If you go
Little Prague Bistro and Bakery 289 9th Street South, Naples. 287-8048 or www.littlepraguenaples.com
Hours: noon to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday, 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday, call for reservation on Sunday
Beverages: Beer and a small selection of wine
Atmosphere: Cozy and pleasant
Prices: Entrees $15.99-$18.99
Recommended dishes: Pork schnitzel ($17.99), garlic soup ($5.99) and duck with red cabbage ($18.99)
Verdict: If you are curious about Czech food head down to Little Prague for a quiet evening and some traditional fare
Editor's note: Since the time of this review Little Prague Bistro and Bakery has closed. A new Czech restaurant, Jana's Little Prague, owned by Jana and Douglas Conte, has opened in its place. For more information please click here.
Little Prague opened in June, but I had to wait until the first cold fronts rolled in before I sat down to sample its Czech offerings. Like most dishes and cuisines that hail from cold lands, Czech fare is close to my idea of winter comfort food, not something I can enjoy in the sweltering Florida heat. Located in a small strip mall on U.S. 41 only a stone’s throw away from Fifth Avenue South, family-owned Little Prague has a nice and relaxed atmosphere. The dining room itself has the same feel to it than the taverns found around the Czech Republic and Austria, with light wooden paneling, immaculate white tablecloths and classical music playing in the background.
The food, also, is true to tradition, so if you are curious about sampling Czech cuisine, or if you have already had it and enjoy it, you will find a selection of Czech favorites, from appetizers and sandwiches to stews and meat dishes. A word of caution: like many Eastern and Central European cuisines, Czech specialties are heavy on meat, potatoes and cabbage. You won’t find any seafood meals and vegetarian options are limited to a couple of salads.
The best way to start off your meal at Little Prague is by ordering one of its traditional soups. The garlic soup ($5.99 regular, $7 jumbo) is a robust concoction of roasted garlic and broth, topped with pan-fried croutons. It may sound like a very strong, heavy to digest options, but when garlic is cooked at low temperatures for a long time it loses most of its bite and yields a pleasant, more rounded flavor. Also good is the sauerkraut and pork soup ($5.99 regular, $7 jumbo), although it is definitely heavy on the kraut and very light on the pork. The flavor, though, is strong and the soup is warming — something that one seeks when the temperatures dip like they have done in the past 10 days.
Appetizers themselves are Little Prague’s weakest asset, mostly because they are a collection of odd bits and ends — slices of ham with horseradish sauce, Russian salad, potato salad and lots and lots of mayo. My memories of thinly shaved Prague ham set me up for disappointment, and I cannot say I was too happy when I bit into a thick, almost rubbery, slice of ham, filled with horseradish and mayo and rolled up jelly-roll style.
Main courses are definitely better –although one should keep in mind that Czech cooking doesn’t involve the use of spices and that salt and pepper too are used scarcely. That said, there are dishes at Little Prague that are enjoyable. The wiener schnitzel ($17.99) is a large dish that will leave you satisfied. Two pork cutlets are pounded thin, dipped in egg, breaded and pan fried until golden, then served with spaetzles — egg and flour dumplings — braised red cabbage and white gravy.
I’ve always been picky about my schnitzels. If the breading doesn’t stick perfectly to the meat, if the meat is chewy because it wasn’t pounded thin enough, then I don’t like it. But the one at Little Prague is done just right and the side dishes add to it. The cabbage gives a little tang, while the dumplings and the gravy are the epitome of comfort food.
The chicken paprikash ($15.99) is also a good dish. It’s hard not to enjoy tender morsels of chicken breast smothered in a cream-and-paprika sauce. And for those who don’t like spicy food, there’s no need to worry: The paprika flavor is very subdued.
Goulash is also served, although prepared in a different way from the usual Hungarian recipe. Chiposh goulash ($18.99) is not as heavy on the tomatoes and paprika as many other goulashes I’ve had in various parts of Europe and therefore is more brown in color and not as flavorful. The beef is tender, however, and the soupy gravy in which it cooked is reduced to the right consistency to be mopped up with a slice of bread. It was good, but it could have been a much better dish had they seasoned the meat, or at least the sauce, with some salt and pepper.
Although the word “bakery” is in the name, don’t expect to find a glass case filled with a variety of pastries. We had a walnut turnover that was pleasant, but not outstanding.
My biggest problem with Little Prague is that the prices seem a little high for a very basic plate of food. The atmosphere is pleasant, Czech beer is cold and strong, and there are dishes that are worth ordering, the schnitzel being a perfect example. A couple of dollars less, and a little seasoning more would make this cozy restaurant come a long way.