Cosy places with real personality, where the walls tell their own story, are very rare indeed. The places where you just want to stay and stay, then come back any time afterwards. Such is Kaptafa, which celebrated its third anniversary at the end of last year. Here, drinking can go long into the night and then mornings see the place in its element. This is Kaptafa, the ‘Shoemaker’s Last’, a classy shoemaker’s last at that.
I’d like a fried pickle and a defibrillator, please! We pay a visit to Kaptafa
A wise traveller once said that you never find real places in the mainstream, the ones revered by regulars. Those places prefer to hide away rather than show themselves.
The only people who find them are those who know where to look, even if they're tricky to find. We know of very few cosy spots in town that create their own little microcosm. Some became too popular with foreigners, others were hit by the pandemic. The third survived, but without the old bartenders. Their atmosphere has gone. The fourth variety has been so transformed, they’re like teenagers hopping from one style to the next.
And then, for more than three years now, there’s this place on Akácfa utca, which has grown into a popular breakfast spot, offering, among other things, fried pickles. It’s relaxed without trying to be too hip, astutely assessing the needs and personality of each guest. The notion of a return visit soon enters the equation.
At first, locals might think that Kaptafa is just a
name that adapts the past to the present. It's a beautiful Hungarian
word, playful and easy to remember, and aligns well with the recent trends along
Akácfa utca. Some of today's business premises still date back to the heyday of
this street in Erzsébetváros, when mainly clothing contractors worked here.
Today's Kaptafa replaced a specialty store for shoe accessories, which was left empty after the last craftsman left. It’s pure luck that Lilla and Barna came across this opportunity and breathed new life into the business after the thousands of shoemaker’s lasts and shoelaces were swept aside. Actually, news of the vacant store was perhaps not so much of a coincidence. Lilla's family has been making shoe trees for generations, with tens of thousands of beautifully crafted examples created by the hands of her forebears.
It is only natural, then, that wooden material, shoe trees and shoemaker’s lasts are also prominent at Akácfa utca 37-39. The wooden elements of the renovated, cosy interior were designed and made by the founders, including the many shoemaker’s lasts around the counter. On the wall, the original wallpaper of the former workshop. It’s a lovely story, as is the whole concept.
Word of mouth is spreading, this is a place with real
soul. And music, too. Anyone who has visited may have noticed that there’s
always great music playing (even in the bathroom…). In fact, you can take the
atmosphere with you as they’re quite active on Spotify. Their playlists characterise different footwear to help you match the tunes to the mood of your feet. You're in SNEAKERS? Get moving! Clomping about in RAIN BOOTS? Come in out of the wet. Clacking in HIGH HEELS? Let's paaaarty!
It doesn’t matter which side of the bed you get out of and which SLIPPERS you put on, pretty much everyone likes a good breakfast to keep going for the rest of the day. And if your cowboy BOOTS have been kicked off into different corners of the room, then you're definitely going to need something special to get you through…
Mornings and early afternoons at Kaptafa are a
smooth picture of calm, whether it's returning guests from the night before or
new folks looking for breakfast. Brunch seems to be the most fitting description, as occasions often stretch into the
afternoon. Instead of standard fare, the usual dishes or international trends,
Kaptafa goes its own way in this as well, honestly and instinctively.
In addition to coffee variations (with alternative milks, of course, as well as decaffeinated), you can also get a freshly squeezed orange juice. And nobody looks askance if you opt for hair of the dog, listed here as morning beer, with noble simplicity. It would be a shame to stick to just coffee and drinks, however, because they offer really adventurous breakfasts of the cosmopolitan variety, with many of their own creations.
The English translations of the names do justice to
their funny Hungarian counterparts, but instead of suggesting an “I’m not even hungry”
of a croissant with Belgian butter and homemade jam, or a grilled sandwich,
let’s focus on more substantial breakfast items.
There’s a Mr. and Mrs. Molnár, for example, the Hungarian take on French croques that require two hands to tackle. The former involves scrambled eggs in a hot molnárka roll with cheese, sausage bits and caramelised onions, while a Mrs. Molnár is similar in concept, but with fried egg and bacon. Everything is soft and comforting, offset by the crunchy sausage or bacon bits. It’s lovely how they went for this Hungarian bun of yesteryear. Let’s face it, you don’t often see molnárkas these days, even though they are imbued with nostalgia. Lilla & Barna and their crew have them made to order, specifically for the Mr. and Mrs. Molnár breakfast option.
It’s only surpassed by the CPR, a reimagined French toast stuffed with homemade cream cheese, melty-stringy cheese and slabs of bacon. The name is no accident as many a guest has been resuscitated by this substantial, reinterpreted breakfast classic.
Also delightful is the slightly lighter Turkish egg, which is poached egg with yoghurt and spicy butter. Although we missed out on the My Sweet Lord French toast variation on our visit, we will definitely try it next time. The sweet braided bread is also coated and fried, and enriched with a combination of hazelnut spread and bananas. We didn’t have room for it this time, but it was very inviting all the same.
They also make three types of Kaptafa grilled sandwich, one complete with brie, cheddar, bacon and blueberries; a mushroom variety with homemade mushroom pâté and goats’ cheese; and the serious cheese option involving four types: Emmental, cheddar, brie and blue cheese.
And we haven’t even talked about the extremely crunchy choice referred to in our headline. They really do pick out little pickles for a bizarre yet praiseworthy snack. Warm, breaded pickles are crowned with a dill mayonnaise dip, and two or three portions can disappear in an instant because you can hardly stop yourself.
So we’ll be going back for more. Either in the morning to start off with a CPR or a Mr. Molnár… or in the evening for craft beers with friends, who then invite their friends, and so on.
And if you like the atmosphere, the flavours and
the music, it’s handy to know that they are happy to hold any event at Kaptafa,
capacity willing. But they also do outside catering, delivering their delicious
snacks to keep your event running smoothly.
And whether you hear of this place through word of mouth or because of an event you happen to attend, don’t miss out on one of our favourite breakfast places.