We can now add Romanian food to Highland Park's ever-growing array of international cuisines. Parsnip, a tiny cafe on York Boulevard, opened in early March. It's owned by Anca Caliman and Aracelly Flores, who met at Glassell Park's Lemon Poppy Cafe, where Flores worked and Caliman is a partner. Lemon Poppy has always had small touches of Romania on its menu — Caliman immigrated to the United States from the southeastern European nation when she was 12 — but Parsnip is more pointedly focused on Romanian comfort food.
The indoor space of the tiny cafe is taken up mainly with a kitchen and a counter where you order. There are two tables inside, but the rest of the seating is out front and in a breezeway off to one side of the building. The menu is actually fairly robust given the small size of the kitchen and staff. And with the quality of the food and the portion sizes, Parsnip is a great value, even in a part of town with a lot of wonderful, inexpensive food.
For instance, a $9 bowl of chicken paprikash, a mild and creamy stew served over polenta, served as my lunch and dinner one day, the leftovers from the former meal generous enough to also make up the latter. Entrees come with either polenta or veggie barley pilaf. I especially loved the pilaf — it had that perfect grain salad balance of being hearty enough to fill you up while also containing no filler and avoiding heaviness. I had it over the "red red braise," a stew made of beef braised with red wine and tomatoes. Both the stews reminded me of eating at the home of a pragmatic friend who's also a great cook in a low-key kind of way.
You'd be less likely to find bulz at a friend's house. The Romanian dumpling is a little like arancini made with polenta instead of rice. There's a vegan version, and one stuffed with red peppers and sauerkraut that oozes cheese, and they're served with sour cream and a raw, sharp onion-and-dill relish.
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There are salads and wraps and lovely homemade soups, as well as a few sweets, including a dessert dumpling made with potato and served with apple sauce. I'll be back for the stuffed flatbreads, and the dips that look as though they may broaden my eggplant dip horizons (which is great because that's a horizon I'm always looking to expand).
Parsnip is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday to Friday and 3 to 9 p.m. on weekends.
Parsnip, 5623 York Blvd., Highland Park. (323) 739-0240.