One of the richest things about living in urban areas is the cultural influence of immigrants from various corners of the world. Many foodies search endlessly for the most "authentic" international cuisines, but some of the best types (and arguably more representative of the immigrant experience) are mixtures of foreign traditions and American influences, like New Jersey's Greek diners or San Francisco's burrito joints. They add texture to a city and give immigrants a familiar refuge while gently exposing other Americans to new cultures. Open since August, Two Brothers is an earnest family restaurant that appeals to both Balkan and American palates with meaty, stick-to-yer-ribs home cooking.
The Brothers' decor is stark, with lots of Formica and McDonald's-style floor tile from the previous Chinese-American establishment. But bamboo blinds, yellow paint and European pop music warm things up. Warmest of all is the manner of Mladen Kolundzija, who runs the front of house along with Slaven, who is, of course, his brother. Their uncle and aunt, Miroslav and Gordana Vlaski, own the business and staff the stoves.
The fare includes wide-ranging Baltic comfort food as well as a basic but well-executed grill menu that will appeal to everyone—well, everyone who eats meat. Apart from a couple of soups and a stew, there's little here for vegetarians—yet. The crew plans on creating a cheaper lunch menu, more veggie options and "specialties" soon. Start out with Serbian-style cornbread ($4.50): Sour cream makes it dense and zingy. For rainy evenings, the Hungarian goulash ($11), a beef, tomato and onion stew, is like a space heater for your insides. Simple side choices of mashed potatoes, rice or pasta reinforce the mom's-table feeling.
In the mood for a big hunk of meat? The pork chop ($9.50), served with fries, is tender and simply dressed with garlic and parsley. It's included in the mixed grill ($18), along with chevapi (spiced beef rolls), a Polish sausage and a pork kebab. You won't be able to finish the mountain o' meat yourself, but it's equally good straight from the fridge late at night. A dollop of ajvar, a preserved veggie-and-paprika sauce, adds a unique twist and wards off scurvy during long Eastern European (or Northwestern American) winters. The brothers just got their liquor license and currently serve corporate beer; they plan to add Eastern European brews and wines later.
Unlike trendy restaurants that beat the "exotic global cuisine" theme like a dead horse, Two Brothers succeeds because it's low-key and doesn't try too hard. It's authentic enough for immigrants looking for a taste of home, but not too weird for average white-bread Americans in search of lunchtime carry-out.
Two Brothers, 829 SE 39th Ave., 232-3424. 11 am-9 pm Tuesday-Thursday, 11 am-10 pm Friday-Saturday, 11 am-5 pm Sunday. $ Inexpensive.