Paper plates and plastic forks. A 40 minute bus ride down to Robinson Street on a dark, rainy day. If you were expecting this to be the beginning of a horrible dining experience, you could not be any more wrong.
Czech Pleeze is a small and quaint culinary gem stranded on the intersection of Robinson and Mason. Stepping in, we were greeted with the fragrance of sautéed onions, sauerkraut and a lot of other saliva-inducing ingredients. Beige walls embroidered with Binghamton memorabilia added a nostalgic quality to this humble vestige of local Slavic cuisine. Nevertheless, whether you’re a fan of the modest décor or ready to Czech out, owner Dan McLarney’s ensemble of Czechoslovakian comfort classics to guaranteed to have you reminiscing about good old home-cooking from days past.
Perhaps the most conspicuous of Czech’s entrees is the Pirohi. Dan gives these potato-filled dumplings a special twist by topping the buttery packages with a school of sautéed onions, adding just the right touch of saltiness. Meanwhile, the more protein-inclined may be better served by the Holupki, a fresh cabbage roll filled with rice and grounded beef, or the city chicken, a fried and breaded meat dish that is popular in many Northeastern cities. Dan’s Holupki recipe, seasoned and cooked in a blend of sauerkraut and tomato sauce, comes straight out of his mom’s cookbook, a common theme amongst many of Czech’s menu items.
For sides, Czech offers Halushka, spicy mac ‘n cheese, macaroni salad, and potato salad. Halushka is another Eastern European side dish, consisting of egg noodle, cabbage and diced onions cooked in sautéed butter, topped with a peppery hit. The spicy mac ‘n cheese gives a unique and improved spin to its predecessor, owing to the extra cayenne pepper and three cheeses used to flavor the pasta.
Outwardly simple, yet packed with passionate flavors, Czech’s menu characterizes Dan himself, who opened the restaurant in May of 2012, some time after he left his job at IBM. Since then, Czech has done extremely well while staying true to its local roots, courtesy of its owner’s business savvy. While the family would love to cater to college students, Dan admits that it is expensive to do so. “When you get out of campus, you look left and right and you see 35 different restaurants,” he explained, “…but we’re doing pretty well; we’ve had 19 different states try our food.” Not bad, not bad at all.
For restaurant week, Czech is offering a three course lunch and dinner for $12.00 and $16.00, customized to a soup, an entrée and a dessert of your choice. They also offer sandwiches, chicken and biscuits, as well as pot luck dinner specials. For those who mind the distance, take out is also an option. Whatever the case, one thing is for certain: this quaint Slavic eatery is definitely worth Czech-ing out.
A special thanks to Czech Pleeze for providing us with this tasting!