Brewsta continues his love/hate relationship with the Old Town gourmet food emporium
"To enjoy the things we ought, and to hate the things we ought, has the greatest bearing on excellence of character."
Culinaria is a fancy food shop that people hate to love and love to hate.
At least the people I know.
The gourmet emporium has a long list of goods for sale, especially American and British, that are hard or impossible to find anywhere else in Prague.
The list includes Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Doritos, Newman's Own salad dressings and tomato sauces, Hershey's chocolate syrup, Oreos, Cheerios, HP Sauce, Colman's Mustard, and Walker's crisps.
I saw a small bottle of vanilla extract, which we use in a lot of recipes, for 200 CZK.
This list just scratches the surface. For example, they also carry a few Asian items. There is a longer rundown of goods on the website under the Other Products: Imports menu.
This type of selection is a dream come true for many expats. So, what's not to love?
Well, since Culinaria has a near monopoly on the sale of some of these products in Prague, they are priced accordingly. While I understand the mostly astronomical prices, I can also hate them.
One day, I had a powerful desire for Philadelphia-brand cream cheese. Culinaria was selling small tubs of the spreadable version, imported from Italy. The price: 129 CZK.
Oof! White gold.
Confession: I bought some. But only because I already had a bag of cinnamon raisin bagels from Bohemia Bagel Express. I had already visualized toasting them in the oven and covering them with real cream cheese. A Czech cream cheese substitute was not part of the dream.
Since I was in the full throes of an American breakfast obsession, I also bought two boxes of Bisquick to make American pancakes.
They were 99 CZK each, which was a little easier to swallow. You can get quite a lot of pancakes out of one box.
I suppose it is possible to make pancakes with regular flour, milk, eggs, salt, and some rising agent. But there is a reason they calling it "branding." That Bisquick logo was burned into my brain long ago, and it brings back some fond memories.
Culinaria also sells baked sweets. I once had a very nice cappuccino cake. It had a sinful buttercream icing that had a powerful coffee kick.
Almost all the cakes, pies, and tartes are 69 to 79 CZK. There do a variety of cheesecakes, including strawberry, peanut butter chocolate, and apple walnut.
Or you could get Black Forest cake, Death by Chocolate cake, and Devil's Food cake.
Want to tarte it up a bit? They make a caramel honey nut tarte, a lemon tarte, and even an Earl Gray tea tarte.
Feel a little fruity? How about an orange cake, a maple pecan fig cake, a banana pie, or a key lime pie.
The wildest sounding dessert on the menu is the Asian Chocolate Wasabi Ginger Cake. Personally, I wouldn't buy it without getting a sample taste first.
They also do carrot cake and a variety of cookies. Around Thanksgiving, you can get pumpkin pie and they even sell canned pumpkin. Whole cakes cost between 759 and 869 CZK.
Culinaria also makes a number of pre-prepared meals on one side of the shop to eat in or take out. I used to get some of their salads, like Asian noodle salad. But they don't seem to have the ones I like in the refrigerator case anymore.
They also have more serious foods like Beef Wellington, poached salmon with dill and lemon, pork with soy and ginger, and barbecue glazed chicken thighs. I haven't really tried these offerings. I can only say they look pretty good.
On the other side of the shop, there is a coffee bar. An espresso goes for 35 CZK, macchiatos and cappuccinos are 55 CZK, and cafe lattes are 60 CZK. You can get it on ice for 55 CZK.
Next to the coffee bar is a refrigerator case with cold drinks. There, you can find exotic American beverages like Arizona iced tea and Canada Dry ginger ale. There are some very fancy bottles of water. I don't recall the prices, but it ain't cheap.
In the same case, there are sandwiches. These are what I stop for most often at Culinaria. They don't have a wide variety that are ready-made -- sometimes there are just three or four to choose from.
There is a menu with a long list of sandwiches that can be made to order. But when I was told on one visit that it would take 10 or 15 minutes to make, I said forget it.
Anyway, some of the pre-prepared sandwiches are pretty good. I just have to depend on luck that one I like will be in there.
I'd say my favorite is the Chicken Toscana for 129 CZK. It is made with smoked chicken breast, Fontina cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, lettuce, and pesto mayonnaise.
The box says it was on a "crispy baguette," but it does lose some crispness while on display. It was still pretty good bread.
The chicken was a little dry, but the pesto-mayo and tomato put it back into balance. And I really love sun-dried tomatoes. I'd say this is one of the best pre-made sandwiches in Prague.
The only competitor would be a sandwich at Yessi Café, where they can be made to order and there are a wide variety of ingredients to choose from. I wrote a post and an update on the place.
Culinaria also makes a pretty good chicken salad sandwich for 99 CZK. It comes on a good dark bread with lettuce and tomato. The chicken seemed freshly cooked and chopped.
They went heavy on the mayo, which I actually liked. I don't love a dry sandwich. The tomato slices are thick, but it does make it hard to eat, since they fall out a bit.
I've heard a few comments from people that service at Culinaria can be slow or sometimes less than friendly. For my part, I've usually gotten prompt service. But for the kind of money they charge, I want to see smiles, people!
V really doesn't like this food shop because, as she says, everything is overpriced, the salads she tried weren't so special, and the service was unpleasant for her.
There are things I don't like about the place. There are a few, like the sandwiches and desserts, that I do like. It is a very nice looking shop.
So, I still stop by from time to time to see if they have a Chicken Toscana ready to go or just to look at a Bisquick box. Perhaps, I enjoy it more than I ought to.
But, I wouldn't say everyone ought to enjoy Culinaria. Maybe it just goes to show, once again, that V's character is far more excellent than mine.
Tel.: (+420) 224 231 017
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