Customers love the traditional Eastern European food at Andrew Bucas’ restaurants so much that the meals convinced a few first-time travelers to take trips to Europe to get the full experience, the owner said.
Along with wife Laura, Bucas is the co-owner of Old Vilnius Café in Darien, which opened in November. The restaurant offers traditional Lithuanian and Eastern European food, while a deli and gift shop attached to the café also provide a variety of groceries, books and other Eastern European items.
Bucas said his first restaurant venture, Grand Duke's in Summit, started off mostly serving the local Lithuanian population when it opened eight years ago. Now, he says, the majority of Grand Duke's customers are non-Lithuanian. He has even won converts who used to stick to the burgers and sandwiches and now love the restaurant’s traditional Lithuanian food.
Grand Duke's was featured on Check Please! on PBS and ABC7’s Hungry Hound.
Bucas said he hopes Old Vilnius Café begins to draw diners interested in trying something new and experimenting with the Lithuanian food, which is homemade from scratch.
While the restaurant is popular with Lithuanian and Eastern Europeans living in DuPage County, particularly Naperville, Lisle and Lemont, he hopes his food strikes a chord with the larger population.
More customers are stopping in the Darien restaurant and deli, particularly to grab items at lunch, he said. The deli carries a number of items to grab and go, but potato pancakes and stuffed cabbage are two of the most requested items.
“I love just everyday the challenges and coming up with new ideas and new specials,” he said.
Weekends are the busiest time for the restaurant, he said. A recent Groupon upped the wait times for diners seeking a table on the weekend.
The restaurant’s menu offers standard fare, such as hamburgers, but the top-sellers are the breaded pork tenderloin and the Lithuanian combo, which features Lithuanian sausage with sauerkraut, potato sausage, a slice of Kugelis and zeppelins, which get their names for their shape. A zeppelin is a type of dumpling made from potatoes and stuffed with mince meat.
Items on the menu range in price from about $8 to $14 with a few items that are slightly pricier, including salmon in butter sauce for $17.99.
Bucas has a bakery and kitchen in Lemont where food and special cakes are prepared. The Shakotis, or the “King of Cakes,” has become known by different names around Europe and even caught on in Japan, he said.
Old Vilnius Café draws many customers from Lemont, which is home to the Lithuanian World Center. Families stop at the restaurant after church on Sundays, Bucas said.
After coming to the United States when he was 14, Bucas started working in the restaurant industry at a Lou Malnati’s. He worked for the pizzeria for seven years, starting as a dishwasher and rising through the ranks to manager. After learning the business inside and out, the Plainfield resident quit to start his own business.
Though he’s never been to cooking school, Bucas loves to cook. Though he has a chef on staff, he said many of the ideas for specials are his own or have come from older Lithuanian women who have years of experience cooking the cuisine.
If a customer has never tried Lithuanian food, they may be hesitant, but Bucas isn’t afraid of a challenge. He recommends people try and experiment with the food, and adds that many of the items are made with potatoes and pork.
“I had a customer [at Grand Duke's], he would get a sandwich or a burger every single day," he said. "After a month, I told him to try everything on the menu for free. Now, he loves everything on the menu and is a regular daily customer.”
Old Vilnius Café is located at 2601 75th St. Unit B, Darien. The café is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. The deli is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. Find them on Facebook, or visit the online gift shop.
For Easter, Old Vilnius Cafe is offering a prepared dinner, including salads, meat and hot dishes. Call to place and order in time for the holiday.