I’d love to take a trip around the world. But these days I can only do that via the scores of Chicago area BYOB restaurants that serve the cuisines of the world. So, off we go to Sarajevo Restaurant for the food of Bosnia. Buckle your seat belts. Make sure your tray tables are in the upright position. Here we go!
Because of Bosnia’s location in Southeastern Europe, its cuisine includes both Western and Eastern influences and is related to Turkish, Greek, Italian and even Austrian cuisines. I’ve never been to that part of the world, and didn’t know anything about Bosnian food before visiting the restaurant, but my guest was an old college friend who reminisced about a great meal she had in the Balkans and spoke well of the cuisine. Would Chicago’s Sarajevo Restaurant live up to her expectations? You’ll have to keep reading to find out.
Foodies and Families and Bosnians. Oh My!
Sarajevo Restaurant is located in an attractive store front on Lawrence Avenue in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood. The front door of the restaurant opens directly into the dining room, a big room full of dark wood paneling, white table cloths, black and white drawings of Bosnian scenes, and a lot of space. The place feels solid with an air of simple elegance and at 6:30 on a Saturday evening, it was already half filled with guests, who were joined by more guests until it was filled up with people from the neighborhood, families, and judging from the language spoken, Bosnians.
Though we were only two people, we were shown to a table for four by the door, where we had plenty of space but were a bit chilly. We scoped out the place and after a wait that was just short of too long, a gruff waiter, apparently the only one in the restaurant, came by, opened our wine and took our order. Though delivered with a slight scowl, his recommendations were helpful.
No Place for Vegetarians
To start we ordered the Grilled Mushrooms stuffed with Kaymak, a Bosnian cream cheese somewhat like Ricotta, since they were the only vegetable on the menu. Bosnian food is all about meat and cheese. While we waited for our appetizer, the waiter dropped off a basket of thickly sliced Bosnian bread served with herbed olive oil and more Kaymak. The bread was soft but substantial and delicious with the accompaniments. I love a restaurant that serves good bread, and plenty of it. In retrospect, I’m not sure why we bothered with the vegetables and would get the cold appetizer plate with Bosnian meats and cheese next time.
The pacing of the courses was leisurely, but not slow. There was enough time between to enjoy a little conversation and wine before our entrees arrived. My friend Pam ordered the Cevapcici, a typical Bosnian dish, skinless sausages made from mixed minced beef and lamb served on bread the menu says is pita, but which looks more like a soft bun. This, the dish she reminisced about while en route to the restaurant, was our favorite of the evening. The sausage was flavorful with a rich taste and the soft bread accompanied the sausage well.
I ordered the Pljeskavica, a traditional Bosnian meat patty made from a mixture of ground beef and lamb and filled with mozzarella cheese, served with rice and potatoes. Yep, meat and two starchy foods, that’s why we decided to start with the mushrooms. I found the Pljeskavica to be slightly dry but good. And in fact, it was very good as leftovers the next day.
Fortunately, by the time we got our entrees, the waiter had warmed up to us a little. I’m not sure if he had taken a few shots in the back or what, but his attitude was much warmer, and downright friendly after the first course, which is why I chose to forgive him when he said they were all out of the Chilled Apple Rolls, according to the menu, “one of the famous treats in Bosnian tradition”, made from shredded apples and walnuts rolled up in Filo dough, glazed with melted butter and baked until golden brown. Though bitterly disappointed, we ordered Nutella filled crepes to share and thick Bosnian coffee served in a traditional wooden handled metal pitcher. I love coffee that comes with accoutrement. And how can you go wrong with Nutella?
Should I Stay (Home) or Should I Go
Visit the Sarajevo Restaurant, especially if you’ve never had Bosnian food. The mix of Eastern and Western influences make for an interesting cuisine. But take a look at my five tips before you go. Though BYOB, they do charge a corkage fee.
Top 5 Tips for Eating at Sarajevo Restaurant
5. Have plenty of time. It’s a double edged sword thing. Service isn’t incredibly fast, but you’re not hurried; you can sit, talk, and enjoy the food and your company.
4. Take your omnivore friends. This is not a place for vegetarians.
3. Order the coffee, if only just for the cool set up
2. Don’t worry about getting any vegetables into your meal. Bosnian food is all about the meat.
1. Plan to enjoy the complimentary Bosnian bread, herbed olive oil and Kaymak. They’re delicious.
Sarajevo Restaurant is at 2701 W. Lawrence Avenue in Chicago.