NORFOLK – Granby Street is teeming with sports cars and revelers rushing to bars this Sunday evening. Near the corner with Charlotte Street stands a dark red brick building with medieval doors and a wine-colored canopy.
He is Business as usual inside Monastery Restaurant, one of the oldest businesses in downtown Norfolk. Servers scramble to serve a family of four seated in the middle of the dining room and a New York couple in the back. Soft lighting makes the space warm and inviting; mirrored arches, wood paneling, and oil paintings of bearded men create an old-world vibe.
The owners, Anna and Adolf Jerabek, are busy in the kitchen cooking dishes from recipes passed down from their mothers and grandmothers. In 1967, the couple emigrated from what was then Czechoslovakia to the United States in hopes of finding a better life. They started in New York, where they worked and saved to open a restaurant he had dreamed of, Monastery Restaurant. It was near Central Park and attracted patrons to the American Ballet Theater and Broadway shows.
The restaurant consumed most of their time but Adolf was tired of living in New York. He was still sick. He wanted to raise the two sons they had in a safer community with cheaper schools. Even though Anna Jerabek was keen on New York, she agreed to move. A friend suggested Virginie to me. The couple sold the business and moved.
In 1983, they moved to a Granby street closed to traffic and known as Granby Mall. The neighborhood was dilapidated, only a few businesses still existed.
“People said I wouldn’t make it here,” says Anna. “I told them, ‘I’m tough. I will do it.’ And here I am.”
Clients stopped by for the veal cordon bleu and Slavic sauerkraut and the camaraderie that occurred when the Jerabeks put their spoons and knives down in the kitchen and chatted with guests in the dining room.
Anna Jerabek watched customers get married, have children, and then bring their children to the restaurant.
Some people came regularly from other parts of the world. Jerabek remembered a man who ordered goulash bratislava, a classic beef dish with a rich paprika sauce and dumplings. It reminded him of home but with more meat – a testament to how cooking connects people.
Anna Jerabek served me creamy sweet and sour Slavic sauerkraut, a favorite dish of our mutual friend. It tasted amazing with its sautéed onions and sugar. I felt like a queen dining with tumblers enjoying a basket of fresh homemade bread and a whole Gala apple. They paired well with the blue cheese and havarti slices. Anna Jerabek encouraged me to try her snails, snails, roasted in homemade garlic, chives and onion butter. I hesitated then I rushed. I couldn’t believe I had missed this delight my whole life.
Cheerful Anna Jerabek returned later with pep in her step, carrying Valais raclette – a creamy cheese from Switzerland served on a sizzling plate with Lyonnaise-style sautéed potatoes, capers and sliced pickles. It has become my favorite starter due to its richness and textures. Surprisingly, it wasn’t too salty. For dinner, I had the veal cordon bleu, a tender galette filled with Swiss cheese and ham and served with Lyonnaise potatoes, steamed broccoli and a lemon – another nice dish. Adolf Jerabek took a break from the kitchen and brought out the desserts: warm apple strudel with vanilla sauce, Black Forest cake and fruit balls. Each dessert was prepared with finesse and filled with flavor. I knew I wanted to come back after indulging in the last bite.
At the height of the pandemic, the owners sat customers at every other table. Anna Jerabek has seen another change: first-time visitors and young professionals arriving eager to try something new. It was a welcome change at a time when most of his older clients were staying home.
Like many restaurants, the monastery is struggling with staff shortages. Its most recent employees have been there for about six months; it had employees who had worked there for decades and who have now moved on to professional careers. She had to fill in the gaps.
“People never know I worked 16 hour days and still do to this day,” the 80-year-old said.
It helps explain how the family has been in the business for over 50 years. They don’t let trends influence their decisions. Their menu and decor have remained largely the same. What differs: the memories they create for people.
I arrived at the monastery as a stranger and left feeling like family. I had the same feeling when reading restaurant reviews. People were constantly talking about how kind everyone was.
Jerabek’s eyes lit up when asked about the arrival of Ukrainian refugees in the area. She would like to help them find work. She held back tears as she said she was proud to be in the United States and as an American.
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Rekaya Gibson, [email protected], 757-295-8809; on Twitter, @gibsonrekaya
Where: 443 Granby Street, Norfolk. Street parking.
Hours: 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday; 5 to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays; 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Sunday. Hours may differ due to staff. Reservations accepted on site.
Inputs: $17 to $36.
Details: 443granby.com, 757-625-8193