Atmosphere: Funky take-out counter stretching its resources into a gourmet restaurant.
Hours: Open 10 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Friday; 11:30 a.m. to midnight Saturday; 3 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Price range: Quiches are $3.40 to $4.75; submarine sandwiches, $2.10 to $4.25; salads, $2.60 to $4.75; hot entrees from $4.50 for beef rouladen to $6 for Hungarian goulash.
Reservations: Not available.
Credit cards: Cash or check only.
Special facilities: Parking on MacArthur Boulevard; inaccessible to patrons in wheelchairs.
Hungry Hilda's looks like a rest stop for tired commuters who still have miles to go on their way up MacArthur Boulevard.Two tables are in place under an awning on a glorified front stoop. There are two more tables out in the open in the backyard and seating for two inside the store front take-out counter. When the tables are full, dinners seat themselves along the front retaining wall or on one of the steps that lead up to Hungry Hilda's central.
We didn't know this when our family and some friends headed for Hilda's on a rainy Wednesday evening. Fortunately for the adults, most of Hilda's regular customers stayed home, and we had no competition for the awning-covered table and chairs that sit on the pebble-covered stoop. Our children rued the ill luck that kept them from dangling their feet over the wall during dinner. However, they didn't mind staying dry under the awning while watching the heavy commuter traffic flow by.
What we had heard about Hilda's was that Hilda catered parties but kept enough superb quiche around so that it was a good place to go for a quick dinner. Only part of that rumor was true. We loved the quiche - both asparagus with roquefort cheese and quiche Lorraine were served the night we were there - but it was two and a half hours from start to finish.
Hilda apologized, personally, for the slow service. We were the only customers in sight, with the exception of one or two stragglers who came in for a take-out submarine sandwich or piece of pastry. However, Hilda was alone at the stove that night; one of her helpers hadn't shown up.
We decided to relax and enjoy. The four adults in our party sent an emissary to the liquor store next door for a bottle of wine. Our two children ordered ice water, while Hilda presented us with a small taste of country pate and gravlash. Gravlash is Scandinavian cured salmon with mustard sauce. Although a dish for sophisticated palates, our children like it enough for us to order it as an appetizer along with a portion of the chicken liver and current pate. You don't just order a portion at Hilda's, however. Hilda, the caterer, sells pate and gravlash by the pound. With her help we decided on one-fourth of a pound of each, at $2 and $3 respectively, for the six of us.
Hilda didn't have printed menus when we were there. The take-out counter billboard listed quiches, crepes, salads and sandwiches, but Hilda came outside to tell us about additional dishes that were available that night. She recommended the Hungarian goulash, made of three kinds of meat. There was also one portion of coq au vin left.
My son, the meat eater, opted for the goulash ($6). My daughter decided on quiche Lorraine, $3.60, her favorite. Hilda uses ham, rather than bacon, in the quiche because bacon is too greasy, she said. My husband decided to try the Chinese Spring crepe, $4.50. The dinner salad, $4.75, sounded good to me on a warm evening. Our friends ordered the last of the coq au vin, $5.00, and the asparagus-roquefort quiche, $3.75.
After an hour's wait, my dinner salad arrived. Since no one else's food was on the horizon, everyone nibbled on the brie and pate, lettuce with dill sauce, artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, asparagus tips and tomato quarters. All critics agreed it was a fine salad.
After half an hour later, one at a time, the other entrees appeared. First came the two quiches, hot and delicious. We all savored them. Finally, the crepe filled with Chinese vegetables and shrimp arrived along with the goulash. The coq au vin, Hilda informed us, could not be located. Did the coq au vin person want the crepe with chicken that Hilda had ready? She didn't particularly, but at that point who's to argue. The crepe, $4.50, turned out to be quite good, although it wasn't the coq au vin taste our friend had been cultivating for the last hour.
Despite the almost-debilitating service, we came away from Hungry Hilda's feeling we'd had a good meal. The goulash was rich, and our son managed to finish it off even though it contained a lot of meat. The Chinese crepe was the most unusual dish of the evening - crisp fried Chinese vegetables and shrimp wrapped in a smooth crepe and delicately seasoned.
The side salads also were unusual and very good: Celeriac (celery root) and leek, each $1.40. Both were marinated vegetables that we managed to con our children into trying. Our son, who dislikes most vegetables, thought the celery root was great. A minor victory for our family.
We ordered our dessert to go. Two European yogurts, blueberry and sour cherry, $1 each, and banana bread, $3 for the whole loaf. While we were paying our check, which came to $29.50 for our family of four, Hilda arrived with a fresh from the oven hazelnut torte. She cut us a slice to taste. We couldn't decide if the slice was offered out of sheer pride in her baking abilities - who wouldn't be proud of a hazelnut torte like that? - or out of guilt for prolonging a quicky dinner into a two and a half hour repast. In either case, we appreciated the taste and hope it's available next time we wander down MacArthur Boulevard.