Not the Lutz Continental Cafe on Montrose. Strange happenstance that this is the second thread I've recently started with an easily confused restaurant name.
The Continental Cafe Im talking about is on Elston between Addison and Irving Park (closer to Addison) on the north/east side of the street. The inconspicuous white building with a plain, small sign pointing out toward the street, the neon Heineken light in the window, and the rather generic name certainly do not exhibit signs of great promise.
Yet, the other night while strolling the little one around the neighborhood, I finally stopped in to at least get a look at the place. Gypsy Boy queried about Romanian restaurants several months ago, and this place, run by the owner of Little Bucharest, somehow slipped under the radar.
Now, I know almost nothing about central and eastern European cuisines in general precisely nothing about Romanian food. (I wonder if food or other parts of Romanian culture are as unique for that region as the Romanian language.) Several things, however, lead me to suspect that this place might provide a more authentic taste of Romania than, e.g., Little Bucharest (to which I have also never been).
The initial room was not at all fancy a nice long bar with a handful of tables running along the opposite side of the room, the kind you might find in a generic pizza parlor. There is also a dining room, which I presume to be more formal, but I realized after leaving that I had forgotten to check it out. The set up reminds me of the nearby German restaurant Mirabells with the front bar/eating area and a separate dining room, but the front room at Continental Café is less cozy in a manufactured Old World sort of way (though I like Mirabells bar) but more cozy in a lots of Romanian transplants probably sit around and while away evenings sort of way. That is to say, it is appealing to a quite different crowd than Little Bucharest appears to be by looking at its website (linked below). Also, everyone I saw or talked to in the restaurant (several tables full, several employees) seemed to be Romanian, or something close.
Then there was the menu. Everything was listed first in (what again I presume to be) Romanian. The first two items under House Specialties were both tripe preparations (they also offered tribe [sic] soup), something I did not see on Little Bucharests menu. There were several Romanian bottles of wine offered at under $20, one of which was Moscat something or other that I thought looked interesting. And perhaps most promisingly, for those engaged in the quest for authenticity, when I asked my generic, Whats it like? Is it good? of the woman at the counter, I did not get an Oh yes sales pitch, but a Well, we like it. It reminds of back home. This response, along with the location, made me think they are much more interested in satisfying Romanian than American tastes.
Perhaps the best metaphor for my sense of the place is that there were three Little Bucharest limousines parked outside along Elstonit made me think the Little Bucharest workers, when they get off work, go to Continental Cafe. Of course, there may just be nowhere else to park the damn things. So someone is going to need to check this place out to know for sure.
Prices, by the way, seem to be a little cheaper than Little Bucharest, around $10 an entrée. Sorry for taking so much time to talk about so little food, but Im really eager for someone else to try this place.
Hope to see some of you on Sunday,