Ibro Sameric is a proud man. He’s proud of his restaurant, proud of the food he serves there, proud of his country, proud of his newly adopted home of Utah and proud of his city of origin: Mostar, which is in Bosnia. That’s where the 13th-century bridge that the Old Bridge Café is named for is located. There is a large mural of it on one of the restaurant’s walls, and if you inquire about it, Sameric is quick to bring you a book of photographs and the history of Mostar to peruse. The lean, fit and tanned 53-year-old loves to talk about Bosnia and the food and culture of his homeland. His enthusiasm is infectious, and the food—well, you’re gonna love it. I sure did.
Old Bridge Café is, literally, a mom & pop operation; Sameric and his wife, Milojka, run the place. They do all the cooking, all the serving, and Sameric essentially constructed the restaurant from scratch. A lot of sweat went into it—just another thing to be proud of. But, what’s a little hard work when you’ve survived sniper fire and mortar shells in war-torn Bosnia—not to mention food shortages and 60-mile voyages at night through mountain passes to acquire flour and beans to live on? The Samerics came to the United States in 1998, looking to find themselves a better, safer life and educational opportunities for their two daughters. About a year ago, they opened the Old Bridge Café.
It’s located just east of the Century 16 theaters in midtown, in a strip mall across from the Rancho Market. Outside are four “patio” tables that are, essentially, in the parking lot. The restaurant doesn’t look too enticing from the outside, but once seated at a table indoors—surrounded by hand-painted murals and assorted knickknacks and souvenirs from Bosnia—you’ll feel like you’ve been invited to the Samerics’ home for dinner. Indeed, Ibro Sameric prides himself on saying that everything on the menu is “homemade.” And, it sure does taste like it—right down to the phenomenal pita, which he bakes himself. “It’s no big deal,” he says, “everyone in Bosnia makes their own pita.” But, this is unlike any pita you’ve ever encountered. Instead of the fluffy, puffy, spongy stuff we’re used to, this pita is rustic, chewy, wholesome and has a little bit of a crust. I may never be able to eat regular pita again.
I used the pita to help soak up some of the broth from a humungous bowl of chicken-noodle soup ($2.99). The menu indicated that this was “Bosnian-style” soup, and when I asked Sameric what that meant, he just said “My way.” Well, his way works. The broth was rich and divine, glistening with a little fat on top, brimming with carrots, fideo-type noodles, chunks of dark meat chicken and—this I think is where “Bosnian-style” comes in—pieces of cauliflower. I’ve never had cauliflower in chicken noodle soup before, but it was really tasty.
An appetizer of spinach- and cheese-stuffed filo dough ($2.49) is easily big enough for two to share. It’s similar to Greek spanakopita, and called zeljanica in Bosnian. It’s approximately a 6-inch-by-5-inch rectangle of filo stuffed with layers of feta, spinach and egg—rich and delicious, if perhaps not ideal for those watching their cholesterol.
You’ll have noticed by now that the prices at Old Bridge Café are very reasonable. In fact, I can’t think where you’d find a better bargain on housemade food. We tried the special of the day, which was Bosnian-style goulash, and the large bowl of stew with pieces of that fantastic pita on the side was a mere $5.99. Crazy. To say that this restaurant provides good value is a massive understatement. The goulash was outstanding, but a little different than the classic Hungarian version. For starters, there wasn’t the strong onion flavor, nor as much paprika as you’d expect. But I loved the subtlety of this goulash, a hearty stew of ridiculously tender cubes of chuck, potatoes, carrots and other veggies. Sameric cooks the meat in a pressure cooker, which tenderizes the beef, and prepares the vegetables separately, then combines them so that the veggies don’t turn to mush while the meat cooks. If it’s available when you visit, I highly recommend it.
The Samerics make their own cevapi from scratch. Cevapi is to Bosnia as brats are to Germany or merguez to Morocco—South Eastern European sausages made from minced beef. I’ve never tasted any better than those at Old Bridge Café. Each sausage is lean and delectable, about thumb-size, and served with pita. A half-order of five pieces is only $4.99, or you can get 10 pieces for $7.49. Go ahead and spend the extra couple of bucks for the larger portion; the cevapi reheats at home quite nicely.
The most expensive item on the menu is the Balkan platter ($14.99), and it’ll feed a small army. I could barely put a dent in my platter, which consisted of a ginormous shish kebab with grilled beef chunks, chicken and green bell peppers, a small steak, more chicken, three pieces of cevapi, potatoes, basmati-style rice, yogurt dressing and a wonderfully spicy red condiment made from red peppers and eggplant. Needless to say, there were leftovers, which I devoured for lunch the following day. We were too bloated to try the baklava or “delight” cake, which I hear are also wonderful.
There’s no beer or wine at Old Bridge Café, but we tried some Bosnian fruit sodas (blueberry and peach), called Fructal, as well as a caramel-based soft drink known as Cockta. There is also Turkish coffee, cappuccino, espresso and lattes available.
Spawned from a war-torn land, the Old Bridge Café is a beautiful diamond in the rough. I, for one, am thrilled the Samerics chose Utah as their new home.
OLD BRIDGE CAFE
249 E. 3300 South