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Native About New York: A Frybread Burger Grows in Brooklyn

Really? A Frybread Burger in Brooklyn?

I’m at Korzo – here in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope. The area is known for its strollers and young couples and renovated brownstones brimming with state-of-the-art Kenmore dishwashers and rug rats loaded with organic Similac.

But this bar is unique – it’s, in fact, an eatery. There’s fry bread here, not just the typical burgers and bratwursts and beer. But they don’t call it frybread: the fluffy dough prepared here is referred to as lángos, and it hails from Hungary.

Earlier, the bartender asked me if I've come to dine.

Courtesy AIANTA

Sheryl Rupert testifies before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and Oversight in June 25, 2014

“Of course!” I yelled. “I hear you’re a Native American-friendly establishment. …”

The bartender, with his hipster comb-over and wide grin, chuckled a bit, but I don’t think he heard me. There is a pretty woman at the end of the bar who has his full attention, and there are musicians loading gear into the joint, knocking their cases against the wall and bar stools and are bellowing a “Hey! How are ya?” here and there.

A bassist just walked in and behind him a man who looks like a pianist (later I would discover the head swinger is, in fact, a jazzman – the bassist, too – with digits Miles Davis could dig were he alive today). If jazz is your thing, Korzo hosts live music in the back.

But we’re not here to talk about jazz or pianists or hipsters with wide grins and the pretty ladies at the bar. We’re here to talk food – Native American fry bread – and lángos, fry bread’s long lost Hungarian cousin.

I did a little bit of research and discovered that lángos is popular in Romania, Czech Republic, Slovakia and a few other countries. It’s typically served as a fast food or snack at festivals and fairs. But it’s in Hungary that the oil and dough confection is most popular.

Traditionally, it’s served with sour cream, cheese and garlic. There’s even a New York City food truck that treks across the five boroughs – Langos Truck – offering city-goers a quick nibble of the soft stuff as they navigate through throngs of New Yorkers during the mad-rush lunch hour.

I happened upon Korzo about a week ago when I felt the mercury eating at my retinas from all the sushi I’ve eaten recently. I wanted a burger, so I ordered the Korzo “Fried” Burger – The Original, and it came made to order in about 15 minutes. The menu describes it as follows: “Fresh ground beef patty, apple-smoked bacon, Allgauer Emmentaler (Swiss) cheese, house-made mustard, dill pickle.”

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The bartender told me that the chef suggests having the beef cooked medium-rare, which is fine by me. “You’ll eat it bloody to feed your blood.” I think Cher said that – yes, in Moonstruck – another Brooklyn-based classic. Right. I think Winds In His Hair would agree. Eat it bloody to feed your blood.

Eying the dish, I assumed the chef made the lángos much like Mom makes fry bread back home – dipped in hot oil and removed just in time to see it at full fluff. The beef patty is set inside the lángos, not on top; it’s served with a salad (at least mine was); no fries, which makes for a good balance, since the bread itself is fried, and a mound of greasy chips caked in oil could ruin the delectability of the burger.

“How is it?” the bartender asked.

“Not bad,” I said.

“It’s really popular here,” a male server said as he strolled through the aisle.

“Have you ever heard of Native American fry bread?” I asked. “It’s also often called an Indian Taco.”

“No,” he said, looking a bit perplexed.

“The bread is pretty similar. I think this bread is thinner than Native American-made fry bread, but I dig it.”

The server may have taken my observation for criticism because he looked nervously at my plate and then rushed off to drop off the dishes he was carrying.

I ordered another beer, listened to the strings and brass sounds emitting from the back of the joint and suddenly wanted like mad to be at a pow wow.

“You want to hear drums?” I said. “We’ll show you drums.” But no one was listening. I had fed my blood, ate my fill, got lost in the jazz harmonies (jazz – it’s quintessential New York City). Next time, like any good Native American soul, I’ll remember to bring packets of honey and sandwich bags loaded with powdered sugar, and in so doing, I’ll honor my tipi creeping ways of past Oglala Days. And if you don’t get the reference, ask a Native American friend and watch their coquettish grin. … Naughty, naughty.

Tipi creep responsibly, friends. Cheers.