Antonio’s Pig and Lamb Roast – Not for Vegetarians!
As we drove down route 1 from Zadar to Sibenik, the vistas of the coast, wildflowers, vineyards, and isolated chapels on the highest part of the mountain, led us astray. We followed dirt paths, climbed over rock walls, and just explored this new country.
At one point, we pulled over into a restaurant parking lot where a man was beginning to cook two pigs and a lamb on a metal spit over a wood fire. Even though our mouths were watering, he said they needed a couple of hours before lunch would be done, so we continued exploring and started to look for a similar restaurant so that we could try the Croatian barbecue.
We skidded past one restaurant, called Vikend, and it was getting late. Our tummies were growling, so we quickly found a turnaround when we saw the. Off to the side was a small shed that clearly had cooking meat in it as billows of smoke rose up into the cloudless sky. We jumped out and went right away to meet the chef, Antonio.
With a charcoal and fat smeared t-shirt, he welcomed us with huge smiles. In broken English, he proudly told us yes both the pork and lamb were ready and how to order it, so we jumped up on the balcony and got ready to order. Antonio’s wife, Maria, came to take our order and his daughter came out to answer some of the questions we had, since her English was a little better than her mom’s.
A family-run business, we also met grandma whose job it was to cut up hundreds of potatoes each day. The meat was cooked through and Antonio and Maria carried the spit, animal hanging down with fat dripping on the driveway from the shed to the kitchen where she chopped up huge portions for our table of four.
Succulent and tender, both meats were grilled to perfection. Fresh salad of cabbage, lettuce and tomatoes and those freshly sliced French fries finished off the feast. We chased it all down with the Croatian beer called Karlovačko. As our first real dinner in the country, we weren’t just satisfied, we were happy!
It wasn’t just the food, though. Invited into the kitchen to attend the cutting of the meat, meeting the family, and talking to Antonio about his ingredients, his method, and a little about his life was just the additive to make it an experience to remember.
Antonio told us that he bought his lambs from a man up the mountain where they fed on the best grasses and sage, taking in the salty wind off of the sea, and living a contented life that makes the meat even more tender, so he doesn’t have to season the lamb with any other spices. It comes already tasty.
He cut the wood himself, lets it sit for four months, then when well-seasoned chops it down to make the perfect fire that he keeps at a certain height throughout the grilling. Whatever his particular method was, he didn’t vary it and the results were amazing time and time again.
We were thrilled to have such a rewarding experience for our first meal in Croatia, and to our delight this happened again and again. The people are so open and friendly, willing to share their lives, and their delicious food with whomever comes their way.