Barbara and Laszlo Kolarovszki, proprietors of Barbara’s Hungarian Food.

Barbara’s Hungarian Food owners offer Goulash and Chicken Paprikas at their Ewing restaurant

If you ask the owner of Barbara’s Hungarian Food for the secret for her success, she will tell you, “love.”

Sitting at a kitchen side table at their Ewing restaurant, owners Barbara and Laszlo Kolarovszki took a short break to talk with their friend Aniko and the Observer about their eatery and their growing list of loyal customers.

It takes love, combined with know-how, dedication, and quality ingredients, said Aniko, who was helping as a translator since English is a second language for the Kolarovszkis.

Aniko paused for a second, and with a smile, added her own thought, “And it takes a magic touch.” Perhaps Barbara was too modest to say it herself, but she exchanged a knowing glance with Aniko and didn’t object when her friend continued, “If you want to make your guests happy, you have to have it.”

Apparently, Barbara has it. When she and Laszlo opened their business at Ewing’s Serenity Plaza five years ago, she had a following of customers who came from East Brunswick where the Kolarovszkis had operated a food stand at a flea market before the market closed. Over the past several years, their Ewing business has been growing, in large part through word-of-mouth. In addition to lunch and dinner customers, the Kolarovszkis find that they are serving larger groups, like birthday parties or work groups.

Customers like the family feel of the restaurant, the cheerful peach colored walls adorned with photos, hand-embroidered pictures and traditional Hungarian garments. Of course, all this would mean nothing if the food didn’t taste good. But it does, customers will attest. The food is bought from organic farmers and the recipes are slow cooked with mindful attention to detail.

The restaurant offers authentic Hungarian dishes that Barbara and Laszlo brought with them from Hungary over 13 years ago. Customer favorites include Chicken Paprikas (Csirke paprikas); Stuffed Cabbage (Toltott kaposzta); and Hungarian Goulash (Magyar gulyas). In addition to the 12 regular entrees, they offer daily specials.

Vegetarians can order a variety of dishes including Mushroom Goulash (Gomba paprikas), a creamy mixture with spatzels (small, twisted dumplings) with lots and lots of mushrooms, which the reporter sampled, relishing every bite.

A favorite soup is chicken with noodles. Vegetable soups include Green Peas with Noodles, and cauliflower with vegetables.

Side dishes come with most entrees or can be ordered separately. Diners can order dumplings/spatzels (Laszlo’s specialty) mashed or parsleyed potatoes, or white rice with peas. Salads include red cabbage and cucumber salad. Desserts include strudels stuffed with fruit and cheese; and crepes stuffed with cottage cheese and jam.

Entrees range in price from $9.99 to $11.99. Soups, salads, and side dishes range from $3.25 to $4.75. Desserts, from $2.99 to $5.50.

The Kolarovszkis moved to the United States looking for opportunity almost 15 years ago. Having heard good things about New Jersey, they decided to plant their roots here. They were happy to find a restaurant space in Ewing, in part, because the township is home to people from many different backgrounds, they said.

People in the Ewing area seem to enjoy different kinds of food, the Kolarovszkis said, adding that people here seem to be happy. They observed that Ewing diners really enjoy their meals and are quick to show their appreciation.

When a customer who had come into the restaurant during the conversation was asked to share her dining experience, she was happy to reply.

“The food is authentic, like my grandmother or my great aunt, who was Hungarian, would make,” said Rosalie Richards who lives just outside of Philadelphia. Richards, a business woman who comes to Ewing often to visit one of her clients, the NJ Credit Union, said she makes it a point to stop at Barbara’s.

“Everything is very traditional,” said Richards who had ordered one of her favorites, stuffed cabbage. “And the chicken soup is amazing,” she added.

In the five years that Barbara’s has been open, it has won two awards, the New Jersey Monthly, 205 Best Restaurants, Readers Choice and Critics Picks; and Best New Jersey Restaurants 28th Annual Readers Choice Awards, Bang for the Buck.

Barbara said she became interested in the restaurant business not only because she loves to cook, she enjoys making people happy. She traces her love for food and cooking back to her childhood and later to her role as a wife and mother preparing meals for her own family.

A typical work day for the Kolarovszkis begins at 8 a.m. They spend three hours cooking the food and are ready to start serving lunch by 11 a.m. Working as their own wait staff, the Kolarovszkis serve customers and work the register. After 2 p.m., they take a brief break before they begin cooking for the dinner crowd. They serve dinner between 4-8 p.m. The restaurant is closed on Mondays because that is the day they do their shopping.

When asked what they do in their free time, they laughed. Free time? Well, in what time they do have, the simply relax. What does it take to do it all seven days a week and continue to enjoy their work? It takes love. And Aniko is probably right. It must have something to do with that magic touch.

Barbara’s Hungarian Food, 1400 Parkway Avenue, Ewing, (609) 882-5500 or (732) 801-5584. On the web: barbarashungarianfood.yolasite.com