This week my travels led me to Charlottesville, Virginia’s new Balkan Bistro & Bar. Charlottesville used to be home. It’s where my wife and I met, fell in love, and married. We have been away for nearly ten years, though, and every time we come back, Charlottesville disorients: ceaseless traffic, tentacular sprawl. A few dear friends remain, but we have to face facts. We are guests now.
On a sweltering summer afternoon, I stopped at the Balkan Bistro, the creation of a family of refugees from the former Yugoslavia: Panto and Bozana Cetic, their daughter Anja Andelic, and Anja’s husband, Jozo. They know how to receive weary travelers, and their food possesses a refreshing, elegant simplicity: homemade breads and pastries, locally sourced meats and vegetables, local and imported beer and wine. It opened less than two months ago.
Tuesday’s meal was one of the best of my life: an appetizer of flat bread and ajvar (a versatile Balkan eggplant- and tomato-based spread); a bottle of Karlovacko, a honeyed Croatian beer; a large spinach and cheese pie (burek), fresh from the oven, with a light, flaky phyllo crust; and the best baklava I will ever have, also straight from the oven (I had a second, leftover piece the next day, and it was just as good).
Here’s hoping that Charlottesville, in its headlong rush toward the elusive, has eyes to see the gifts and graces already there. May the Balkan Bistro, and its fine owners, have a long, healthy life.
The Balkan Bistro and Bar is at 1003 West Main St. in Charlottesville. For more about Panto, Bozana, Anja, and Jozo, see this 2009 article in Charlottesville’s Daily Progress and this recent writeup in Charlottesville’s The Hook. A dollar from every dish sold goes directly to Women for Women International, an organization that assists survivors of wars worldwide.