These articles were published in the Spectacular Slovakia travel guide, published annually by The Slovak Spectator since 1996. The latest editions can be obtained from our online shop.

Bratislava for the Gourmet

As Bratislava moves into its new role as the capital city of a European Union nation, its food culture will evolve. Its restaurants and gourmet shops will increasingly highlight local traditions and ingredients while at the same time holding them to international quality standards.

Already, diners can get a fine French meal at Le Monde and Medusa, two restaurants in the Old Town that cater to the trendy young and expense-account-positive.

That’s an important step in Bratislava’s culinary evolution. But what I’m talking about are small places with local flavour - shops that reflect the passion of zealots who see quality as its own reward.

Here are three places that stand on Bratislava’s culinary and vinicultural vanguards.

Pressburg Sausages (Štúrova 11)

 Photo: Brian Jones

At Pressburg, the new sausage shop near the Old Town, some of the first fruits of the new Bratislava are on display. Literally. The place is dominated by two glass coolers chock-full of delicious-looking sausages and cold cuts. The distinctly peppery, smoky smell of well-made charcuterie fills the air.

Pressburg is the brainchild of its owner-manager, Bohumír Horr, a Bratislava native who recently returned to the city after 13 years in New York. "In New York you get used to the great specialty-food shops like Zabar's and Balducci's," he says, referring to landmark New York gourmet groceries. "There was nothing like that here."

But Horr's aim wasn't merely to recreate a New York-style store in Bratislava. "I wanted to revive the lost tradition of the small local smokehouse," he says. Horr borrowed the name of his shop from the old German word for Bratislava. "During the Austro-Hungarian empire, Pressburg smokehouses had a license to make sausage for Emperor Franz Jozef, and they did it using recipes from all over the empire," Horr says.

So before opening the shop in late March 2003, Horr travelled through Central Europe, tasting sausages and researching old recipes in libraries and antique bookshops. The sausages in his shop are tributes to the varied local traditions of the old empire, with a couple of new twists thrown in, such as his Mexican-style sausage. His line includes fresh sausages, frankfurter-style links, hard sausages to be cut up and served as hors d'oeuvres, as well as various hams, dried cold cuts, marinated chops, and prosciutto.

They are all made to his specifications at a small industrial smokehouse in the southern town of Levice. "We are constantly experimenting and trying to perfect the recipes," Horr says. "We want the flavours of the spices and herbs we use to come through clearly in the final product. We use no additives or chemicals. We are trying to make excellent sausage."

From my experience, Pressburg is well on its way. I've twice ordered a broad sampling of Pressburg's wares, and twice been extremely impressed by the quality. The highlight both times was the fresh sausages, which were excellent on the grill. The different kinds come with varying degrees of spiciness; all of them savour wonderfully of herbs. Another winner was the Franz Jozef, a hard sausage not unlike Spanish chorizo.

Anyone considering a wine trip into the Small Carpathians or to Chateau Topoľčianky should consider stocking up on cold cuts and hard sausage at Pressburg.

Horr plans to expand his offerings in September, to include imported wines and cheeses. Eventually, he hopes to turn Pressburg into a fully stocked gourmet shop, with fancy imported condiments, coffees, and luxury items such as caviar lining the shelves. He is also considering renting the space next door and turning it into a small dining room, featuring his own charcuterie along with beer and wine by the glass.

Pressburg has a large staff, which offers brisk, friendly service. Most of the assistants don't speak English, but they will summon Horr, whose perfect English has a slight New York accent.

Vinotéka sv. Urbana (Klobučnícka 4)

 Photo: Brian Jones

Located on the edge of the old town, Vinotéka sv. Urbana is Bratislava's best wine shop.

Well-heeled Bratislavans tend to favour fancy imported wines, and Peter Jánoši, proprietor of the Vinotéka, indulges them. His shelves are loaded with well-chosen Spanish, Italian, and French bottles. They're priced at a premium because of high import duties on wine, but these should fall with EU entry in 2004.

But what's more interesting is the store's wonderful domestic selection. Vinotéka sv. Urbana stocks wine from several Slovak small-batch wineries, most but not all from the Small Carpathians. Some of these wineries have outputs that are so tiny you can't find their wares in supermarkets such as Tesco or Carrefour. Essentially, the shop is a consumer's link to Slovakia's few quality winemakers. In fact, before I encountered this shop, I was struggling to find out who - if anyone - was making wine with a passion for quality in Slovakia. Jánoši supplied me with a list of excellent local producers, which is reprinted in the wine section.

The shop also has a small tasting bar, with a rotating list of four or five Central European wines, as well as a well-stocked cigar humidor.

Čokoláda (Michalská 6)

For centuries, fine chocolate was part of urban life in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Čokoláda, a café in the old town, is single-handedly reviving that tradition with its superb array of chocolate drinks, candies, and truffles. It's a small shop front, attractively and simply decorated, with four or five tables and a counter filled with chocolate goodies.

The stars here are the hot-chocolate concoctions, which the shop uses Slovak-made chocolate to make (the candies are imported from Belgium). They're essentially melted chocolate thinned with a little bit of cream, doctored up with a variety of ingredients including liquor, and often topped with whipped cream. Be warned: even chocolate fanatics might find them extremely intense. The combinations run from the ridiculous (such as the Kolumbus which contains tomato juice), to the excellent (try the Noisette, a mixture of melted chocolate, chopped hazelnuts, and cream).

But these concoctions are actually better seen as desserts than beverages (and I've experienced no better desserts in the Old Town). For those seeking an actual chocolate-spiked beverage, I recommend the čokoládová káva - a double-shot of Lavazza espresso, mixed with melted chocolate, and topped with whipped cream and shaved chocolate.

These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2003.

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