Sunday, January 24, 2010

Balkan Food

It's almost unprecedented - I haven't blogged in over a week, and it wasn't because I was out of town. I literally haven't had an evening, or any part of a day, in the past week when I didn't have some activity scheduled, from choir practice to attending the symphony to writing a sermon to helping my pastor choose hymns for Lent. I'm squeezing in a bit of writing time before I go to church to preach that sermon, and hopefully a bit more later.

The main highlights of my week were the St. Louis Symphony and Laganini Pizza & Pub. The one offered me comp tickets to this weekend's performances, the other a gift certificate for $10 off a purchase of $20 or more.

I'll have to tell you about the Symphony later. For now, the food. I had been carrying the Laganini coupon around for some time, purchased on the cheap (like $3) from Restaurant Dot Com. Last Sunday I scoped it out. Laganini is on the 4600 block of Gravois in St. Louis City, situated across the parking lot from the Bosnia Gold restaurant, and only a couple blocks south of Morganford. Which is to say, it's in the Bevo Mill neighborhood, which has a big Southeast European population - Albanian, Bosnian, Serbian, you name it. So the fact that Laganini is really a Bosnian restaurant, or something in that region of the cultural spectrum, is only surprising in view of its name.

I went there with my pastor for lunch yesterday. It was really the only time I could use a lunch-only coupon, given the restaurant is closed on Sunday and Monday and the other days of the week I'm nowhere near the neighborhood at lunchtime. But as it's close to my church, and as Pastor and I were working on hymn selection that morning, it worked out nicely to treat him to lunch at a Bosnian/Italian joint.

Laganini has an attractive building, inside and out. The interior design, right down to the styling of the cutlery and water glasses, has a unique and attractive character. The tables are marble-topped. The walls are painted a deep, rich shade on the orange side of beige. The seats are comfortably and attractively covered. The bar is cleverly set up. The menu is attractively laid out, and it has a lot of appetizing choices on it, some of them tinged with Italian culture (pizzas and pasta dishes especially), many of them leaning toward Greek and Balkan cuisine (such as sarma, spanakopita, and numerous dishes involving feta cheese). They serve both veal parmigiana and veal schnitzel.

Pastor started with a small Greek salad. It didn't look terribly small, but was really loaded with feta cheese. He said it was exceptionally good. My opener was a plate of spanakopita, which I shared with him. Those are little pockets of flaky phyllo dough stuffed with a spinach concoction. Four pieces made a nice appetizer for two, plus it came with a garnish of tomato and lettuce covered in Greek dressing and feta cheese - which I scarfed up, unwilling to pass up my share of feta. Then our sandwiches arrived: huge sandwiches on curious, rectangular buns that, when cut in half, yielded two squarish pieces. The bread must have been house-made, or at least locally made for this restaurant, because it was really soft and fresh -- a hybrid of doner and hoagie that I've never encountered before.

Pastor's sandwich thickly piled with chicken parmigian, which he said was really good. Mine was an excellent Philly cheesesteak. It was a juicy, messy, cheesy joy, with onions caramelized to a rarely-seen perfection and nibble-sized chunks of green bell pepper sauteed to the precise point where they are firm enough to bite into, but tender enough to explode with flavor inside the mouth. We both took home half a sandwich for later.

Laganini is set up for live music, though with an unusual set of instruments that suggests entertainment with a cultural tinge. At lunchtime, its bar was populated by a group of men talking in Serbo-Croatian, or something like that; they seemed to be the "regulars" who hang around and shoot the breeze. Considering the fine food, the attractive surroundings, and the reasonable prices, it was remarkably quiet otherwise. Places like this should be busier on Saturday afternoon!

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