When it comes to Serbian cuisine in Vienna, Ottakring is the first thing that comes to mind. Ever since Serbian Gastarbeiter started to immigrate to Austria in the 1960s, this district has been a culinary paradise: Plenty of locales offering traditional Balkan food would satisfy even the most demanding gourmand. One of the best among them is Thalia Grill, fascinating not just for the delicious food and authentic ambiance, but also for the family story behind it.
Suzi, the middle child of the Radošević family that has been running the place for almost a decade, welcomed us at the entrance. She balance professionalism and friendliness perfectly and we felt immediately at home. “We are busy making ajvar,” she confided, winning our hearts immediately: It had been a long time since we last ate a real homemade Serbian ajvar. Made of roasted red peppers with garlic, this piquant specialty can be consumed as a spread or as a condiment that gives a rich taste to almost any food. After a swig of strong rakia fruit brandy, we began our culinary journey with ajvar, proja and kajmak, a fresh, light-textured, buttery cream cheese, melted slightly, on hot proja, a homemade cornbread.
“Almost every product of ours is homemade,” Suzi said. In winter, they leave the whole cabbage to marinate in a barrel full of saltwater. “After a month, we get a delicious Sauerkraut,” she reported, proudly. The whole Radošević family works at the restaurant: “So this place is more than a business for us. This is our family oasis, our second home.” She believes their guests can sense that. That is why they always come back!
Indeed, the atmosphere is very homey. But it is not just the loud laughter echoing across the room (characteristic for Serbs!) that gives that feeling. Also the decor reminds us of home: Serbian rugs with traditional design motifs and ornaments, called ćilim, made of pure sheep’s wool, hang on the walls. In the corner was a small buklija, a decorated, wooden bottle for rakia, attached to a strap and used as a formal invitation to weddings. In Serbia, this is the only kind of purse that men love to wear!
The authentic decor so captured our attention that we almost forgot why we were there. But just at that moment, Suzi appeared again, carrying our main dishes. We chose sarma, a spicy, ground meat with rice rolled in sour cabbage leaves. In our culture, sarma is a lot more than a tasty dish that melts in your mouth. For Serbian housewives, it’s a matter of prestige: If your husband admits that your sarma is better than his mother’s, it is considered a great success, practically mission impossible! We also got Karađorđeva šnicla with fries, fresh lemon and tartar sauce. This delicious, crunchy dish is named after Karađorđe, the leader of the First Serbian Uprising against the Ottoman Empire. It is made of a pork steak stuffed with kajmak, rolled, breaded and deep-fried. And, finally: Its majesty Prebranac, baked white beans with caramelized onions, in a sauce flavored with sweet paprika and bay leaves. Delicious!
After a dinner like this, most people wouldn’t have room for dessert. But no matter how loud your protest is, a Serbian host will always continue filling your plate and offering more food. Therefore, exactly 20 seconds of Suzi’s persuasion was enough to say “yes” to baklava, a pie with cooked nuts, poured with hot sugar syrup, decorated with some lemon. How to resist this shiny, juicy perfection?
Although we hadn’t planned to stay late, it happened all the same. This always happens when you dine with Serbs! Leaving the restaurant with full bellies and even fuller hearts, we managed to do one more thing that is typical of us: We lost our sense of time – but found a better one!
Thalia Grill, 16., Lorenz-Mandl-Gasse 63