By Jim Duncan CVFDude@aol.com
A Bosnian walkabout
Bosnian cuisine can be as confusing as Bosnia and Herzegovina, a unique Balkan nation where ethnic identities are trumped by regional ones even though Herzegovina has no defined borders. In Des Moines, Bosnian restaurants have been unsettled and resourceful, like refugees of a diaspora — Jasmin Mrvoljak opened Saraj on Douglas Avenue then sold it to Fuada Aljic who moved it to West Des Moines; the superb Old Castle restaurant took over a Five & Diner and changed little, other than installing a dance floor and a walk-in rotisserie big enough to roast three sheep at the same time; some of the best Bosnian food around comes from Ankeny’s California Pizza; Royal Grill built a reputation around exquisite cakes and pastries; and the Euro Bar converted an annex to one of the metro’s oldest motels into a pub that would fit right in to suburbs of Sarajevo. Sadly, Royal Grill and Old Castle have gone out of business, and Euro Bar has been closed for remodeling. That prompted some readers to ask for guidance on their quests for cevapi, lepinja, lovacka snickla and sampita.
Kula Grill & Cafe moved into the old Heavenly Ham in Urbandale. Don’t expect to find any pork on the menu though. An L-shaped bar, an outdoor patio and a parking lot full of cigarette butts testified to its authenticity. A waiter said that owners Mirsad Causevic and Ramiz Dogic previously ran Old Castle, and that a serious rotisserie was being planned. For the time being though, gyros (chicken and beef) were premade and presliced products reheated on the grill. He touted the lovaca snicla, and I am quite grateful. A candidate for the ultimate chicken fried steak, this hand-tenderized beef loin was breaded and pan-fried crisp and golden before being topped with an excellent mushroom demiglace. A second version (becka snicla) was seasoned with fresh lemon juice.
Cevapi (sausages) made out of veal lacked the spiciness of those at Euro Bar but compensated with a generous side of (red) ajvar, a Turkish invention that substitutes a puree of red bell peppers, chilies and eggplant for its namesake (caviar). Cevapi were served on lepinja from California Pizza — 10 beef sausages on a whole loaf of one of the world’s most challenging breads. Also known as “three rise bread,” lepinja differs from other Mediterranean flatbreads in its spongy, English muffin-like interior, the result of the dough’s three proofs, and/or a small dose of baking soda or baking powder. Many burger snobs think lepinja makes the world’s best burger bun. They don’t count calories, though. French fries and onion rings were not remarkable, but tart cabbage salad, sampita (meringue topped sponge cake), and a marvelously creamy espresso, were.
Saraj Restaurant and Bakery moved into the old Phat Chef’s, handsome as ever with blond woodwork and modern furniture. Cabbage salad here included carrots and peppers. Cevapi were also on the mild side and served on similar bread to Kula‘s. Saraj also bakes excellent stuffed breads: burek (ground beef), sirnica (cheese) and zeljanica (spinach). Kebabs and racks of lamb enticed with their aromas while tahrana (tomato dumpling soup), janjece potkoljenice (braised lamb shanks, served only on Wednesdays) and homemade baklava cranked the kitchen up to the level of bargain fine dining, with nothing priced more than $17. Grah (beef and beans), sarma (cabbage rolls) and goulash added hard to find comfort foods to the menu.
Trostel’s Greenbriar began a Saturday dinner special that offers a “bottomless glass of wine” for $8... Hy-Vee Conference Center recently served fabulous micro greens from Organic Greens of Kalona, a fresh product consisting of fresh snow pea tendrils, sunflower greens, daikon greens, China rose radish micro greens and red cabbage micro greens. Owner James Nisley said that Loffredo distributes his greens but mostly in the Quad Cities. CV
A half sandwich of cevapi on lepinje at Kula Grill & Café, 2819 100th St., Urbandale, 252-2884. Hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., daily.
Saraj, 1300 50th St., West Des Moines, 255-1133. Hours are Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Euro Bar & Grill, 7625 Hickman Road, Urbandale, 334-4298. Reopening soon