Dining Out: Czech Pleeze is something to remember

By Dave Greber
By Howard Manges

March 6, 2014 Updated Mar 6, 2014 at 11:19 AM EDT

Binghamton, N.Y. (WBNG Binghamton) He's heard the question more than once. So often, in fact, he's perfected the answer.

"People are always asking me if (the food) tastes like their grandmother's," said Dan McLarney, owner of Czech Pleeze. "To me, no matter how good it is, it's not going to be as good as your grandmother's because I'm not competing with your grandmother's food. I'm competing with the memory of your grandmother's food."

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That philosophy lies at the heart of what McLarney does in the kitchen at Czech Pleeze, located at 223 Robinson Street. It's food that evokes memories, that's simplified, frill-free and downright hearty.

"It's comfort food," he says.

The lifelong Binghamton resident has been serving up Slovakian fare on the city's east side for nearly three years.

It's a labor of love for McLarney, whose culinary education came at the hands of his mother with recipes that have stood the test of time.

Late last month, McLarney reached into a commercial warmer, removed the lid on a steaming pot and removed a serving of haluska -- bright, fragrant and smothered in the traditional tomato sauce. "This recipe," he said, "is about 150 years old."

For people of eastern European descent, McLarney's food evokes memories of authentic homemade dishes. For anyone else, it's just good food.

"Growing up, we were a very meat-and-potatoes family," he said. "Everyday, we sat down together, we had dinner, and don't forget the dessert. There was always dessert."

Most of the dishes at Czech Pleeze are scratch made. But what's not, is locally produced or purchased.

On a brutally cold afternoon in late February, McLarney served up the works, from the buttery homemade pierogi, to the meaty halupki (stuffed cabbage) to city chicken -- made with both chicken and pork.

The halushka -- made of egg noodles, butter, garlic, onions and cabbage -- is rich, but not heavy. And the spicy mac and cheese is a must stop on the menu. The Zepplin -- sauerkraut, kielbasa, spicy brown mustard and fennel seeds on a foot-long soft roll -- is reason enough to stop by.

Czech Pleeze will begin offering Lenten specials on Friday through the season.

Other specials include Monday's American Goulash, Wednesday's Chicken N' Biscuits and Friday's pot luck. McLarney's desserts are scratch-made as well, including some of the city's best Kolachki.

The dining room is small -- seating up to 20 people -- but Czech Pleeze offers take out.