Our meal at Kafana perfectly illustrates why we so appreciate food – it brings people together, it’s unique to each culture and yet universally understood, and it’s an opportunity to explore and a chance to tell stories. Jess’s Bulgarian friend, Svetla, was there to hold our hands through our first Serbian dining experience. Though we couldn’t understand the language, we perfectly understood why she recommended Kafana! There is outdoor seating, a traditional menu, and food that will make you want to get out your passport.
Kafana is located at 116 Avenue C, between 7th Street and 8th Street.
- GIBANICA – CHEESE PIE: traditional phyllo pastry with feta cheese.
- ŠOPSKA: tomato, cucumber, and onion with feta cheese salad.
- ROLOVANE SUVE SLJIVE I DZIGERICA: prunes stuffed with walnuts and cheese rolled in bacon with chicken liver rolled in bacon.
- PLJESKAVICA: traditional Serbian burger.
- CEVAPI: traditional grilled minced meat.
- ZITO SA SLAGOM: boiled wheat mixed with sugar and walnuts with whipped cream.
- RAKIYA: brandy, usually made of grapes. (The one we had was made of quince, which Svetla says is special)
I was so excited to try Bulgarian (well, technically Serbian) food, especially in the company of a born and raised Bulgarian gal. Starting off with the gibanica was a perfect choice (given its definition of “cheese pie”), and after sampling the sopska (salad) as well, I instantly had a revived appreciation for feta cheese. I ordered the rolovane suve sljive i dzigerica, which is very similar to the beloved bacon-covered dish, devils on horseback. Of the bacon-rolled treats, I favored the prunes stuffed with walnuts & cheese over the chicken liver, but my taste buds appreciated the ability to shift between salty and sweet during dinner. The meat from the pljeskavica and the cevapi was well-spiced and savory… I’d be eager to revisit Kafana simply to try the lamb, which we didn’t order, but smelled delicious from the table next to us. During the meal, Svetla encouraged us to add feta cheese to our dishes (noting that adding feta wherever possible is tradition), which leads me to suspect that I’d fare quite well in Bulgaria.
The gibanica was incredible, and though we split our piece three ways I would have happily eaten an entire pie. The phyllo dough is cripsy and flaky in the crust and somehow moist and doughy inside. The feta is mellow enough to add the perfect cheesey texture and flavor. The sopska salad was delightful and fresh. It was filling without being heavy. Surprisingly the feta, ubiquitous in the meal, was not included in my pljeskavica, so I added a bit from my salad for one of the most delicious bites I’ve had in quite a while. The meat in this “burger” is nothing short of fantastic. The minced beef and pork patty is full of spice, tender, and slightly crispy on the outside. And on a warm, pillowy pita! Loved it. Svetla’s cevapi was similar. It would have been awesome if jules bacon wrapped plate had somehow incorporated the chicken liver IN the walnut and cheese stuffed prunes. Individually they were a bit too livery or sweet… but together would be something special. Svetla wasn’t kidding when she said to order the Rakiya “if you’re feeling brave”. Apparently you are supposed to sip throughout the meal, but it packs a strong punch! I feel like Bulgarian dinners must be a party and a half. I know I was having a good time. Thanks Svetla!
Source and Special Guest: Svetla Says
Kafana is one of my favorite restaurants in NYC because it is Serbian, and Serbian food happens to be as close to Bulgarian national such as myself will get to a meal that feels like home. When I go there with my Bulgarian friends (and this happens quite often), we always order three items: the gibanica, the shopska salad, and the cevapi (grilled minced-beef-and-pork nuggets). For me, these are the staples of Bulgarian cuisine, or the things that I miss the most as an expat. And luckily, Kafana satisfies my craving! Here’s a funny discovery. Despite the epic number of times I’ve been to this restaurant, I had never even looked at the dessert menu before I took Jess and Julie there for dinner. I was shocked to see that the first dessert that was listed was zito – boiled sweetened wheat with walnuts and cinnamon. Shocking, as In my country this is a very specific food that you would eat only if you’re attending a funeral or a memorial service. I have never seen this offered on a menu before. Of course, we had to try the zito. Having had the real deal back home (yes, at funerals), my verdict is that while delicious, the Kafana version doesn’t come close to my expectations of a proper funeral treat. But hey, the hilariously sinister story around this dessert made it worth my 8 bucks.