William Djuric, the chef and co-owner (along with his buddy Jason Correa), of the new Balkan Streat on the West Village stretch of Sixth Avenue, was born and raised here in New York City. He still lives here, too, with his wife on the Upper East Side.
But despite being a NYC kid through and through, a part of his heart (and his stomach) is always in the Balkans. "I grew up with this food," Djuric told Hell Gate as he filled our table with trays of cevapi and pljeskavica, burek and krofne. "My dad was from Nis, Serbia, and we used to go over every summer, except for a few years in the '90s when it was really bad there. Plus my wife is also Serbian on her dad's side, and her mother's Croatian. I literally dream of this food, the way it's done over there."
So even though Djuric spent his cooking career in places like Gramercy Tavern and Momofuku Ssam (Correa is the operations guy), when it came time to open his first restaurant, slinging Balkan street food was obviously the way to go.
"Especially coming out of the pandemic, people crave comfort food," said Djuric. "And this is my ultimate comfort food, so I'm just trying to share it with New York City the way I remember it, inspired by late nights in Belgrade and early mornings curing that hangover."
Balkan Streat is a counter-service spot with about 20 seats, a pockmarked concrete wall with a faded-looking mural, a kind of weird light sculpture thing on the ceiling, a well-curated hip hop soundtrack, and, whether you're hungover or not, a bunch of really good things to eat that you rarely come across anywhere else around here.
The place to start is the burek, thick triangular slices of flaky, oily, hand-stretched filo dough stuffed with things like ground lamb and beef, or spinach and "white cow's cheese," or roasted peppers and kashkaval cheese, or mashed potatoes and onion.
These are so good, and so filling, it makes you wonder why burek isn't more of a thing in our city. And definitely get your slab with a side of yogurt for dipping (or sipping). It brings a delightful tang to the party.
The cevapi, which Djuric describes as Balkan kebabs and are about the size of a plump breakfast sausage, are also terrific and fun to eat, arriving in sets of five on a tray laden with accoutrements:—chunks of charred lepinja bread, pickled yellow peppers, raw white onions, shredded cabbage, thick kajmak cheese, a zippy orange avjar sauce.
Another alcohol-sopping meaty delight is the pljeskavica, a Balkan burger which you can get "regular" or stuffed with smoked ham and melted cheese, punjena-style. There are sides like spicy mashed potatoes, paprika-laden baked beans made from Djuric's father's recipe, and a bright shopska salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, and cheese.
All of the bread and pastry used in these dishes are made on site by Milan Milijancevic, a baker Djuric found in Belgrade and flew over here on a specialty visa "because he's so talented at what he does." Milijancevic makes krofne, too, which are bready donuts with, on the day we went, a bit of strawberry, or pistachio, or nutella inside.
So far, said Djuric, the NYC Balkan community has been showing their support. "One of the coolest things is seeing all the different Balkan people come together. Sounds a little corny but we have people from every part of the region who historically might not get along, but everyone is enjoying the food and sitting together and I think that's a cool thing."
And apparently Balkan Streat is something of an international sensation as well. "It's all over the news in the Balkans, on TV, and all these newspapers are reaching out to us," said Djuric. "They're excited that New Yorkers are experiencing the food, that we're spreading the word. I don't think people are as familiar with Balkan food as they should be."
Balkan Streat is located at 353 Sixth Avenue, between West Washington Place and West 4th Street, and is currently open on Tuesday through Thursday, and Sunday, from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11:00 to 10:00