What if Dracula moved to South Florida? Could you really blame our favorite blood-sucking villain if he abandoned the harsh climate of central Romania in exchange for lovely tropical seasons? If he comes, he has a welcoming place to eat.
With Halloween just around the corner, we decided to check out a place we had often walked by but never dared enter -- the curious-looking Restaurant Transylvania in downtown Hollywood.
The eatery's Romanian owner, John Baleanu, fled his country long ago in search of the quintessential American dream. His goal was to open a restaurant. Baleanu created a menu featuring a variety of Romanian and European dishes and emphasizing Transylvania -- a region popular to Westerners due to its association with vampires, Dracula, and many things horror.
Walking into the dimly lit restaurant is like entering a time capsule with '70s-style décor and multipurpose ex-ballroom furniture. A larger-than-life golden statue of the Romanian General, Vlad the Impaler, (AKA Dracula) welcomes arriving patrons by the front door. "Everyone thinks this is a crazy place," says Baleanu. Of course they do! Where else is there such a hodgepodge of throwback furnishings, murals of the Carpathian mountains, Dracula's Bran Castle, and other various creepy images of the Impaler?
My dinner companion and I were graciously seated by the smiling owner within vision of spooky Dracula paintings in our peripheral. Bizarrely, Michael Jackson's second single, You Are Not Alone, played in the background, highlighting the irony that we were, in fact, alone in the restaurant (granted, it was 5:30 p.m. on a Monday).
The inexpensive menu offers an array of Eastern European dishes such as traditional mititei, braised lamb shank, seafood with Romanian-style polenta, chicken or veal schnitzel, and plenty more. For dinner, our waiter delivered chicken alla Transylvania -- a breaded chicken cutlet served with a creamy dill mushroom sauce and rice pilaf. The friendly chef with her thick Romanian accent wished us "Bon Appetit" from across the dining room. The food was delicious, a welcome surprise of unique flavors causing us to virtually lick our plates clean.
Diners will pass a wall of wooden boxes built to give the illusion of windows as they walk through the dining room. Fight those urges to laugh at the sight of several faux windows and remember where you are -- there wouldn't be windows allowing natural sunlight into Dracula's lair, and this restaurant is true to form! As we exited Dracula's favorite restaurant, I turned to wave goodbye to the gracious owner, but he had already retreated -- a single black bat hung upside down from the ceiling, directly where Baleanu once stood.
Restaurant Transylvania is open for lunch and dinner every day of the week and is located at
113 S. 20th Ave. in Hollywood. Call 954-929-0770.