Two Brothers

Recommended

Eastern Bloc
829 SE Cesar E. Chavez

This little six-year-old café on SE Cesar E. Chavez (check out our review from way back in 2006: http://www.portlandmercury.com/portland/nkotb/Content?oid=73262), which I think most of us have driven by 100 times without seriously considering, has a menu filled with this elemental cuisine, heavy on sausage, simple fresh breads, grilled vegetables, and stews. Ajvar, a rich and vibrant relish made with roasted red pepper, garlic, eggplant, and chili pepper, gives a complex flourish to these straightforward foods, along with plentiful sour cream to represent the fresh, salted kajmak cheese of home. Select beers and wines of Serbia, Bosnia, Slovenia, and Montenegro are available, and are perpetually enjoyed by at least one table of Balkan expats chatting animatedly with the owners.

Start a meal here with a large shared salad of whole roasted red peppers and garlic, marinated in fresh, grassy extra virgin olive oil and dotted with generous squares of dry, salty feta ($5). Ask for the pillowy house-made pita—fluffy and chewy with the thickness of a catcher's mitt—to go along with it. Pasulj, a delicious traditional brown bean stew with an assortment of aromatics, is a rich and healthful starter of its own ($6.50), though their "curing" tomato soup ($3-5), I hate to say after all that, is kind of thin and unexciting.

The chevapi you see advertised in the window is a dish of juicy little grilled dolma-sized sausages, thick pita, ajvar, chopped onion, and sour cream—a steady and satisfying meal for one ($8-11). Sudzuka ($11.50), spicy beef and veal sausages, is a substantial plate presented the same way, with fries and salad. Goulash ($8-13.50), the Hungarian beef stew, was serviceable, but benefited greatly from a good stir of sour cream.

Pljeskavica ($11) is a massive, thin Serbian hamburger, maybe eight inches across, made with well-seasoned, finely ground beef, but at that price should probably include fries. The Balkan Sandwich ($8) is two of the excellent sudzuka sausages in half a pita with slaw, mayonnaise, cucumbers, and tomatoes—moist and massive, like a good gyro. Their gyros themselves ($6) are, by comparison, just the standard Kronos-type meat, and built on a generic pita. Lunchtime crêpes are tremendous, tender, and well filled, a surprising and unexpected hit.

The simplicity of this food, perhaps best exemplified by the grandmotherly burek, is a welcome mental change of gears in a landscape of complex sensory stimuli. Two Brothers provides hearty, defiantly unsexy, rustic home cooking in a friendly, casual environment—an interesting opportunity for a city where the diners are well disposed to rediscover ingredients for what they are, not how they can be fussed with.

-CHRIS ONSTAD

Two Brothers

829 SE Cesar E. Chavez, Portland, Oregon
503-232-3424
Hours: Tues-Thurs 11 am-9 pm, Fri-Sat 12 pm-10 pm, Sun 12 pm-8pm
Restaurant Details
  • Features Cheap Eats, Lunch
  • Cuisine Eastern Bloc
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