Walking along Elm Street after dinner on a chilly evening several weeks ago, we dropped into a cozy-looking, warmly lighted bar for a drink. As the bearded bartender did elaborate things involving setting ingredients on fire, we took an offhand look at the menu. Wait -- what? Hungarian food? In an 8-month-old hipster bar called, not Little Budapest, but rather the unrevealing and vaguely anglicized Armoury D.E.?
Yes, indeed, and fairly authentic Hungarian food, at that. It is a good sign, for example, that Armoury correctly serves gulyás (goulash to non-Hungarians) as a soup, not a thick stew. Chef Abram Vargas' version has all the right elements -- beef, onions, carrots, potatoes, celery root, peppers, paprika and caraway seed -- though the result is a little underseasoned and one-dimensional. The same cannot be said of another starter, the lecsó (pronounced letch-o), a sort of Magyar ratatouille made with peppers, onions, tomatoes and paprika. Here it gets a meaty, smoky jolt from sliced Gyulai sausage and bologna. It's also really, really spicy, with a degree of heat that would have made my saintly Hungarian grandmother's hair burst into flames. It's delicious.
The smoked, paprika-laden Gyulai sausage can also be had, hot, on a generous charcuterie plate along with choices like karaj, a lean smoked pork loin; goose-liver mousse; and less-Hungarian fare like lamb merguez and duck salami, along with several mostly American cheeses. Another fine starter is the lángos, a fried flatbread that you can have topped with some of those meats and cheeses. It's crispy, chewy, salty and a little oily -- fine bar food, in other words. And it is, oddly, having its global moment: there are lángos trucks in New York and, of all places, Copenhagen, so Armoury is putting Dallas in world-class company. I also liked the fasírt, which are crunchy, garlicky deep-fried pork meatballs.
That beef stew that everybody thinks is goulash is in fact called pörkölt, and here it's cooked in a nicely ruddy, savory paprika sauce (though not for quite long enough; the meat is chewy). As with another main, the bland and forgettable chicken paprikás, the best part of this dish is the accompanying mound of perfectly cooked spaetzle, small flour-and-egg dumplings that are basically the national side dish of Hungary, where they're known as galuska.
Hungary is a landlocked country known for its pork and grains (think Iowa, with more zithers). So it's weird to find octopus on this menu, but who cares? Armoury's pulpo is terrific -- a huge portion of tender charred tentacles. Other non-Hungarian offerings include a dandy short-rib- and-brisket burger with aged cheddar and pickles on a challah bun, and deep-fried duck wings with mango-peach chile sauce. There's also Elmer's Reward, a tender rabbit leg that's braised and then deep-fried, served over two potato pancakes. Armoury also recently launched a Hungary-meets-hangover brunch menu featuring tacos, omelets and sandwiches.
Think Iowa, with more zithers.
It's hard to say exactly what the Deep Ellum denizens who are downing Lakewood Rock Ryder beer and house cocktails with names like the Lone Gunman and the Jackie O make of a bar that serves mostly Hungarian food. But while it may not be perfect, for those of us who occasionally pine for the fare of the Carpathian Basin, it's nice to have in town.
Armoury D.E. (2 stars)
Price: $$ (soups, salads and sandwiches $6.50 to $12; shared plates and sides $3 to $17; entrees $15 to $16; brunch dishes $7 to $14; desserts $5)
Service: Servers are young, hip, and friendly; they're uniformly enthusiastic about the food, though some are a little wobbly on the details.
Ambience: The cozy dining room -- think old wood and exposed brick -- is dominated by a large bar, with just seven tables at the front of the room and along one wall. There's also a patio out back.
Noise level: Mostly tolerable, but it can get loud enough -- especially when there's live music -- to make conversation impossible.
Location: 2714 Elm St., Dallas; 972-803-5151; armouryde.com
Hours: Monday-Thursday 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., Friday-Sunday 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Reservations: Not accepted
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar featuring a number of creative house cocktails and an extensive list of spirits and liqueurs; a wide-ranging collection of nearly 100 beers; and a perfunctory wine list
5 stars: Extraordinary
4 stars: Excellent
3 stars: Very good
2 stars: Good
1 star: Fair
No stars: Poor
Average dinner per person
$ -- $14 and under
$$ -- $15 to $30
$$$ -- $31 to $50
$$$$ -- More than $50