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Either way, don't wear your tightest pants. After a German meal, you're going to need the Lebensraum. Golden Prague Restaurant, 9440 West Peoria Avenue, Peoria, 878-0557. Summer Hours: Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 3 to 8 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
After Zur Kate, Golden Prague was a definite letdown. The atmosphere and cooking seemed a lot more Middle American than middle European.
Given its location, maybe that shouldn't have been too much of a surprise. It's out near Sun City, where people lunch at 11 a.m., dine at 4:30 p.m. and eat the next day's breakfast before going to bed.
So Golden Prague was out of the Friday-night fruit-dumpling special by the time I arrived at 6:30 p.m. And even on weekends, the kitchen closes by 8 p.m., a time when management probably assumes most neighborhood customers are settling in to begin their principal evening activity, slumbering in front of the television. The room gives little indication of the cuisine's presumed ethnic character. Big-band music spills softly from the sound system. White-lace window curtains, faux-wood paneling and lots of artificial greenery don't furnish much old-country atmosphere.
Neither does much of the food. My travels suggest that breaded zucchini, breaded mushrooms, chicken nuggets, French fries and onion rings aren't your typical central European appetizer munchies.
Piroghi and stuffed cabbage are, but the versions here create little excitement. Four assorted piroghi--filled with sauerkraut, meat, potato and cheese--seemed pretty drab. The stuffed cabbage couldn't compare to the kind I've had in the kitchen of eastern European grandmothers. The puddle of thin tomato sauce was particularly unappealing. One starter, with more ethnic character than the average Sun City resident can presumably handle, does stand out. That's the czarnina, a soup that Campbell's won't be canning anytime soon. When I ordered it, the waitress turned away and puckered, as if she'd just bit into a thousand lemons. No way could she be convinced that this soup is good food. I guess that's because czarnina is ethnic fare with a vengeance: It's made from duck blood, and studded with raisins, prunes and noodles. For the record, it's quite sweet, and tasty in a quirky way.
Main dishes are cheap, but that's their most memorable aspect. The one-half roast duck was the best item I sampled. It managed to be moist without being greasy, and the skin had the right crispy crunch. But this must have been a mutant fowl. That's because this is the first half-duck I ever ordered that came with two legs. If it actually were a quadruped, the kitchen would have gotten a lot more mileage out of it by sending it to Ripley's Believe It or Not. Roast loin of pork--veprova"--is advertised on the menu as the "Czechoslovak national dish." I hope not, because if it is, the national dish consists of four dry, undistinguished pork medallions. Without the pitcher of gravy to pour over them, chewing would have been a chore. The wiener schnitzel and the Moravian beef goulash are competently prepared, but they're nothing special in the flavor department. Each features tender meat, but neither sparks any taste explosions. The side dishes don't provide much support. The odd dumpling--it looked liked a piece of old bread--was awful: It had a thick, grainy texture, and was tasteless, to boot. Mashed potatoes, sweet-and-sour cabbage, and sauerkraut weren't much more inspired. And if the desserts here are any indication, central Europeans don't have much of a sweet tooth. The ice cream and sherbet are clearly designed for the Sun City folks on their last teeth. According to the waitress, the kolacky--a Polish sweet roll--is homemade. Well, so is the pumpkin pie my wife bakes every Thanksgiving. Do not confuse "homemade" with "high quality." Is Golden Prague worth a trek all the way out by Sun City? Perhaps a decade ago, when it opened, it might have provided some offbeat amusement in a town that thought tacos and veal parmigiana genuine ethnic-food experiences. But a lot has happened in ten years. Like the homeland itself, Golden Prague has been left in the dust.