An article by Damarys Ocana published in Street Miami, a Miami Herald publication, Feb 1-7, 2002.
Make a turn at the railroad tracks off 135th Street and Arch Creek Road in North Miami, and you’re in a different world — the Old World, to be precise.
A shady forest surrounds what looks-like a European country cottage out of a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, with painted window boxes brimming with flowers.
By the time you leave, you feel nurtured and loved, and you immediately want to take a nap.
It’s actually the American Czech-Slovak Cultural Club, a lonely repository of Slavic culture for many miles, which has made heroic efforts to stay open through the years (“All the members were dying off,” notes one member), and where every Sunday people of all ages, members or not, come from as far away as Palm Beach to eat a typically Czech dinner and drink lots of beer. It may not be family owned, but once they arrive, diners are welcomed like long-lost prodigal sons and daughters.
Maybe what draws them is the lore of the place. The weathered wooden cottage — which for 60 years has .been outfitted with flags, folk paintings, dolls wearing typical Costumes and pictures of famous Czechs — is said to once have been a speakeasy owned by Al Capone during Prohibition.
According to legend, the booze would float in on little boats on Arch Creek, which flows past the back of the building, and patrons would party till dawn. People still whisper the juicy rumor that a house of ill-repute may have once occupied the second story space where the library is today.
Things are a lot tamer now, with the mostly octogenarian club members sticking to water and dancing to polka and waltz and folk songs played on accordion, piano and drums.
Or maybe what draws people every Sunday is the promise of homey comfort food.
Czech cooking doesn’t exactly aim for refinement — the national dish is roast pork and dumplings, washed down with beer. “Pork is a very big deal,” says member Marie Kosan, who eats at the club every Sunday and is, ironically, a Weight Watchers instructor.
Bob Petrik and Tony Korvas serenade diners at the American Czech-Slovak Cultural Club.
Photo by Patrick Farrel
Neither is it for the faint of heart: A Czech breakfast treat is topinky, thick slices of toast liberally topped with a spread of white Christmas goose fat and garlic, which is said to be manna from heaven.
So if French food is too prissy for you; and if you’re more of a meat-and-potatoes gourmet, ACSCC is your carb-and-protein mecca. There’s roast, lamb and dumplings, roast chicken and dumplings, breaded fried pork cutlets and dumplings, potato salad, beet salad and sauerkraut. And beer. By the time you leave, you feel nurtured and loved, and you immediately want to take a nap.
Barney Vorisek, club treasurer, says the club always tries to hire chefs from “the old country,” and did so last August, when Martina Berkova, who was trained at a culinary school in Prague, was hired.
In a cuisine that revels in predictability, Berkova has nevertheless tweaked the traditional dishes.
She recently made Pork Oriental. On the last Sunday in January, she made baked ham and lentils, instead of the traditional boiled ham and lentils. They may not seem like a culinary revolution, but when you’re talking Czech food, served to people that have been doing things a certain way for a long time it reaches Bolshevik proportions.
Another introduction was a dessert of mini sweet rolls covered in a rum-laced cream sauce, which didn’t go over too well with some club members. One member, who wished to declare her dissent anonymously, declared it to be un-Czech.
However, she said, Martina’s bublanina, a light chiffon tart regaled a generous portion of blueberries, was to die for. “Now there’s a Czech dessert,” she added.
American Czech-Slovak Cultural Club Restaurant, 13325 Arch Creek Rd.
Dinner on Sundays noon-8:30 p.m. 305-891-9130.
Food: Unapologetically fattening, but good.
Atmosphere: Old World, in more ways than one.
Price: $10-12 for dinner: soup and salads, entree and dessert.