...A Rustic Castle "Cka Ka Qellu"
Once upon a time, there was a castle. In a teeny city next to New York City. Inside, it had beautiful white walls with stone, and beautiful black wrought-iron decorations, and even a romantic balcony. Its ceilings were high, and the dim light from the chandeliers shone down in a dream. And underneath, was a world of delectable cuisine. Think ground lamb and veal dumplings, richly seasoned stuffed peppers, and clay-oven bread called “buke shtepie” – a symbol of hospitality and friendship. Yes, welcome to Albanian restaurant Cka Ka Qellu. Welcome to the gorgeous Balkan Mountains of southeastern Europe.
Not just about food, Cka Ka Qellu, is a two thumbs-up restaurant “experience.” From the ambiance, the staff (including some truly fab vocalists!), and of course the food, it was all so authentically delicious. My friend and I were castle-bound on a recent Saturday night, and given the chilly weather, we sat “inside” the castle. But had it been a warm summer night, for sure we would’ve sat outside, on what I like to call the castle’s “veranda” – a sweet pavilion with a lattice of flowers and festive lights. So gorgeous and serene. And yes, rustic.
On this night, inside at our cozy deuce table, we were presented with a “Thoroughly Modern Mille” electronic QR code menu. Medieval castle? Meet this 21st century little city. Loved it.
For starters, my friend and I ordered the aforementioned traditional Albanian bread. It came with a thick white dip that sported teeny sausage meatballs. Now at face value, you’re reminded of your friendly “country fried steak gravy” given the white color. But, being a different ethnic cuisine than down-home Southern, this Albanian dip definitely elicited my curiosity. And my verdict post-first bite? Wonderfully tasty. The dip was rich and hearty, smooth and filling, and it went perfectly with the warm, puffy, oven-baked discs of Albanian bread. Delish.
For dinner, I ordered the “sarma” – cabbage leaves stuffed with ground veal, rice, and vegetables. Then add in traditional Albanian seasoning that is perfectly light and not spicy, and this dish was “out of this world” sophisticated and good. Even better, it was served in a “tava” – a cute clay disc. As for my friend, she ordered a non-tava dish “qofte” – meatballs with ground veal, crushed red pepper, and light Albanian seasonings.
Cka Ka Qellu hit all the right flavor notes, and we enjoyed our meal alongside some dreamy live singers who were hitting their own superbly melodious notes. I wish I spoke Albanian, so that I could understand the lyrics! In any case, I definitely hope to return to this Albanian treasure of a castle sooner rather than later.
I’d love to try a ton more food, and an Albanian beverage or two? Count me in. They looked so tantalizing, all gazing out at us on the e-menu. My friend and I vowed to come back, maybe on a Saturday afternoon, and cozy on up to the long bar for a few lllooooooongggg drinks. Thank you, Cka Ka Qellu. It’s been a few years since I’ve sampled a new ethnic cuisine. This restaurant “experience” was absolutely worth it.