One of my favorite pictures from Croatia is an iPhone snapshot: Ted and Tony, chilling on the Drasnice waterfront with afternoon drinks and faux-gardettos.
At this point in the trip, we were winding down from our Italian race, grateful to show up in a little town of 200 people and be greeted by travel friends Meg and Tony who could show us the best of the sleepy beachfront bar, afternoon espressos, and Adriatic sunsets and also make time for an adventure or two.
After a solid series of restful days spent within a one kilometer radius of downtown Drasnice, Croatia, we set out northward to share an evening with the Landing Standing duo, visiting the international port city of Split its ancient ruins, setting eyes on St. Duje’s oldest-in-the-world cathedral, built around 305 AD as a mausoleum for Roman emperor Diocletian, and UNESCO Heritage Site of Diocletian’s Palace. After the jaunt around the city, the real fun began when we sat to enjoy a fine Croatian meal and then later receive an introduction to Croatian wine, cheese, and seafood from local tourism company Secret Dalmatia.
The first ride north: mostly uneventful. We rode the afternoon school bus from Drasnice to Makarska, enjoying the view out the back of the bus when the driver lost a hubcap and needed to run back into the highway to claim his part, and watching junior highers wonder at us out of the corners of their eyes. The second connecting ride from Makarska to Split: proper wheels and beautiful coastline views.
The waterfront in Split is a mixture of overpriced ice cream shops, palm trees, and loveseats facing each other with tables between. (I’m secretly a fan of the loveseat bit; makes outdoor restaurant dining extra-comfy.)
But we followed Meg’s nose (and list of top eats in the city) to a restaurant away from the main stretch, and the little side street spot didn’t disappoint.
Our waiter brought a plate of the day’s catch out to the table to give us our choice, then whisked the platter back to the kitchen and reappeared a little while later with multiple courses of flaky, flavorful fish.
Here in Dalmatia, the lower region of Croatia slivered just between Bosnia and the Adriatic, seafood is king, and simple recipes show of the best of the land and sea.
Tony and Meg, dining partners extraordinaire…
…and the two of us cheeseballs.
After our feast at Konoba Matejuska, we were picked up by Alan and Ivanna from Secret Dalmatia. Tony and Meg met Alan, founder of Secret Dalmatia, before our arrival in Croatia, and they’d spent time learning about his tourism company and the way he’s built custom itineraries and excursions through his own network of friends and family.
Tonight was no exception: he escorted us to the front door of a little wine shop run by his friend, a tall and smiling man named Igor. Klub Gurmana i Hedonista (the club of gourmands and hedonists) was the scene of the night’s unfolding of tales and tastes and stories of Croatia.
We started first with cinnamon hinted fortified wine Vino Letto, moved on to a white Marastina followed by an unregistered Vugava (a “garage wine” equivalent to a home brewer’s product only available through underground sales), then finished with Plavac, a featured example of Croatia’s famed full-bodied zinfandel.
A delectable appetizer plate of Croatian seafood and cheese pairings really made the tastings pop: salted anchovy wrapped goat cheese, anchovies marinated in local vinegar and wine, tiny red peppers bursting with melt in your mouth sheep cheese, black truffle cow’s milk cheese, and tasty little Mediterranean shrimp.
Interesting the stories that came from the night’s exchanges.
From the sounds of it, though Croatia is teeming with fresh food in abundance, imports from China undercut the market making it difficult at times to find quality produce in local restaurants. For example, some of the world’s finest garlic is grown near Trogir, Croatia, but the bleached out papery white heads are shipped in bulk from far off lands and replace the local delicacy more often than not.
It is good to find places like Igor’s shop, located just down the street from where his grandfather was born, where there is pride in heritage and a deep appreciation for the gifts of the region, where food and drink are cherished gifts to share with friends and give to foreigners as an offering of friendship.
We capped the night of with a sip of Igor’s carob brandy, toasting flavors and hospitality of Croatia and a lovely night shared with traveling friends and kindhearted hosts.
Lesson of the night: spend time with friends, celebrate good food, and support the local producers, farmers, and fishermen of your region, wherever you may be.
Thanks to Meg and Tony and to Secret Dalmatia for inviting us along on for an evening of Croatian food and wine. For more details on our visit, you can check out Landing Standing’s Night of Living Like Anthony Bourdain.
For a try at our amazing fish dinner:
Tomica Stine 3., Split, Croatia