Saturday, June 30, 2012

Balkan BBQ

If you're like me you've probably heard of the "Balkan's" without ever really knowing where they are. Well, they're in S/E Europe bounded (generally) on 3 sides by 4 seas (Adriatic, Mediterranean, Marmara and Black) and on the other by 3 Rivers (Danube, Sava and Kupa). Consisting, of Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina,  Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and it's most well known denizen, Greece. The Balkan Peninsula has seen it's fair share to problems over the last few decades. Civil war and financial hardships have ravaged the region.

That war in what was Yugoslavia offered as much as any conflagration can give. Up to and including genocide. For Ante Ostojic staying in his native Serbia would be dangerous. Ante was married to Lucija who was of Croation birth. For a mixed couple at that time, it was virtually a death sentence. In 1993 The family pulled up stakes and moved to Canada and what is now the GTA. Ante continued plying his trade and opened a butcher shop in Mississauga. Serving the growing number of Yugoslavians who had also fled the decimated area. In 2007 he and his son Mario opened Royal Meats BBQ. The restaurant serves food made fresh from the butcher shop that range from the well known like salads and burgers to the obscure like Chevaps and Karadordeva.

The snazzy restaurant in south Etobicoke has a beautiful patio and a slick, modern feel. The almost night club look and ultra clean environment is spacious and, a rarity in TO, has plenty of parking. It sits prominently on a corner. All about location.

Inside the place looks like a restaurant and butcher shop had a baby. You walk in, order from the meat case like a butcher and then your food gets cooked like a burger joint. Take a seat and wait to be paged while your meat of choice is grilled up. Most of those critter choices come in two large sizes. Half and full pound weights.

So let’s have a look at these Balkan goodies.

They have all the normal burger condiments plus a couple other regional staples. Kajmak is a spread of butter and unripened cheese and Ajvar (shown left). Known as "House Sauce" Ajmar is a relish made of roasted eggplant, garlic and red bell peppers. I don’t get much out of the Kajmak other than a rich buttery flavour. Like there’s something wrong with that. The Ajmar is really tasty. Not spicy but still tasting of peppers it’s terrific. Certainly a nice change.

The Lepinja (They spell it Lepinya) is a staple bread in the region. This fairly large bun serves as the vehicle for all their sandwiches. It has a very soft crust and a pretty hearty texture. It's not overly flavourful but good none the less. More like a canvas than part of the picture in my estimation. I think it could probably use just a bit more salt but I'm not complaining. They serve them buttered and grilled. A nice smoky component is picked up off the grill that just adds to the flavour.

I really love the burgers. These are not the "Classic American Cheeseburger" type. These are larger, much more heavily seasoned and made of pork and veal. They're also done on a grill so it's more like a back yard BBQ type burger. A very nice combination that works well with the seasoning. I get it topped with onion, Kajmak and Ajmar. The flavours really come together very well although the Lepinja was maybe just slightly too big. 

Chevaps are a staple in the Balkans. These meat logs (about 2.5 - 3 oz ea.) of veal and pork are simply seasoned with salt and pepper and really, that's all they need. There's enough flavour in those two meats that simply accenting them, not altering them works very well. I get my sandwich exactly the same as the burger. All in all it tastes great but unfortunately rather unwieldy. Usually you get a crusty bun that provides a sort of exoskeleton or a burger patty that provides some back bone. Here the bun is super soft and the Chevaps have a tendency to roll out. As a result the whole thing is hard to hold on to, hard to maintain structural integrity (usually not a bad thing but in this case it is) and as a result, hard to manage. Sorta like putting Sloppy Joes on Wonderbread.

The Karadordeva, a chicken cutlet stuffed with Kaymak, breaded and deep fried is  renamed Royal Cannon. The Cannon actually kinda resembles the charge packed into a cannon back in the day. This one is cooked to a beautiful golden brown and explodes with ooey, goodness when cut open. It’s got a real buttery, creaminess to it that I loved. Unfortunately I have to deduct points on the breading though. While nice looking and tasty, it doesn’t stick to the meat and thus breaks off. All in all, a very tasty dish though.

The Shopska salad is very similar to
Horiatiki. What we here know as the Greek Village Salad it’s chopped tomatoes, bell pepper, cuccumbers and onion. Topped with feta cheese. In fact, if they had a Greek salad dressing it would be indistinguishable. 

The sweet potato fries were really nice. Back when these things first became popular I wasn't too fond of them. I think they're definitely better when not fresh cut. The fresh cut ones seem to be limp and somewhat flavourless. These ones here were certainly dusted with flour or something to promote crisping. Much better than what I've had in the past here and there.

So there you have it folks, a little taste of the Balkans in a nice friendly setting.

You can find Royal Meats BBQ at 710 Kipling Ave. in Toronto.


You can also find them on the web, facebook and Twitter.

Royal Meats BBQ on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all for now folks, see ya next time in the food court.


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