TRAVERSE CITY — When the craving for comfort food hits, and you've just got to have something wholesome, substantial and satisfying, you can do one of two things: Get out the pots and pans and start cooking or head to Little Bohemia in Traverse City for an ethnic Bohemian dinner. Owner Nancy Freund is simmering up some ultimate comfort food using authentic Czech recipes for slow-roasted pork with rich apple pork gravy, light-as-a-feather dumplings, sauerkraut and homemade applesauce.
Earlier this year, Freund decided to take Lil Bo's Pub and Grill back to its original family-friendly tavern roots and started by restoring its original name, Little Bohemia. The business is celebrating its 80th year and will hold a party Wednesday, Nov. 21.
"After the name change, people came in asking, 'Where's the Bohemian food?'" Freund said. "That's when I started asking patrons and area residents to send me their Bohemian recipes."
Ralph and Maureen Cerny of Traverse City were happy to oblige. Ralph Cerny said that when it comes to traditional, home-cooked comfort food, the Czech recipes he remembers his mother bringing to the table fit Freund's needs.
"It's 100 percent Bohemian food," Cerny said.
Czech cuisine is considered heavy and filling. Basic staples such as wheat, potatoes, milk, meat, sauerkraut and onions became imperative as a revolution-weary Central European nation was on the front lines of World War II and later caught in the advancement of communist aggression.
Cerny said he didn't give a second thought to taking his mother's recipes to Little Bohemia.
"Maureen got out mother's handwritten recipes and actually cooked a sample meal and we talked about them with Nancy," Cerny said.
Freund said the roast pork dinner the Cernys passed along has become a permanent house specialty at Little Bohemia. Freund makes the entire meal from scratch, slow roasting the pork loin in a pan with kosher salt, pepper and caraway seeds, then adding a half-cup of apple juice. Maureen Cerny showed her the art of dumpling making, and apples for the homemade applesauce come from local farms.
Ralph Cerny said the meal is traditionally accompanied by beer, the national drink of the Czech Republic, and recommends Pilsner Urquell brewed in the city of Pilsen in the western Bohemian region of the Czech Republic as a perfect choice.
Freund believes she may have found a niche for her revamped restaurant and would like to expand the menu with more ethnic Bohemian items like chicken and dumplings.
"We receive many accolades," she said. "People will stop in and say they heard or read that the food was good here."
Roast Pork (Veprová Pecene)
1 T. vegetable oil
1 T. prepared mustard
2 T. caraway seeds
1 T. garlic powder, or more if you'd like
1 T. salt
1 t. ground black pepper
2 lbs. pork roast
1 medium onion, chopped
½ c. beer (or water)
1 T. cornstarch
2 T. butter
Mix the vegetable oil, mustard, caraway seeds, garlic powder, salt and pepper and rub over the pork roast. If there's time, let it sit about 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325°. Lay the onions in a large roasting pan. Pour in the beer. Put the roast on top of the onions in the pan. Cover pan with foil. Adding a few cloves of garlic is optional.
Put pan in heated oven for one hour to 90 minutes, basting with the natural juices frequently and turning meat over while baking.
Save the juices from the pan and add the cornstarch and butter. Throw in a saucepan and simmer until it thickens. Pour over pork and dumplings.
Dumplings (Houskový Knedlík)
4 c. all-purpose flour
¼ t. baking powder
1 t. salt
2 large egg yolks
1﻿½ c. milk
4 c. (about 10 slices) good-quality white bread, crusts removed, and cubed into ½-inch pieces
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks and milk. Pour into bowl with flour. Work the dough with a Danish dough whisk, your hands or by machine using the dough hook until it no longer sticks to the bowl. Cover and let stand an hour.
Put a large stockpot or pan of salted water on to boil. Work the bread cubes into the batter until well incorporated. Using floured hands, shape the dough into three or four rolls that are about 8 inches long and 2½ inches wide. When the water is boiling, carefully slip the rolls into the water, giving them a stir so they don't stick. Reduce heat, cover and cook 10 to 15 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, remove one dumpling from the pot after 10 minutes and test for doneness by cutting through the middle of the dumpling with a thread or thin knife. If it is not raw, remove the dumplings one by one and slice into ¾-inch pieces again with a thread or sharp knife. Repeat until all dumplings are removed from the water and sliced.
Serve warm with gravy. To reheat leftover dumplings, place the slices in a steamer basket and steam a few minutes until soft. Leftovers are delicious browned in butter and sprinkled with sugar.
Simple Sauerkraut (Zeli)
4 slices bacon, sliced into small strips
1 lb. sauerkraut, with juice
1 medium chopped onion
Salt and pepper to taste
1 t. caraway seeds
2 t. cold water
1 t. cornstarch
Sugar and vinegar to taste
Fry bacon in a small pan until evenly browned. Set aside. Fry chopped onion in butter until translucent. Add sauerkraut to saucepan, cook until tender. Add bacon and season with salt, pepper and caraway seeds.
Stir together the cornstarch and water; mix into the sauerkraut, and simmer for a few minutes before removing from the heat. Add sugar and vinegar to taste.
For dessert try these traditional pancakes.
Pinch of salt
3 T. sugar
2 c. milk
2 c. flour
¼ c. butter for pan
Jam, fresh fruit or even Nutella for spreading
Beat eggs with salt, sugar, milk and flour until smooth. Heat a non-stick frying pan and brush with butter. Pour a thin layer of batter into the pan, spreading it to cover the base. Pancakes should be very thin.
Fry on both sides until golden brown. Spread with filling of your choice and roll into a tube. Sprinkle with powered sugar or add whipped cream and a cherry and be creative.