Some cups of coffee begin in Africa. Others in South America. This cup of coffee began, so to speak, in...Hungary. Norbert Dudas and Zoltan Bona, two friends who were hospitality and culinary students back in the day, eventually made their way to the United States. They pinpointed Fairfield County in particular, looking for a place to set up shop and show people what they could do. The result is the convivial, welcoming Cafe Dolce in Norwalk with its decidedly European atmosphere.
Said one regular customer on my recent trip there “It’s the best kept secret...but not for long, I’m sure!”. At that, she threw her hands in the air, cradled and shook her head as she embarked on her snacking quandary (oh, the peril!)...which treat to enjoy?
This cafe, with its steaming cup and rolling pin logo (a nod to their coffee and baked goods, of course), has “hand-crafted” written all over it.
Sitting in the rustic-industrial interior you continually are wondering “Am I really in a strip mall?”, as you sink your chompers into divinely flaky, don’t-miss, almond croissants and authentic Hungarian desserts. There is a non-mass-produced, old-world-yet-modern genuineness afoot here. Take a look at the wall over there, at the giant black and white wall-sized photograph of St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest that Mr. Dudas himself took. Do yourself a favor and Google the Basilica. It’s got a great story involving, of all things, a royal right hand (really? yup). And the brick wall next to it and that Hungarian repurposed wood counter? Mr. Bona’s father-in-law built it. Even the small and communal tables, that you will wish they sold, are handmade. By them. Are you seeing the delightful pattern here? As the owners like to point out, everything is created with love, care, and attention to detail.
Detail is in evidence with their coffees and beverages. They are a “3rd wave” coffee establishment-in short, a place that views coffee beverages as an artisanal foodstuff and aspires to the highest culinary appreciation of coffee, much the way one would view wine, tea, and chocolate (Thank you, Wikipedia). They serve single-origin coffee and pour-over espresso drinks and Norbert has a particular liking and enthusiasm for African coffees, so those, naturally, feature prominently. He has taken the time and care to even create their house blend.
Along the coffee trail, they also serve Cascara, a hot drink made from the coffee cherry-not the bean-that is brewed like tea. Sweet, earthy, with a dried-fruity flavor that is almost a little tart. It is a very unique drink and not served in many sites, so give it a go. Matcha teas and Mexican Coca-Cola are also offered if you are in want of sugar and antioxidants instead of java. No matter the cup or glass, something good appears.
Then along comes a lengthy, gleaming glass case...filled with exquisite and utterly European desserts and pastries. Let’s talk about these desserts and pastries for a moment, shall we? Mr. Bona is the man behind the creations and is also is master of sugar. In 1992, he won the Hungarian National Championship for sugar pulling and followed it with a Bronze medal win at the Culinary Olympics held in Frankfurt, Germany (I can only hope that the medals were made out of sugar, too). As he explains, their desserts, which you can special order, follow European standards of detail-no plastic or real flowers and adornments. All decorations must be completely edible-hence, delicate bouquets of glass-like sugar roses and sweet chocolate plaques with greetings and wishes on them.
While they offer Italian, French, German, and American desserts as well, their specialties are Hungarian and customers, who come from all over Connecticut, particularly love two of them. There is the Dolce Cake, with its rich walnut flavor and a hint of cinnamon and orange liquor and the Dobos Cake, a 7-layer extravaganza that was originally created in 1885 and tasted for the first time by Archduke Franz Ferdinand. I’d be remiss without mentioning one other dessert-Somloi, which is named after a city in Hungary. Essentially, it their version of Tiramisu: alternating layers of vanilla and chocolate sponge cakes, chocolate and custard cream fillings, with a smattering of raisins and walnuts for texture and a soaking of coffee and rum for the Ka-Pow! Somloi gives Italians a run for their money.
While these favorites are always in the case, the rest of the menu varies from week to week. Freshness abounds-everything is made daily on premises, from scratch, and without the use of preservatives; only high-quality ingredients enter into this kitchen. Truly homemade, or in this case, cafe-made. A new lunch menu is currently being built, too, with crepes, salads, soups, and paninis. Gluten-free cake and cookie items also appear daily. Norbert and Zoltan enjoy “reading” their customers, so if something is a hit, it re-appears on the menu-have no fear.
Handcrafted care and attention and an atmosphere that begs you to sit and stay a while. Stop by and see the lovely community that Cafe Dolce is creating, sip by sip (but pssst....just remember to keep this place our little secret, ok?).
345 Main Ave., Norwalk
Open 7days a week