Have you eaten at Aba in the last year?
If you’ve taken a table at Lettuce Entertain You’s Israeli-ish Fulton Market concept, there’s a good chance the production and plating of your house-made stracciatella with sherry vinaigrette, truffle-baked orzo, or black garlic shrimp scampi was supervised by Nemanja Milunovic, one of the restaurant chefs de cuisine.
I bet they were spot-on perfect.
How do I know this? Milunovic is a consummate professional, a true chignón, and, prior to his current corporate gig, the chef behind the short-lived but brilliant Kiosk Balkan Street Food ghost kitchen.
Kiosk closed abruptly due to the sudden passing of Milunovic’s mom—just as his particular star was rising. When he returned from an extended mourning period in Serbia (with a pit stop in Istanbul), he had to find a steady gig—and he found it in the warm, stable embrace of the Lettuce empire. He’s been there all year, making sure every plate is perfect.
You know what you can’t eat at Aba? Milunovic’s extraordinary somun, the pillowy, tortoise-shell-shaped bread that distinguished each of Kiosk’s magnificent sandwiches, a kind of steroidal pita that formed the foundation of one of the undersung champions of the Great Chicken Sandwich Wars of 2021.
But you know where you can eat that crispy buttermilk-brined breast, topped with punchy cabbage salad, pickles, and the chili and goat cheese compound urnebes? At Ludlow Liquors in Avondale this January 23, when Milunovic takes over the kitchen for the 2023 season opener of Monday Night Foodball, the Reader’s weekly chef pop-up.
It’s fitting Milunovic is inaugurating our new home. It’s been nearly a year to the day since he opened the 2022 season at the Kedzie Inn, a triumphant event that’s haunted everyone who tasted his pizza burek, one of the best things I’d eaten last year.
No burek this time, but he’s bringing back a couple other unforgettable items from that enchanted night, such as the all-beef grilled cevapi, swaddled in somun with red pepper ajvar, and creamy kajmak cheese spread. He’s also serving up the iconic karadjordjeva schnitzel, a rolled pork tenderloin piped with molten mozzarella and provolone, then breaded and deep fried to a phallic crisp.
You’ll want to take these with a side of fries dusted with the Bosnian flavor enhancer vegeta, but you especially need his oyster-cremini, portobello-hon shimeji mushroom goulash, a tribute to the version his grandmother made after summer family foraging trips in the Serbian Kopaonik mountains.
You can cut the richness of all this with roasted hot and sweet pepper moravska salad, but please don’t fail to tip the scales back with a slice of the classic Serbian chocolate walnut reform torta.
Once again Milunovic has teamed up with his barkeep brother Marko, now behind the stick at Lazy Bird. He’s come up with a couple of aged plum brandy-based cocktails, one a riff on the classic Lion’s Tail, with chamomile-infused slivovitz and allspice and peach liqueur, the latter a sweet reminder of the fruit kompot the brothers drank as kids. The other is an egg-free sour with prune puree and chocolate bitters, a nod to the chocolate-enrobed fruit endemic after the plum season.
Order those at the bar, but preorder your food right now, right here. There will only be limited walk-in availability. Milunovic’s old Kiosk regulars keep asking him when he’s going to cook Balkan food again. They’ll be there for sure, so look alive. It all starts at 5 PM at Ludlow Liquors, 2959 N. California in Avondale.
Meanwhile, check out the full Monday Night Foodball schedule.