Meet Four Balkan Food NewcomersLynette Smithon August 18, 2021 at 4:56 pm

It’s the year of cevapi. This hearty, comforting sandwich — made with small grilled sausages tucked into somun or lepinja (chewy flatbread) and decked out with onions, kajmak (clotted cream), and ajvar (a robust red pepper–eggplant spread) — has been popping up at a recent crop of new-school Balkan restaurants. You’ll find it all over: from Doma, a Croatian-inspired café, to Rose Mary, Joe Flamm’s Italian-Croatian juggernaut. But Balkan food goes way beyond cevapi. The region includes Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Greece, and other countries, and chefs with ties to these places are opening passion projects that look at these cuisines in fresh ways. These four, including a virtual kitchen slinging street snacks and a Logan Square taverna offering a personal tour of Athens, are standouts.

From back: Cevapi, fried chicken sandwich, and sarma from Kiosk Balkan Street Food

Kiosk Balkan Street Food

3517 N. Spaulding Ave., Avondale

The take Two Serbian brothers and hospitality pros offer variations on the street eats of their childhood via a virtual kitchen.
Why go Chef Nemanja Milunovic used to snack on grilled meats from kiosks around the former Yugoslavia. He translates his recollections of these into a menu of hits — from sarma, pork-stuffed cabbage rolls topped with two smoked pork ribs and basking in a thyme-paprika jus, to tavche gravche, paprika-loaded Macedonian beans with dried pepper sauce.
Must order Anything on somun, the perfect vessel for the immensely satisfying cevapi, as well as the fried chicken sandwich, garnished with shredded cabbage tossed with Champagne vinaigrette and urnebes, a spicy spread of feta, garlic, and peppers.

Rose Mary

932 W. Fulton Market, West Loop

The take Top Chef winner Joe Flamm’s humming West Loop restaurant marries his Italian background with his wife’s Croatian one.
Why go Flamm’s dishes cleverly meld the two cuisines, as in the rich, creamy stracciatella, which is dotted with seasonal berries, herbs, and balsamic vinegar and comes with a round of lepinja to tear apart and scoop it all up. This is Flamm, so pastas are a must: His version of djuvec, a Serbian vegetable rice dish, subs in tortellini, while deeply flavored lamb and red pepper ribbons are an excellent match for a glass of plavina, a bright, dry Croatian red wine.
Must order The tender, spicy pork ribs pampanella, slicked with Calabrian chile agrodolce, sprinkled with walnuts, and accented with a tangy cabbage-yogurt slaw.

016 Restaurant & Sandwich Shop

5077 N. Lincoln Ave., Ravenswood

The take Southern Serbian cuisine reflected through the lens of American influences.
Why go Chef Bojan Milicevic named this spot for the area code in Leskovac, his Serbian hometown. He serves dishes that are representative of the area, but with surprising twists. The Chi-Vap is a mash-up of cevapi and a Chicago dog, with bacon-wrapped sausage tucked into a roll and dragged through the garden. The Lincoln Square muffuletta recasts the New Orleans classic with mortadella, capicola, and lonza (dry-cured pork loin) and is accented by kajmak, ajvar aïoli, and giardiniera.
Must order The everything-spice burek is a flavor bomb. Milicevic stuffs the savory, flaky pastry with cream cheese and leeks and finishes it with a blast of everything bagel seasoning.

Andros Taverna

2542 N. Milwaukee Ave., Logan Square

The take RPM vets Doug Psaltis and his wife, Hsing Chen, explore his childhood memories of dining in Athens.
Why go Psaltis’s Greek cuisine is fresh and vibrant, whether it’s an herb-loaded whipped feta spread, served with crisp crudités and pillowy pitas, or tender octopus, braised in red wine and vinegar before being finished on the charcoal grill. Chen’s dessert menu is packed with contemporary Greek sweets like ouzo-soaked watermelon, roasted almond kourabiedes cookies, and, the star, frozen Greek yogurt studded with baklava and drizzled with pistachio sauce and honey.
Must order The flaky whole sea bass comes from the wood-burning oven. Get it with the herby tomato-sauced peas and a glass of moschofilero off the predominantly Greek wine list.

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