This month with talked to Balkan Bakery owner Marija Pejkovic. If you haven’t visited the Balkan Bakery it’s probably not a surprise to Marija. The bakery is a hidden gem tucked away in a back corner on La Grange Road just south of 47th street. It’s worth a visit, and once you make the trip you’ll definitely be going back for more. You can visit the Balkan Bakery at 541 South La Grange Road, La Grange, IL 60525
The History of Balkan Bakery
[Brian]: I stumbled across your great shop purely by accident, and I’m glad I found it. Tell me about the history of your shop, when you started.
[Marija]: We get that a lot! We are a made from scratch bakery and specialty store that carries all kinds of hidden treasures. In 2007 my mother-in-law Olga Igic started Balkan Bakery here in La Grange. She had the desire to provide quality, made from scratch confections inspired by the traditional classics from the Balkans. With her passion for baking and 35 years of industry experience, we wouldn’t be what we are today without her. Fast forward to 2020, the family tradition carries on. As Olga’s daughter-in-law, I have had to fill some big shoes, taking over the bakery and continuing to provide the same quality and craftsmanship my mother-in-law has built. Visiting Balkan Bakery today, you can expect to cure your nostalgia from back home, get a dose of Balkan hospitality, culture and tradition. You can find vegan and gluten free treats, as well as a large selection of Eastern European specialty imports.
What is Burek?
[Brian]: For those that may not be familiar with products from the Balkans, can you tell me about some the products and baked goods that would be a good introduction to the cultures and tastes of the region?
[Marija]: We are very well known for having the best burek in the Chicagoland area. For those of you that do not know what burek is, it is a savory hand stretched filo dough that is filled with various fillings. At Balkan Bakery you can expect to find burek with ground beef or feta cheese baked fresh by the hour or pies (pita) filled with feta cheese, mushroom, potato or spinach & feta cheese mixed together.
A great pairing to the burek that we make here from scratch is our homemade kefir or sour milk. Having a slice of burek or pita for breakfast or lunch from us will hold you over for the whole day. It is a very hearty, filling traditional breakfast from the Balkans.
As for our made from scratch confections, be sure to try the Jaffa Cake for a burst of chocolate and apricot flavor, or the Kinder Cake if you are looking for candied walnuts and meringue. Our baklava is also a customer favorite using premium California grown lightly roasted walnuts. Our customers love to stop by for a slice of cake and illy coffee, for their afternoon pick me up!
We make over 20 different small cookies that we sell by the pound that are comprised of very rich ingredients, such as hazelnuts, fine coconut, walnuts and gourmet chocolate. Many of our small cookies are vegan (egg and dairy free). You can also expect to find that some of these small cookies are gluten free.
These small cookies are very popular during our Saint Holiday season that runs from October-February. We sell hundreds of these mixed cookie platters year round. They are not only great for our Balkan Saint Holidays, but they have become very popular for graduations, birthday parties, weddings, baby showers, Christmas, Easter and New Years Eve.
What’s for Dinner?
[Brian]: If you are taking one thing home from the bakery for your own family, what would it be?
[Marija]: It would have to be a whole burek, hands down! It can be served as a whole meal for the family. A great solution for breakfast, lunch or dinner for all. The whole pie of burek is 12 inches and it can be cut in 4ths, 8ths or squares. You can call ahead and have us bake a fresh one, which takes about 35 minutes or you can pick up a frozen one to bake at home, at your own convenience.
It’s a Great Time To Visit Balkan Bakery
[Brian]: I’m excited to see the Bakery open again as businesses reopen. What kind of hours and services are you currently offering
[Marija]: During the stay at home order in March 2020, and through the whole pandemic, we found a way to still be there for our customers, providing them with a place that they could buy their necessities such as flour, oil, rice and beans (which we all know were hard to find during the food shortages that were happening at all the grocery stores around us). We were always fully stocked and able to have all these items in stock for our customers.
We offered takeout throughout the whole pandemic and delivery for our burek and desserts. This period was also a great time that forced us to reinvent ourselves, just as so many other businesses were forced to do in order to offer what consumers asked of. We did not let anything stand in our way. We adjusted to the circumstances and made the situation work in our advantage.
Our hours of operation are Tuesday-Friday 8am-4pm, Saturday 8am-3pm and Sunday 8am-2pm. Monday’s we are closed. We have a beautiful outdoor seating area and two tables inside that adhere to the social distancing guidelines provided by the State of Illinois and the Illinois Department of Public Health. At Balkan Bakery you can dine-in, take out or choose delivery through GrubHub, Uber Eats or DoorDash.
Supporting Local Businesses
[Brian]: As you know lots of local residents as well as business owners have been trying to support local businesses as they re-open. Do you have any favorites or new businesses you’ve discovered recently?
[Marija]: After a long, hardworking day at the bakery, our family loves to go to Prasino or Luccas for a beautiful family dinner. These two anchor restaurants of La Grange have outstanding food and service. At the farmers market, which we attend weekly, we have discovered Bloom3. We bought a beautiful green plant and black pot that is sitting inside our bakery, on our dessert display case. Remember to shop local and support all of these business in La Grange, as your support now is more valuable than ever.