Like grandma made it
“All from scratch every day” at Bistro Rustica
By Linda A. Thompson-Odum firstname.lastname@example.org
Nikolija (Nina) Mujakovic never intended to open Bistro Rustica in Concord. She and her husband are almost ready to open the Old European Café and Bakery just a couple of doors down. However, when the deli that was in the bistro’s location closed down, Mujakovic decided it was a good take-out spot for her homemade Mediterranean cuisine.
“This place is in memory of my grandmother,” Mujakovic said. “The colors, wood, homey shelves, plants, bakery all remind me of her house when I was a child.”
Mujakovic is quick to point out that by Mediterranean cuisine she does not necessarily mean Italian. Her dishes also include ones from Greece, Turkey, Yugoslavia and other countries that surround that area. She said, “It is what the masses eat. Home-style cooking. Recipes I was [watched] my mother and grandmother cook in the kitchen. I only cook what I know 100 percent. I know what I’m cooking and how it tastes. All from scratch every day.”
In 1998, Mujakovic, her husband and her oldest son came to the United States from Bosnia as war refugees. (Her twin sons were born here in 2002.) With her background in child psychology, she worked for Concord Hospital and the Manchester school district. She gave up that career because “it would require more language than I was equipped with and it would take me a long time [to study] to get there.”
Mujakovic and her husband own the Wilson Street Market in Manchester, where she started to make dishes for customers. Many of them asked her when she planned to open her own restaurant. When the spaces became vacant in the Concord building — which they also own — she decided it was time, even with the bad economy. “If you have a dream and want to make something of your life, this is the country to do it,” she said.
Open just a few weeks, Bistro Rustica features menu items such as moussaka (a casserole of ground beef, diced potatoes, and tomatoes topped with a custard sauce), goulash (braised beef in red wine gravy over either rice or pasta), lasagna, chicken parmigiana, and stuffed peppers. There are also Eastern specialties such as burek (beef wrapped in a savory pastry and baked to gold brown, then served with kefir — a fermented milk similar to yogurt) and maslanica (sour cream and butter wrapped in pastry and baked until golden brown.)
Mujakovic serves panini and other sandwiches, soups and salads (antipasti, Greek salad, Italian salad, and grilled chicken on cous cous caponata.) Customers can get things hot to eat there or to go, and there is a cold case of packaged dishes to take home and heat. She also has a number of fresh-made desserts — German cake, baklava, tiramisu and lots of cookies. She just began to make gelatos and sorbets.
In the kitchen with Mujakovic is chef Robert (Bobby) Cone, who will oversee the bistro kitchen and run the Old European Café kitchen once it opens. He started his restaurant career at an Italian place in his hometown of Fairfield, Conn., where he made brick oven pizzas. A graduate of New England Culinary Institute in Vermont, he has worked in a number of restaurants around the country. His last job before the bistro was at the Concord Holiday Inn restaurant before Nonni’s moved in.
Cone pointed out that they use the best ingredients available. He makes the mozzarella, and roasts the beef and turkey for the sandwiches. The Italian cold cuts come from Italy. There is even Parmigiano-Reggiano in the table shakers.
“Our food is healthy because we use very good ingredients,” Mujakovic said. “We don’t use mayo or ketchup. Unless we make our own mayo we won’t use it. If people want homemade, affordable food, this is where they can find it. And it is made from our hearts.”