BBQ at Kis-Balaton | The Budapest Times
With the advent of the summer sun, the annual exodus from Budapest is imminent. Visitors to the city in July and August are often surprised at how empty it is of Hungarians. As Parisians head for the coast and Milanese head for the mountains, Budapesters head for the Balaton.
Those lucky enough to have a summer house near the lake will take full advantage of it. Others will scramble to pay what a friend describes as “cheeky” prices for cabins, chalets, apartments and villas – everything to get out of town.
The smarter ones, those who don’t need the nightclubs and bars, may look further afield, to villages less than half an hour’s drive from the lake. Cheaper. Quieter. More relaxing. Who knows? This year could be the year one of Hungary’s lesser-known gems – the Kis-Balaton – comes into its own.
The new reception center is open to businesses and offers guided tours. The water buffaloes of Kápolnapuszta are waiting to be admired. Kányavári Sziget, best visited early in the morning to avoid the crowds and mozzies, is the perfect spot for a picnic breakfast. Market. Drive. Cycle. The choice is yours.
I recently read that bicycle shortages will likely last until 2022, such is the global demand. It looks like the world and her mother have taken to two wheels to maintain their sanity and stay healthy during this pandemic. The number of cyclists around the Balaton doubled last year and is expected to increase further this summer. For those who like a challenge, there is the Balatonkör, a 200 kilometer bike ride around the Balaton. Unlike the Tour de Pelso where everyone rides as fast as possible, the Balatonkör is more relaxed. But there are many other routes to choose from.
Cycling the Kis-Balaton is another story. It’s much shorter, for one. And it offers a completely different experience with more culture and fewer crowds. Until recently, the only downside to traveling in KB was the lack of places to eat between Zalakaros and Zalaszabar. Yes, there is a small pizzeria in Zalakomár and the sometimes open Katica Csarda in Zalavár, but there was a whole stretch that almost dared you to go hungry, waiting for someone with a vision to do the occasion justice.
Enter Kristopher Purdy from the Ujlaki family of Kaposvár.
Born in Florida, educated in Belgium and trained in New York, Purdy graduated from Jacques Pépin’s French Culinary Institute with a degree in classical culinary arts. First place in a cooking competition got him a job at his choice of three Michelin star restaurants. He chose that of Thomas Keller In itself.
2014 saw him in Budapest with stays at two of the city’s six Michelin-starred restaurants, Costes Downtown and Babel Budapest. It was all about fine cuisine. In 2018 he had the opportunity to relocate to Somerset, UK to join a team determined to elevate the restaurant at the Ston Easton Park Hotel to Michelin level. One of the hotels of the Von Essen group, run by banker darling Andrew Davis, the hotelier’s quest was thwarted by Covid.
Like so many others around the world whose lives have been derailed or hijacked by Covid, Purdy had to decide what to do next. He moved to Kaposvár, with his mother, and found a job at La Prima Trattoria. Here, far from the magic that embodies all that is Michelin, Purdy has rediscovered the essence of hearty, home-made cuisine.
A spicy Kansas City barbecue fan and master of fine dining, a plan began to marinate in Purdy’s mind. What would happen if he merged the two? At first glance, they don’t exactly go together, not like salt and pepper or sweet and sour. When he told me this, I had visions of a French waiter lifting the lid of a silver entree dish to reveal a slice of pork ribs and a side of coleslaw. But then the penny dropped.
Earlier this month, I saw the new billboard at Balatonmagyaród announcing the opening of the Maximilian BBQ & Grill scheduled for noon on Saturday May 15th. I spent a few days salivating at the idea of a real barbecue. I was excited when I found out that Purdy was American. Americans know their barbecue. I have fond memories of WC Handy Blues and the BBQ Festival in Henderson, Kentucky. My mind conjured up plates filled with spicy wings, large spare ribs, pulled pork, and the proper coleslaw. My dreams were filled with real burgers and beer-battered onion rings.
I arrived late. The others had ordered for me. I nailed an order of Max wings so we covered all the bases. I asked about the onion rings to make sure they were homemade and added some of them as well. Purdy checked that I was with the group that had just ordered me a Max burger and twist fries. It was a lot of food, he said. But I hadn’t eaten anything all day. I had come prepared.
Between us, we only covered a fraction of the menu. We left the quesadillas and barbecue sandwiches for next time. I watched the plump chickens slowly spinning on the roasting pan in the company of sizzling sounds csülök (I love a good pork knuckle) and made myself a note. But I would come for the burger and the onion rings. And I was a little disappointed. For me, it’s all about texture.
Do you remember that penny I was talking about earlier?
I wasn’t familiar with the fusion of Kansas City food and barbecue. I was not in the big plan, the big dream, the vision of the future. Purdy grinds his beef twice so you don’t need to add eggs to bind the burger. Collagen in meat does the job for it. He mashed his onion before beating the rings into shapes, a much trickier tender than the barely cooked onion rings I wanted. And he makes all the sauces and marinades himself. He plans to introduce the suckling pig (pre-order needed) and organize themed weekends and chef’s specialties. Craft beer is paired with Balaton wines, and plans are underway to source wines from Zala County.
Regular readers will know that when I stare, I stare. Having said that, I cleaned my plate. I had more than my fair share of the Spicy Max Wings. (Note: Regular sauce is spicy, so only ask for spicy sauce if you are sure you can handle it.) And, since I was in the company of other foodies, I was able to choose from their plates as well. Bottom line: I will be back.
I’m sure over time, as the vision continues to unfold, we’ll see real glasses and durable take-out boxes. The place has a lot of potential. The large terrace overlooks an expanse of green grass shaded by trees. It’s quiet enough to hear the birds singing. And it smells divine.
Congratulations to the mesterszakács (chef) for having the courage to open up as so many people close and for having the foresight to recognize the opportunity embodied by the hundreds of hungry cyclists and the carloads of visitors who will no doubt descend on the Kis-Balaton in summer. Once the password is correct, Maximilian BBQ & Grill may well become a destination in its own right.
Balatonmagyaród, Petőfi u. 81B, 8753. Open weekends until the end of May, then every day from 12 noon to 9 pm from June 1st.