When Mick Gajic and Lou Bojic decided to open a Serbian restaurant at the corner of Ogden and Custer avenues in Brookfield, they easily decided on a name that would encapsulate the food they wanted to serve – Dunav.
The word translates to Danube, the winding ancient river reaching from Germany’s Black Forest across central and eastern Europe to the Black Sea.
To both men, Dunav means home. Gajic grew up in Smederevo, a strategic city on the river battled over for centuries by the Turks and Austro-Hungarian Empire. Its shattered medieval fortress still overlooks the Danube. Bojic grew up about 100 miles away in a little village, also near the Danube, that “no one would know.”
Both men fled Serbia during the Kosovo War. Gajic came to the United States in 1998, with Bojic following in 2000 after the NATO bombing campaign ramped up.
“It was a tough time,” said Bojic last week in the dining room of the restaurant at 8801 Ogden Ave. “We were running from war trying to live a normal life.”
Bojic had a friend in the Chicago area and he settled in Lyons. After working construction for a decade, work dried up when the recession hit. In the meantime, he had met Gajic, another Lyons resident, and the two hatched a plan to open a restaurant that would serve traditional Serbian fare.
“It’s traditional home-cooked meals,” said Bojic, who does most of the cooking.
Bojic learned to be a professional cook in Serbia and owned a restaurant there for three years, though the war made it tough to attract regular customers.
“When something was special, people went to the restaurant,” Bojic said. Otherwise, they stayed home.
Dunav opened Aug. 12 and is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. They plan on applying for a beer and wine liquor license from the village of Brookfield, at which time Bojic said the plan is to expand the hours to midnight.
The menu consists of Serbian dishes from top to bottom, like Teleca, a veal soup made with small cubes of veal with chopped carrot, turnips, celery root and onion in a spicy broth. Or there’s Bojic’s favorite Sarma, sour cabbage stuffed with ground meat that’s seasoned with spices and mixed with rice and smoked meat.
“A lot of people ask for that,” Bojic said. “Once or twice a week it will be a special. We have one or two specials a day.”
Bjoic described Serbian food as a kind of culinary melting pot, which has incorporated influences from its days as part of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires as well as dishes that are considered native recipes.
“Everything is mixed,” said Bojic. “I think it’s a great mix.”
The food at Dunav is also affordable. Breakfasts (traditional American fare) are $5. Starters, salads and soups are $3 to $4, while main dishes are between $8 and $11. The most expensive dish on the menu is a combination dinner featuring samples of different dishes, for $15. All of the dishes are available at any time of day.
Bojic said the menu is a work in progress and that new dishes, including chicken and fish will be added soon. They are also hoping to plan special dishes for Serbian holidays.