For entertainment purposes, few things match dining with a well-traveled friend with a flair for the dramatic, even if that friend is not unlike your own personal Cosmo Kramer. Such is the case with my Croatian artist pal who, like Kramer, seems to do nothing, fall backward into money, mooch food off neighbors and, uh, get lucky without dating.
And the man has stories worthy of sale to J. Peterman. But rather than tales of returning Bob Saccamando's pants or scraps with the Van Buren boys, his are of his travels. Whether its stories about cafe life in Zagreb, drinking with soldiers while hunkered down on the front lines of the Yugoslav war, or finding romance in Istanbul, they rarely disappoint, as I learned while enjoying my first Turkish coffee with said Croat, at a Bosnian-owned deli (with an Italian name).
"This," he said, pouring the caffeinated concoction from a copper crucible called a Cezve, "is the secret to how the Ottoman Empire conquered their enemies. They drank this in tents while their opponents took naps."
While that historical interpretation may be left to question, it is true that coffee's spread through Europe followed the Turks' rise to power. It's also true that my friend has enjoyed it from Slovenia to Turkey and back, and if the guy says that Fredo's Deli in Dormont is among the few places around town that offer a perfect preparation, I believe him.
And it should, with its background. Owners Dino and Mediha Cehic came to the United States nearly two decades ago from the Bosnian city of Prijedor, and four years ago took control of the colorful little Dormont deli with hardwood floors and a tin ceiling. They kept the name for business purposes, and it retains the trappings of a standard corner deli -- the requisite hoagies, salads, reubens and wraps -- but they've also added a handful of Eastern European specialties reflective of their background.
They sell a modest selection of Balkan groceries and condiments, from cookies to cooking products, and under the small header of "house specialties" on the menu, a handful of platters of food from their homeland. There is the classic Cevapi, beef and veal sausages; the Sudjukice, a spicier version of the same; Pljeskavica, which is kind of like a hamburger; and finally the Pita Swirls (or Borek). The meats come from Brother and Sister Foods out of Harrisburg, a small company that specializes in Eastern European cured meats, and you can buy several varieties to take home as well.
For our part, we made short work of the Cevapi, served with housemade bread, called Lepinje, which is like a Bosnian pita (five links and two pieces of bread with a side of Ajvar, a red pepper spread, for $5.99, or 10 links for $8.49). The sausage has a clean taste, and seemed a little leaner than good ol' 'Murrican links, but the star is the bread. Moist and flavorful, with an almost chewy consistency, I could eat this with the sweet Ajvar all day long. We washed it down with a couple of Slovenian pops, Cockta, which is like a herbal Cola, and a Jupi, which tasted exactly like Fanta.
On a separate visit, I tried the Sudjukice ($7.99), the spicier version of the sausage, which had a tasty mild bite, and one of the housemade Pita Swirls ($5.49 for a half; $8.99 whole). These are a light flaky pastry served with either cheese, spinach and feta, potato, or ground beef. I tried a half of the cheese, also called sirnica, and was immediately disappointed that I didn't order an entire one, as this was one delicious morsel.
Unlike my dining partner's stories, the Bosnian food at Fredo's is simple and unelaborate, but like his yarns, full of Old World flavor and character.
Fredo's Deli is at 1451 Potomac Ave., Dormont; 412-344-1060 or www.fredosdeli.com.
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