If you’re in Brno and you want to try authentic Czech cuisine, there are (at least) two places I would most definitely recommend: Skanzeen and Pegas. You will not be disappointed!
If there’s one thing that makes Brno known internationally, it’s its bars. Even the New York Times has come to realise that, and repeatedly praised in dedicated articles the Moravian capital’s bar and pub scene. In fact, when it comes to nightlife and drinks, the offer in the Czech Republic’s ‘second city’ really is every bit as good as that you might find in Prague.
Brno, though, has a lot to offer also foodwise, and not only on the subject of exotic cuisines, such as Indian and Vietnamese (which still deserve a post of their own). Traditional cuisine is extremely rich and diverse, and it’s worth trying local specialties. I have recently been to two places I can definitely recommend if you wish to try typically Czech ‘stuff’: Skanzeen and Pegas. Okay, let’s go!
Let’s start from Skanzeen, because it doesn’t get more typical than that. Opened in 2002 in Pekařská Street, it wisely combines unique interiors and great food. Entering the place is a bit like stepping into a rural Czechoslovak house from the old days, a bit like our (great-)grandparents probably also had. Its interiors are all dark wood boards and white walls, while the dim lights make it look like candles and oil lanterns are strategically placed everywhere in the rooms. Here you will notice old pieces of furniture (e.g. cupboards, wardrobes and even a sleigh!), hand-decorated tableware on the shelves and bunches of cobs hanging from the ceiling in the room at the end of the corridor.
Weather and season permitting, you can also eat in the open-air room, ‘zahrádka’ (garden) by name, but in fact more similar to a veranda. The fake fireplace on the wall ensures a rustic atmosphere outside as well.
The menu includes plenty of traditional Czech and Slovak options. We ordered what is universally acknowledged as the most typical Czech and Slovak dish, i.e. halušky, flake-shaped gnocchi made with flour and potatoes that look kind of similar to Tyrolean spätzle. Make sure you don’t confuse the Czech and the Slovak version of the dish (or, if you are confused about which is which, don’t let it show if you’re hanging out with locals! I have at least two Czech friends that would cringe at the sheer thought).
If you wish to try the Slovak version, order a portion of bryndzové halušky, where ‘bryndzové’ comes from bryndza, the sheep cheese used, alongside crispy bacon, to dress the halušky. If you choose to ‘go Czech’, ask for strapačky The gnocchi type is the same, but in the Czech version they’re dressed with bacon and cabbage. No bryndza here, do bear that in mind.
A kind of ‘intermediate’ version is also available, i.e. ‘beskydské halušky’. They have everything: bryndza, bacon and cabbage. If you’re tempted to try them, but not too sure, go for Slovak halušky. As part of the dish, you will also get a small bowl of cabbage, so you will be able to try them both bryndzové and beskydské.
The choice between bryndzové halušky and strapačky is objectively a tough one. I personally love bryndza, though, so at least this time I gave in to the Slovak variation of the dish.
With second courses you’re equally spoilt for choice. If you’re into meat, you can opt for local specialties, or pick from the selection of Austrian and Hungarian traditional recipes on the menu. If you’re looking for The Czech Second Course by definition, go for svičková na smetaně (whose full name on the menu is svičková na smetaně, domácí žemlový knedlík, brusinkový terčík). It’s beef meat (svičková, that is) served on the sauce by the same name. Alternatively, you can have the equally typical fried cheese with buttered potatoes and homemade Tatar sauce (smažený sýr, vařené brambory s máslem a pažitkou, domácí tatarská omáčka). In one word: yummy.
Should you for some reason not be full (hard to believe, but you never know), yes, you can have dessert. The menu includes two versions of sweet dumplings called knedlíky. A portion of knedlíky is potentially a meal in itself. We chose those filled with strawberry jam, plus breadcrumbs, butter and coating sugar (tvarohové knedlíky plněné jahodami sypané strouhankou, cukrem a přelité máslem, as the Czechs would have it).
Long story short, be ready for large portions and strong flavours. When you leave Skanzeen, you will be more than replete!
The second stop of this mini tour tour around Czech traditions and food is a super cool restaurant and pub, which I particularly like. If you’re in Brno for lunch or dinner, I’d say: make a mental note. Off we go to Pegas!
If you’re coming from Moravské náměstí, take Rašínova Street and then take the first on your right, Solniční. Walk a few steps, and you will see Pegas on the left-hand side of the street.
Now, forget all about the quiet, relaxed vibe of Skanzeen. Pegas is the kind of place where you have to speak loudly if you want to have a conversation! The rooms are large and a little disorienting (especially if your table is in one of the tiny side rooms), but the atmosphere is so pleasant and warm that after the first time you will want to go back a second and a third, of that I’m sure.
Even if you’re only in the mood for beers, Pegas is the right place for you: it’s also a brewery (as well as a hotel), and brews a few types of beer worth tasting.
If you’re indeed hungry, brace yourself. Leafing through the menu and making up your mind might require some time (at least) the first time, and not because the menu is hard to read (it’s in Czech and English), but because the offer is huge. Again, meat plays a key role, and the highlights include:
– svičková na smetaně (yes, same as that from Skanzeen);
– duck breast cooked in wine with red cabbage and two types of knedlík (kachní prsa na vině, filovaná, červené zelí, houskový a karlovarský knedlík);
– beef tartare with egg (tatarák z práve svíčkové);
– pork shank (obviously served on a chopping board) with traditional sauces and pickled peppers (zapečené uzené koleno).
On the table you’ll likely find a ‘simpler’ version of the menu, with a selection of dishes and their pictures. It looks like the ‘menu version’ of the ‘for dummies’ book series, but in fact it’s super handy.
And there’s even a (modest) section for vegetarians, plus, needless to say, the by now well known fried cheese we mentioned about Skanzeen. At Pegas I usually order the broccoli and niva pie (gratinovaná brokolice s nivou), where niva is a super-tasty cheese similar to roquefort but made from cow milk. I also invariably order a portion of potatoes: either roasted rustic potatoes (americké brambory) or bramboračky, super tiny fried potato pancakes, also traditional, also yummy.
I’m just going to leave here a final ‘reminder’ that potentially applies to both the places we’ve talked about (and not only those). Don’t let the dish names make it hard for you, long and hardly pronounceable as they might look and sound. If you keep the translation at hand, you’ll just have to point your finger at the dish(es) you wish to order from the menu, and… Enjoy! Or better, ‘Dobrou chut‘’!