balkan bistro - 02I was a pretty big fan of The Balkan Bakery. Rich sausages, thick breads, and spicy baklava, served up by a personable family who told you what you should order based on how you looked. “For you,” the matronly woman behind the counter said, pointing at me, “a big sandwich with lots of meat. Sausage. And onions.” Pointing now at Erin, “For you, our vegetarian sandwich with fresh roasted peppers and cheese.” Unfortunately, the ambitious upgrade in size and scope at The Balkan Bistro has meant a slight downgrade in the overall experience, even if the food is roughly the same.

For me, the main problem is that the rustic food and family service fit well with the quaint bakery atmosphere. The Bistro, which seems modest enough from outside, is a strange sprawling half-ballroom of a space inside, with the bar towards the back of the room. How can it be that big in there? It looks relatively small from the outside. It’s like stepping into a wormhole. The few times I’ve been it has felt empty and unwelcoming, and more often than not smelled of bleach or other detergent.

balkan bistro - 10The first dinner we had there, shortly after it opened, was not spectacular. The chicken crostini appetizer with goat cheese, olives, tomatoes, and fresh oregano was excellent, but most everything else was forgettable. The server had no idea what some of the listed ingredients were, and couldn’t describe one of the entrees that had no description on the menu.

Repeat visits have been better, however, as the restaurant has started to get its act together. I prefer it more for lunch than dinner, though the psychedelic umbrella lights make for kitschy patio entertainment. The Cevapi (chuh-vah-pee) sausage sandwich with ajvar creamy pepper-eggplant spread is like Eastern European soul/comfort food, though I’d like it if they cut the sausage links up a bit so they don’t keep rolling out when you pick up the sandwich. The iced tea is excellent, too, with fresh ginger, mint, and lemon. For my money, it’s hard to top the fluffy baklava at Aromas Café, but The Balkan Bistro’s larger, richer offering is good for hungrier stomachs or sweeter teeth.

Dave says: “I enjoyed the small selection of well-executed traditional dishes that have true Balkan influence – cevapi, chicken paprikash, baklava, and the ajvar roasted red pepper-based condiment (similar to romesco), but I wish they would focus the menu and leave off the Cesar salad, penne alfredo, crabcakes, etc. Same goes for the beer and wine selections. Beers from Croatia, Russia, Poland, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia provide a feeling of authenticity and mystery. No need to water down the choices with mass-produced domestics.”

award_star_gold_3 16Rating: Jed: Dave:

thumb_up 16 iconPros: Some hearty and authentic dishes, friendly owners.

thumb_down 16 iconCons: Inconsistent, strange interior space, spotty service.

money_dollar 16 iconPrice: Average  entrée $12-14.

car famfam 16 iconParking: A number of spaces just to the front and side, and some street parking nearby.

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