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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014

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In Dining Reviews

Portions run large and food is homemade and heavy at Old Town Serbian Gourmet House. (PHOTO: Whitney Teska )

In Dining Reviews

The dining room hasn't changed much at Old Town. (PHOTO: Whitney Teska )

In Dining Reviews

Old Town's prices are reasonable, particularly for wines by the bottle. (PHOTO: Whitney Teska )

In Dining Reviews

The restaurant is located at 522 W. Lincoln Ave. (PHOTO: Whitney Teska )

Old Town's Serbian food, setting have timeless feel


Old Town Serbian Gourmet House, 522 W. Lincoln Ave., opened its doors in 1971. Nearly 40 years later, the family-owned restaurant still offers many traditional Serbian dishes (and live weekend entertainment) in the large and largely untouched space.

It had been nearly 15 years since I last dined at Old Town, and much remained the way I remembered it. The bar area is quiet and empty upon entry, so it is best to peek your head in the dining area so that the servers can note your arrival and lead you to one of their many, white-clothed tables.

Often, due in part to the recession, the server noted, there are just one or two servers working the entire dining area. They are so focused on the existing patrons, it may take them a bit to realize you've arrived if you don't proactively make your presence known.

Once seated, you are gently whisked back to old times at Old Town, where prices are reasonable (especially on wine by the bottle), portions are large and the food is homemade and heavy with traditional Serbian recipes.

Dinners can start with appetizers, soups or salads, all with a Serbian twist. Escargot ($7.95) came with close to two dozen of the morsels, served in a garlicky butter sauce with toast points. Couple this with the complementary ajvar (roasted eggplant and pepper spread) and kajmak (Serbian cheese spread) with bread and you're well on your way to becoming gleefully stuffed.

On two recent visits, in addition to house baked French onion and chicken dumpling soup, they offered pasulj, a Serbian white bean and bacon soup ($2.50 for a cup) which was a nice, thick soup with chunks of thick bacon. For salads, diners can choose a green salad or roasted pepper salad ($4.95) or Serbian tomato salad ($3.95 small, $5.95 large). Both are wonderful; the pepper salad offers three beautiful roasted slices layered with a vinegar and oil dressing and served with a block of Serbian cheese (similar to a slightly muted feta cheese). The tomato salad mixes ripe red tomato chunks with green peppers and Vidalia onions with more of the cheese and vinegar and oil ensemble.

Entrees skew heavily toward meat, and Old Town even offers full family-style dinners for six featuring suckling pig and lamb with all the accoutrements. On our visits, we also discovered the daily specials to be highly carnivorous in the most pleasant way. A Serbian platter ($24.95) offered a medley of many of the menu's favorites: cheese burek, cevapcici (Serbian sausage), raznjici (kabobs), and sarma stuffed in cabbage, served with a bit of the tomato salad and some mashed potatoes.

Another night brought two specials, a carnivore platter and a hunter's platter ($34.95 each) with duck, lamb shank, and suckling pig in the carnivore version, and a full rack of lamb and a duck breast on the hunter's platter. All three specials we tried were fantastic, and easily enough for two meals.

Off the regular menu, the spinach and cheese burek ($15.95) layered paper thin pieces of phyllo dough with Serbian cheese and spinach for delicious, light results. Grape leaves sarma ($14.95) stuffed four plump leaves with a seasoned rice and meat mixture served in a brown gravy. This dish was extremely aromatic and the scent didn't fail, with rich, complex flavors and a hint of acidity from the grape leaves.

We left on both visits feeling pleasantly welcomed, and happy with our meals. Service here is unrushed, and most dishes are made in-house, so you truly find dining to be a relaxed and delicious experience at Old Town.

For an added boost, Old Town is welcoming a fully costumed Serbian Dance Group as entertainment on April 5 and 6 to help ring in the warm weather. If you haven't yet sampled traditional Serbian food, this may be a good time to start. The restaurant is expected to be busy, so call ahead for reservations.


Talkbacks

chef jovan | March 16, 2009 at 11:42 a.m. (report)

This place is fantastic!!! The owner is a Chef of the Old School, and you can taste the love and tradition in every bite. You will not leave hungry, or sober. The burek is amazing, the roast goose is not to be missed, where else can you get Goose? He may even sit with you and tell stories of the old country. Go, Eat, Enjoy!!! It is hard to find a place like this anywhere else.

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