If you’re the sort of person who dives into a new place through food and drink, there’s a thing or two you should know about Zagreb cafés.
Kafić, Croatian for café, is a go-to place for drinks of all sorts. With their morning to midnight concept, they’re surprisingly avant guard with their drinks schedule. Coffee is served until wee hours just as spirits, like Croatian rakija, flow freely at the start of the day.
On a typical café’s menu, the usual line-up is orchestral rather than soloist: coffee and tea, soft drinks, wine, beer, spirits and sometimes cocktails. But if you’re looking to pair that dark espresso with a chocolate cake or craft beer with burger and chips, this is where the tune stops.
Because of a long tradition of eating at home, Croats haven’t missed food at cafés. The golden rule was: eat your breakfast or dinner at home, then meet friends for coffee or drinks.
But the winds of change are slowly stirring up. And they’re especially favourable for those who want more than a generic drink.
Cafés are showing a real passion for their brews, like Eliscaffe, run by the four-time Croatian barista champion Nik Orosi. This place where specialty coffees roasted on site are made to perfection and are sipped with equally sumptuous ‘Mak na konac’ desserts has redefined Zagreb coffee culture. Everywhere else in the city coffee is a drink; at Eliscaffe coffee is art.
Not long ago, expecting to have breakfast in a Zagreb café would end in disappointment. Locals either eat at home or storm a bakery before settling in a café. Fast-forward to today and you’ll find coffee places that serve up a breakfast feast.
In Velvet you can take your time with a gourmet prosciutto sandwich, cottage cheese with cream or a fluffy croissant. Jutro takes care of health food buffs with their breakfast menu of muesli and rice milk, fruit smoothies and vegetable juices.
The evening scene has spawned exciting hybrids where drinks and food are finally talking to each other.
If you’re a beer aficionado, the usual bar-cum-cafés may disappoint. By all means try the big brands Ožujsko and Karlovačko as a matter of learning about Croatia. But sophisticated craft beer is best enjoyed with some tasty grub. This is the specialty of Craft Room, where more than 150 beers are happily paired with simple food like beer stew, beer sandwiches or Istrian sausage cooked in beer. And while still in the neighbourhood, a tribute is due to ‘Medvedgrad’ – Zagreb first craft brewery where the rolls with pork scratchings and beer combo has been a mainstay from start.
Let’s talk about the drink of gods. It’s close to a sacrilege to drink wine without food. If nothing else, then at least a slice of cheese rounds up the experience. But don’t hold your breath for it in a typical café. Sherry’s Wine & Bites fixes things massively. Their menu is the traditional Croatian cuisine 2.0 – hearty meals, first-rate ingredients such as organic meat from the Čučković butcher’s, all prepared and served in an elegant tapas form. The choice of fine wines may be dizzying but luckily, in this place, you can trust your waiter’s recommendation. The explosion of specialized gastro places makes Zagreb a more exciting place. But still, there’s a good reason for a typical Croatian café to live on. With their broad menu of generic drinks, they’re a perfect hangout for a mixed bag of buddies. A cup of coffee for Tom, a shot of rakija for Dick and a pint of beer for Harry.