>> [CLOSED] Cafe LuMar | Eat the World Los Angeles

Monday 17 February 2020

[CLOSED] Cafe LuMar

EDITOR'S NOTE: This restaurant has permanently closed. An updated version of this article (12 January 2024) is available as part of the Historical section of our Substack page. Check that out here:

A Google search for LuMar will not have any hits with the meaning of this small restaurant in Old Town Monrovia. For that information, you will have to talk to the cafe's owner, Dragica Grabovac, who named it after her two children Lucia and Mario. They were teenagers when the restaurant opened at the beginning of 2012. As the restaurant starts its ninth year of business, they are well into adulthood and Cafe LuMar has the same feeling of a neighborhood rock.

Despite not having such a strong representation through restaurants in Los Angeles, Croatian culture is relatively abundant. Both St. Anthony's Croatian Catholic Church in Chinatown and the Croatian American Club in San Pedro are always putting on events that bring together the community to celebrate traditional customs, arts, and food. Cafe LuMar has been Croatian from the beginning, with the bold hint of their signature red and white checker right in the logo outside, but the dishes were rolled out slowly to make sure they would take with the neighborhood.

You could say most of the menu is still not Croatian, but that is to lack an understanding of the food in Croatia, which gets its inspirations from all directions in Europe. One of the dishes that has no trouble raising the Croatian flag is sarma ($13.95, above), a stuffed cabbage entree that is enjoyed throughout the Balkans and beyond. Here the perfectly prepared leaves are stuffed with a mixture of ground beef, pork, and rice and drowned in a wonderful savory sauce.

You might also see pastas being enjoyed at the three booths and five tables that make up the small restaurant. As neighbors across the Adriatic Sea, the diets of Croatians and Italians often overlap when preparing and eating handmade pastas, although some of the recipes differ greatly. Cafe LuMar takes this a step further by preparing some options with the spirit of Southern California as well.

For Croatians that miss home, Cafe LuMar is also a place to grab packaged cookies and candies that are hard to find, as well as the smoked meats and bottles of wine. Photos and paintings of scenes from old towns and coastlines populate the walls.

Just as filling as the sarma is another Balkan specialty: ฤ‡evapi ($12.95, above). These sausages are skinless as always and heroically juicy in their preparation. Just a touch of char from the grill is added to complement the already full flavors. Use your hands to tear of a piece of the warmed pita, wrap a sausage and dip into the red pepper ajvar.

"You are not Croatian!" the friendly server exclaimed as most of the raw onions were left after the meal. This apparently was a dead giveaway, as any self-respecting Croatian would have been asking for more.

The perfect complement for ฤ‡evapi.

When the table was full of these dishes, a Croatian wine and beer, Ms. Grabovac walked in with a greeting fit for longtime regulars. Seeing the choices made, a conversation instantly started up and the warm hospitality came without effort.

What unfortunately did not make it to the table this time were the palaฤinke, listed here on the menu as "sweet crepes" for a more universal appeal. They can do a classic or Nutella version amongst others, but why not go for Visnja's Delight, named after Ms. Grabovac's sister and full of flambรฉed blueberries and strawberries laid on a base of cream cheese.

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