Eating Authors: Steven Brust

No Comments » Written on May 10th, 2021 by
Categories: Plugs
Steven Brust

If you’re reading this during the daylight hours on Monday, then the odds are good that I’m off at Jeans Hospital (or, as I believe they’re now branded, the Jeans Campus of Temple University Hospital) playing routine oncology games, most of which involves needles and the extraction or injection of fluids. On my way out, I’ll stop for a bite in the hospital cafeteria, which is the closest I’ve been to sitting in a restaurant since my transplant at the hospital back in January 2020.

But in relativistic terms none of that is important because this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest is one of my all-time favorite writers, and I am beyond excited to have him here. Ideally, I am conveying a frothy, over-the-top level of fanboy exuberance (which I’m happy to do here but would be mortified to do in person) because this week I bring you Steven Brust.

Steven is most known for his Vlad Taltos books, a planned nineteen book series (of which fifteen have been published) concerning a human living in the Dragaeran Empire, making his way in the alien society of long-lived, much taller beings as an assassin. That description does not do it justice. Nope, not even a little bit.

But wait, he has another series set in Dragaera. The books of the Khaavren Romances are a breathtakingly brilliant mashup of classic fantasy and the swashbuckling works of Alexandre Dumas. The deliberate verbosity of the writing style may be an acquired taste, but he has so much fun with it that it’s infectious (and surely influenced a couple characters in one of my own recent books).

I should also mention The Incrementalists, a two volume series co-authored with Skyler White which has a breathtaking underlying concept that is reminiscent of the works of Roger Zelazny, which isn’t surprising when you consider that Zelazny is considered by some to be both Brust’s literary hero and mentor.

Over the years Steven has written numerous stand alone novels and assorted short stories, and you should check them all out. Seriously. Sure, I’m biased, but I told you that at the beginning. Now go check them out.

It’s worth noting his musical talent: He’s also a singer-songwriter and drummer, and was a member of the band Cat’s Laughing (which enjoyed a nice shout-out in X-men comics back in the day) that also included authors Emma Bull and Adam Stemple.

Honestly, I want to gush more, but I’ve probably gone on too long already. I’ve only met Steven a couple times, and the last was twenty-some years ago at some convention where he was holding court at a party in someone’s hotel room, playing guitar and singing, pausing only to toss back shots of alcohol and smoke cigarettes and make sure everyone present was having as good a time as he was.

There is karma, and I like to think the universe has rewarded Steven for all he has given to the world. He recently got a puppy.

LMS: Welcome, Steven. I’m happy to have you here and ask you to talk about your most memorable meal.

SB: There used to be a restaurant in Chicago called The Bakery. Continental cuisine by chef Louis Szathmary. Back in the days of the federally mandated 55 MPH speed limit, it would take us 8 hours to get there from Minneapolis. We’d leave in the morning, drive 8 hours, eat, turn around and drive home. We never regretted the trip.


There’s a name for that style of restaurant, but I don’t know it. There was no menu. If you were there, you were having a 5 course dinner, of which you could pick the entree and the desert. Some of his standards were pork stuffed with Hungarian sausage, an amazing fish stew, and (what I usually got) a perfect Beef Wellington; but what he prepared would vary from day to day. It was never disappointing. Oh, and then there was the pate mason. To die.

The Chef — an immense, fat man, as Hungarian chefs ought to be — would come out a few times during the shift to say hello to the guests, and chat. On one of these occasions, it emerged that we had driven from Minneapolis just to eat there, and would be driving home after. He seemed touched, and offered to cook us a special meal.

Can you imagine us refusing?

The Phoenix Guards

It was his version of Hungarian gulyas, and it was a treat for the gods. Toward the end of the meal, he emerged from his cellar with a coffee liqueur the likes of which I’d never experienced. And then there was dessert. Do you know what a palacsinta is? Basically, the Hungarian version of a crepe. Often filled with a fruit, or with cinnamon sugar, or sometimes with meat and vegetables, baked, and served as an entree. I had known about the palacsinta; I hadn’t know they could be layered.

They can be layered.

Like a layer cake, one on top of the other, cut down like you’d cut a cake. A layer of the most amazing chocolate I’ve ever tasted, a layer of strawberry compote, a layer of walnut ground to a powder, I think there was a layer of cinnamon, and I don’t remember the others. I just remember the experience, and it was transcendental.

The Bakery is gone, and Chef Louis has passed away. But if ever food has achieved the level of art, it did on that day.

Thanks, Steven. Over the years, a handful of guests here have mentioned something in their meals that forever after has haunted my dreams. For good or ill, you’ve added palacsinta to that list. Hopefully, I can convince my wife (the former chef) to make it for me. If she does, you should come over. And bring the dog, we have a fenced in yard.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

author photo by David Dyer-Bennet

NB: links to authors and books here are included as part of an Amazon Affiliate account. If you follow any of them and ultimately make a purchase Amazon rewards me with a few pennies of every dollar.

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