1/26/2013 02:41:00 PM

Ethnic Eats: Serbian Zeljanica at Kafana

It’s a time-tested formula: Spinach and feta lovingly layered between sheets of delicate phyllo have never really gone out of style in Eastern Europe. (Especially when paired with a small glass of brandy.) You can find iterations of the same recipe (more or less) in Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, and - being more pertinent to our interests - Serbia. And Serbia, it turns out, makes a pretty mean spinach pie.

As far as Eastern European comfort food goes, this is one of the standbys. People eat it all the time: for breakfast, for lunch, for when guests come over, you name it. The more traditional version is sans spinach (which is also found on the menu as gibanica, or cheese pie) and is typically paired with brandy or ayran, a salted-yogurt-and-water drink.

Enter Kafana, a much-lauded Serbian restaurant tucked away in the East Village. It’s small, unpretentious, and filled with light-eyed servers who calmly serve the European way: unhurried yet sincere. There is no hovering, no rushing patrons to leave so they can fill the next table. You sit, you drink, you eat, and only once you are done and have held many bouts of significant eye contact with your waiter will they approach.

And while Kafana is known more for their meat-centric offerings (and their incredible roasted red pepper spread that comes with the customary offering of bread), their zeljanica is what ended up being truly craveable. Layer upon layer of delicate pastry dough made this appetizer a winner, even though a teeny tiny bit of extra cheese in the mixture might have made it even better. But a touch of salt, along with a mid-afternoon glass of prosecco, will make all ails go away - and have you coming back for more.

The Details: 116 Avenue C; 212-353-8000


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