What does it say about the Csiga Café that the same three servers who were working there on its opening night almost six years ago were still behind the bar when I ate there after its recent reopening? One should be able to draw a conclusion about the general health of a business by their ability to retain staff, and a happy staff makes for a happy customer. I’ve been to the “Snail Café” enough over the years to see the ups and downs of the place, but like Rákóczi Tér, which the corner storefront faces, it is always on a slow, steady upward tend.
The eclectic menu at the Csiga, unlike the staff, is constantly rotating. The chef bases it on whatever looks good that day in the next-door Rákóczi téri Vásárcsarnok. But there are always a few inventive chicken dishes, pastas, some meal-sized salads, and a fish option. On my most recent stop-by I ordered beef braised in brown beer sauce with big steak fries (above; Ft 1,300, or just over €5). Perfect comfort food on a rainy autumn day. The soup, a cream of zucchini, came with fresh, homemade black olive foccacia that for Ft 450 was worth a visit in itself. The goat cheese salad (below) at Ft 1,300 to its credit arrived pre-doused with a tangy balsamic and garlic dressing, defying the local standard of the oil and vinegar caddy, which really only works with Balkan salads anyway. His reliable, affordable menu has also made Csiga owner Oran a popular choice for party and wedding catering among many of Budapest’s different expatriate sub-communities. He regularly cooks for the French Institute and has catered two of this contributor’s Pilvax Magazine parties, not to mention one Pilvax wedding.
Hailing from Ireland, Oran (right in the above “file pic” shot at the bar a few years ago) himself is hard to miss, even if I’ve never have managed to figure out what his last name is. He’s the guy who looks like a cross between Einstein and a young György Faludy. He has been in Budapest long enough to learn the ropes: His first venue, the Sixtus (which still exists under different ownership) is fabled among certain grizzled expat circles. He designed the Csiga to be the antithesis of the Irish concept bars that are shipped as kits all over the world. While I somehow forgot to snap any fresh pics of the café’s interior, it is as cheerful and comfy as the food. Local artists routinely display their work, Roma bands from the nyóckér often show up to play, and, unless I was too out of it to remember correctly, there was once even a “clown night.” Rather than through Guinness and other tired national clichés, Csiga stays true to the spirit of the owner’s homeland in the arts, the cuisine and inclusive atmosphere. Here’s wishing the Csiga another six years. Who knows, the same staff might still be there. And so might I.