reviews tend to follow a pattern, one that chronicles the meal itself, starting with appetizers, then soups and salads and on to entrees. But a review of Chef Henry’s requires one to start with dessert. Simply put, the apple strudel here is phenomenal.
This isn’t exactly news. I’ve raved about the strudel since I first wrote about this family’s original restaurant, Chef Henry’s Cafe. And the strudel was singled out for my very first Foodie Award for Best Dessert, in 1999. Then, as now, the strudel was made by Estera Brestowski, chef Henry’s wife. Words can’t do it justice. There is no way to adequately describe the buttery flakiness of the pastry or the sweetly tart taste of the apples and how they are baked perfectly to that elusive point between too crunchy and too soft. It just can’t be done.
Of course, the strudel is even more enjoyable when it comes at the end of a meal as wonderful as one at Chef Henry’s. The food is simple, really, but the flavors are complex. And the execution is masterful.
My guests and I started with an array of appetizers, including halusky, a potato dumpling mixed with cheese and a touch of bacon that can only be described as a sort of Slovakian mac and cheese. But even a fancier version than those currently being touted at expensive restaurants around the country. And bryndzovnik, a puff pastry filled with sliced potatoes, sour cream and cheese. And gazda kobasz, a classic Hungarian style pork sausage.
My favorite entree was the schnitzel a la Vienna (Wienerschnitzel, if you prefer), available with pork or veal; I chose veal. The meat was pounded for tenderizing and had a light jacket of breading that had been turned golden with sautéing. The veal had a buttery texture and a taste to match.
One of my guests had the chicken rouladen, which was stuffed with baby spinach leaves and creamy gouda cheese and graced with a sweetish apricot compote. I also liked the turkey scaloppini, which had the bird coated with an egg batter and covered with a rich green pea champagne sauce.
And goulas (the Czech spelling), with tender beef tips braised in burgundy wine with green peppers, onions, mushrooms and tomatoes. Perfect with a serving of doughy spaetzle noodles.
The players from the former Chef Henry’s Cafe are all back, but the roles are slightly different. The previous restaurant was owned by mom and dad; now daughter Simone Krasnansky is the proprietor. The Brestowskis still do the kitchen work they do so well, but they don’t have the stress of ownership.
The old restaurant was on Howell Branch Road in Winter Park (where Chef Hans is now). The new Chef Henry’s has taken over the space recently vacated by Journeys when it move to Alaqua. Missing here are the European gewgaws that decorated the old restaurant. Frankly, I prefer this uncluttered look.
I should mention my visit hadn’t started out very well. I had made reservations for an early Saturday dinner, but when we showed up there was no record of my call. And, suprisingly, the place was packed. We were shown to a cramped table in a corner, which I grudgingly accepted (where else could we sit?). But my smoldering soon was extinguished when Simone finally started serving us. She has the amazing quality of being both brusque and sweet at the same time, communicating an “I’m very busy” attitude while still saying, “I’m glad you’re here.” And when I told her we would get our slice of strudel to go so as to free the table for the people now crowding the doorway, she was so grateful that she brought two slices.
I was very sorry when the Brestowskis sold Chef Henry’s Cafe in 2008 to return to Slovakia. But I’m very happy they decided to come back, and even happier that Simone was able to coax her parents back into the kitchen. Central Florida’s dining scene is richer for it.
Chef Henry’s is at 1831 W. State Road 434, Longwood. It is open for lunch Tuesday through Friday and dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Sunday brunch is available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.. Click here for Chef Henry’s Web site. The phone number is 407-331-4836.