At Živio Modern European Tavern and Grill, brothers Dino and Denis Duratovic like to feed people who want to eat — really eat. The restaurant’s menu is a delicious, deep dive into the luscious, succulent cuisines of the Balkan peninsula — flavored with irresistible Turkish influences and the legacy of 400 years of Ottoman rule.
Inside, the scene is certainly buzzy and exciting, with its millennial aesthetics (the brothers are so young, I think I own shoes that are older than them), bar stools nuzzling a long bar, black-and-white floral wallpaper, back deck with a comely cedar bar and bistro tables.
In the kitchen, Dino’s quick, sure moves deliver scratch cooking with big flavors, handcrafted with heart and soul, courtesy of their incredibly talented majka (Bosnian for grandmother). On a recent morning, Dino preps Majka’s special shakshuka — a shimmering, smoky tomato ajvar sauce with two slow-cooked eggs — popular in Israel. “It’s very much comfort food,” he said.
For Živio’s beef stroganoff, another of Majka’s special, “the beef chuck is slow cooked in its own juices — zero added oil — and served over housemade egg noodles that we make daily,” Dino said.
Nearby, Denis sparks fire when sharpening his gyro knife as he prepares to carve a 40-pound halal gyro cone sizzling deliciously in a vertical rotisserie. Thinly sliced to order, the tender meat is draped inside a flatbread called lepinja — an amazing billowy thing — then slathered with their own Bosnian version of tzatziki, which is creamier and brighter than the Mediterranean kind.
“We have our own Bosnian version of spanakopita called zeljanica, a spinach and feta pie,” Dino said. “My grandmother prepares this dish by first making her own phyllo pastry.”
Surely that’s the magic of Živio — welcoming guests with the kind of home cooking the brothers grew up with. To that end, they make everything on the spot: lepinja bread, herb-infused oils, vibrant sauces and relishes, fall-apart tender meats and char-grilled poultry.
“Everything revolves around food for us,” said Dino, who grew up at Bosna Express, 128 28th St. SW, established by his father Damir Duratovic in 2000. In 1992, during the Bosnian civil war, his father, an accountant, fled Prijedor, eventually emigrating to Grand Rapids.
In February 2019, the brothers, along with their dad, transformed the former Georgina’s restaurant space on Wealthy Street into Živio. In Slavic languages, the “ž” is pronounced somewhat similar to the “g” pronunciation of the word mirage. “Živio translates to cheers, and it’s often used as a toast when drinking,” Dino said. “To the good life.”
It’s not all old-school, country-cooking at Živio, there’s chicken and falafel waffle — a shawarma-battered chicken breast, pomegranate syrup and tzatziki.
And big, meaty proteins are treated like heroes; they include the honey salmon, wiener schnitzel, cevapi with grilled sausages stuffed in lepinja bread and punjena pljeskavica (stuffed burger) — a finely minced beef patty with kajmak cheese (Serbian cheese spread) and jaeger sauce (creamy mushroom gravy) on toasted lepinja bread.
Even the Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop Fries are a meaty feast with beef, lamb, mozzarella and feta cheeses, tzatziki, garlic-oregano oil and a dusting of vegeta — that’s an Eastern European vegetable-spice mix.
The vegetarian and vegan dishes are just as exquisite. You’ll enjoy the vegan stuffed green bell pepper with couscous, vegan gyro with chickpea falafel and vegan tzatziki, tomato kajmak puff pastry layered with slow-roasted tomatoes and kajmak cheese, and Turkish quinoa salad of kalamata olives, cucumbers, roasted tomatoes, avocado slices and lemon vinaigrette.
The Duratovic boys continue to thrill with Balkan wines from Romania, Slovenia and Macedonia, from wineries that are centuries old. The grape vranec — a Macedonian red grape variety that is a relative of zinfandel — is from the Tikves region and is a must try. “We have beautiful wines that really expose the beauty of the region,” Dino said.
Many of Živio’s signature cocktails feature the Balkan favorite rakija — the overall term for fruit brandy with Slivovica (plum rakija) being the most popular. Of course, Živio serves Turkish coffee in the traditional copper dzezva that is bold, thick and incredibly rich, ushering in the coffee tradition in the Balkans that involves a lovely, long tête-à-tête.
“We really love doing everything the long, delicious way,” Denis said. “So many good things are happening here all the time.” GR
724 Wealthy St. SE
Živio Modern European Tavern and Grill’s Whipped Spinach Feta Dip
(Makes 8 servings)
1 10-ounce block feta cheese, preferably Bulgarian feta, or your favorite
1 6- to 8-ounce block of cream cheese, softened to room temperature
½ cup shredded mozzarella
½ tablespoon fresh minced garlic
1 teaspoon of crushed black pepper
¼ teaspoon dried dill
½ cup finely shredded spinach
Use your stand mixer to speed up the process. When making spinach and artichoke dip, for example, mix together the cream cheese, mozzarella, seasonings and other base ingredients until smooth. Then, throw in the spinach, artichokes and other veggies. In just minutes, you’ve made a creamy-yet-chunky dip that’s ready to pop in the oven.
Preparation: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. If you have a KitchenAid stand mixer, combine feta cheese, cream cheese, shredded mozzarella, minced garlic, crushed black pepper and dried dill and finely shredded spinach. Whip the ingredients until smooth. Otherwise, in a mixing bowl, mix together all ingredients thoroughly with a handheld electric mixer until all ingredients are smooth and combined evenly.
Portion out mixture into ceramic bowl and put into oven at 400 degrees for 5-8 minutes.
For dipping, try pita, fresh vegetables, sliced baguette and more.