Walking into Al-Bos Eurocafe-Bakery’s spacious dining area is like entering a restaurant in southeastern Europe, where the sounds of Balkan pop songs mix with the murmur of Slavic conversation.
Grand Rapids is home to the United States’ second-largest Bosnian population, who arrived here as refugees after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. That wave of immigration between 1995 and 2001 included brothers Nazmi and Akija Hoxha, founders of Al-Bos. The Hoxha brothers started with a Bosnian bakery in 2003, and seven years later opened their restaurant and grocery store in its current location.
Bosnia-Herzegovina shares geography and history with a swathe of countries
that stretch up the Mediterranean and into central Europe. “My kitchen is European,” Nazmi Hoxha says, pointing out dishes from Bosnia, Croatia, Italy, Austria, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Albania — all made from scratch with no frozen ingredients.
Al-Bos’ Balkan cuisine includes an assortment of grilled beef, veal and chicken dishes, many served with French fries and rice. Ćevapi are small minced-meat sausages served between two pillowy slices of house- made lepinja (Balkan flatbread, available for sale in the grocery) accompanied by chopped onions, sour cream and ajvar (a relish made of roasted red peppers). For a cook’s tour of the grill, order the mješano meso, a platter that includes ćevapčići; a chicken ražnjići (skewer); a chicken filet; a small pljeskavica (seasoned meat patty); and a kranjska kobasica (veal sausage similar to kielbasa).
Another Balkan specialty is burek, a savory pastry made of homemade phyllo dough. Try it filled with ricotta and feta cheese, or with ground beef and sautéed onions.
Looking north toward Germany and Austria, Al-Bos offers a variety of chicken and veal schnitzel (meat that’s pounded, breaded, and fried crisp on the outside and tender on the inside). Try the veal Jaeger schnitzel with mushrooms, onions and brown gravy or the chicken schnitzel stuffed with ground turkey and mozzarella cheese.
Stuffed cabbage is a delicacy from Turkey through Russia and Poland. Al-Bos offers two varieties: sarma (ground meat wrapped in sour cabbage leaves) and japrak (a version that substitutes fresh cabbage). Other soups and stews include beef goulash and begova corba (a thick Bosnian soup that combines chicken and okra with a variety of vegetables).
And moving south along the Mediterranean coast, Al-Bos offers gyros, lemon-rice soup, roast lamb, and fried or grilled calamari, among other delicacies.
Al-Bos’ desserts also have a pan-European flair, from the baklava pastries of the Middle East, to Italian tiramisu, to French napoleon pastries, to palačinka (a crepe filled with Nutella and served with walnuts, chocolate syrup and whipped cream).
As to beverages, Al-Bos features a full bar as well as an espresso machine that churns out top-quality cappuccino, latte and espresso drinks.
Al-Bos Eurocafe-Bakery is located at 2930 Shaffer Ave. SE, in Kentwood.