Pekárna is a Serbo-Croatian word for “bakery,” so it’s a little puzzling as to why Dean O’Neill (an avionics expert by trade) gave his delightful new restaurant on the Upper West Side the name when he describes the place as a “New American” restaurant, cocktail and event venue. There’s no longer a bakery on the premises, but there are several Slovenian dishes to make Pekarna New York unique from most any restaurant in the neighborhood. Which is even odder since O’Neill is from Australia and Chef Kamal Hoyt, formerly at Ocean and Daniel, from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. For some reason, it also clicks.
The enterprise reminds me, then, of the episode in Seinfeld when Jerry undertakes to advise Pakistani restaurateur Babhu Bhat to stop serving everything from lasagna to roast turkey on his menu and to concentrate on Pakistani food. Of course, it turns out to be a disaster because back in 1991 no one was interested in Pakistani food. I suspect it would very be different today, so I urge O’Neill to add more and more dishes from Slovenia, with whose food he fell in love. Indeed, he had hoped for an acclaimed Slovenian chef to come aboard at the beginning, but Covid put the kibosh on that idea for the present.
That said, I was as happy with the non-Slovenian dishes as with those that are, not least a really excellent pumped-up burger of wagyu beef, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, house-brined cucumber, pickled onions and BBQ sauce on a toasted Kaiser bun topped with a fried onion ring. The appetizer portion of French fries with various dipping sauces is irresistible and definitely worth ordering for the table.
The two rooms are composed of a bar with tables and a dining section, set with Bosnian furniture and vintage glass chandeliers. There are four different event spaces downstairs, with the Dragon room featuring a Perrier-Jouët Champagne Bar.
I asked Chef Hoyt to focus on the Slovenian dishes, so we began with chicken croquettes with onion in a rich, flavorful chicken broth ($8). Others included lamb meatballs with a red sauce of tomato and spices ($16) and crispy wild boar with rice, mustard and sweet chili sauce ($6), and the spices and seasoning evoke their Slovenian provenance. Žepki are fat Slovenian pastries ($7-$8) like pierogi, typical of Eastern European pastries and always heartwarming. There are four slider options of wagyu beef, chicken, mushrooms and salmon ($6-$7), and colorful linguine with cracked pepper, artichoke, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, honey, Parmesan cheese and a spritz of lemon juice tossed at the table ($22), a light dish with both tang and the sweetness of early autumn.
Among several delectable entrees, the best is the Slovenian-style herb crusted rack of lamb with a light potato soufflé, roasted Brussels sprouts, a carrot cream and a rich, dark reduction of Slovenian red wine ($32).
Many cultures have their version of fried chicken, and here it’s done “Island style,” with a dash of Kamal’s spicy Cajun breading, milk, more hot sauce, chicken and garlic potato mash and served as a thigh ($5) or breast ($7).
Desserts are expensive ($15-$18) but large enough to share, so, for sure, order the Slovenian apple pie with vanilla gelato, or the Kremšnita custard cake with a passion fruit glaze.
Kudos for Pekarna in listing several impressive Slovenian wines now in the market, including Sauvignon Blanc 2018; Brutus 2016, Primorje Brda; and Marjan Simčic ̌“Selecija” Pinot Noir Goriska Brda.
So, while Pekarna is a good balance of American, Caribbean and Slovenian food cultures, I suspect that a lot of prospective clientele will be most interested in the last. But by all means order the French fries.
PEKARNA NEW YORK
954 Amsterdam Avenue
Open daily for dinner; Sat. & Sun. for brunch.