Brama means “gates” in several languages, an appropriate name for a restaurant that offers a gateway into “traditional and adapted” Eastern European cuisine. I appreciate that Brama describes their fare as “adapted.” With a debate in food-writing circles over the use of the word “authentic,” it’s nice to see an establishment acknowledge that homeland cuisine is sometimes impossible to recreate on a different continent or, due to local preferences, impossible to successfully market.
When I think of Eastern European countries, I think of no-nonsense meat and potatoes, and the menu of Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Slavokian, and German dishes reflects this mindset. At dinner time, Eastern Europeans are not about pomp, circumstance, and Instagram: they’re about getting the job done. As a result, many of the dishes aren’t particularly photogenic, but what they lack in good looks they more than make up in taste. As mom always said: “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.” For example, the Slavokian Halusky (soft potato spatzel [miniature dumplings], garlic feta sauce, and brinza [sheep cheese]; $11 + caramelized onions $1) is a nondescript shallow bowl of brown that gloriously dances on the tongue with the richness and flavor of a good východná.
An egg-adorned plate of Polish Pierogi (large pan-fried or boiled vegetable dumplings with choice of filling [we tried fried with potato and fried onion]; starting at $12 + $2 egg + $2 Hungarian bacon bit) brought back pleasant memories of my Polish grandmother ladling dumplings from a boiling pot of water in Chicago. The Russian Pelmeni were similar but filled with meat and in the shape of large tortellini. The bride kvetched on the kvass, a Slavic non-alcoholic fermented beverage made from rye bread ($4), but I enjoyed its unique flavor, finding it slightly sweet and reminiscent of the malt-based sodas of Iceland.
A key culinary item missing from Brama’s oeuvre is vodka, but they compensate with locale-appropriate beers and wines. Similar to many of the restaurants I’ve reviewed lately, the menu on Brama’s website irritatingly does not correlate with the far deeper and more interesting menu at the table. As a web-oriented individual living in a web-oriented world, I find this common oversight odd, akin to shooting yourself in the foie gras.
Housed in an oddly-located strip mall north of Lowe’s, I initially worried about Brama’s success. But upon post-visit digestion and deep thought, the odd location works. You don’t drive down Burnet Road with a backseat of hungry kids and yelp, “Oh look: Eastern European food! Let’s eat there!” Brama’s clientele is destination oriented, specifically seeking the flavors beyond yesteryear’s Iron Curtain. The service is friendly and attentive at this family-owned and operated restaurant. Regardless of your heritage, it’s well worth exploring its varied menu.
web&where: interwebs; 3301 steck avenue; (512) 579-0880
what’s the deal? traditional eats from behind the Iron Curtain; table service
overall: *** (food***; drink***; atmosphere**; service***; instagrammability**)
– meh [think twice]
* OK [it’ll get the job done]
** good [solid neighborhood joint]
*** damn good [we’ll definitely be back]
**** yippity-yikes that was amazeballs [fantastic; one of the best]
***** holy sh!t [transcendental; best of the best]
Mukazani (D Collection) from Georgia and Fresh Kvass (beverage made from rye bread)
Pemeni (Russian meat dumplings, served with sour cream, fried or boiled; $10)
Vegetarian Globtsi (Golabmi) (mushrooms and rice in cabbage leave, tomato sauce, and carrots; $12)
Grechka (roasted buckwheat with sauteed mushrooms and an egg on top; $11; add carmelize onion +$1 and Hungarian bacon pieces +$2)
Bird’s Milk Cake (milk souffle cake with chocolate glaze; $5)
Slavokian Halusky (soft potato spatzel [miniature dumplings], garlic feta sauce, and brinza [sheep cheese]; $11 + caramelized onions $1)