Igor Jurkovic and his family escaped the nihilism of war in Bosnia nearly 20 years ago, journeying from their home country through Croatia and Germany before establishing a new life in the United States. While the disquietude of their experiences in Bosnia has been eased with a new life and successful restaurant — downtown Lansing’s Restaurant Mediteran — the memories of a devastated homeland linger.
“The war was very rough, very violent,” Jurkovic said. “We didn’t have any other choice but to leave the country and look for safer place. We could either leave or stick around and die.”
He returned to Bosnia on vacation a month ago. "It’s changed now, but since we have found our peace here, it would be ridiculous for us to go back, since we got bad memories and everything else."
Jurkovic’s family came to the United States in 1999, unable to speak English. But within six years, they manifested the American dream into Restaurant Mediteran.
Helping the family move past its dolorous history has been the gem of a restaurant into which it pours its time and energy. Restaurant Mediteran has few peers in the Lansing area, from its clothed tables and plush interior to its gourmet menu, packed with homemade European cuisine. Jurkovic shows up every morning to prep with his father, Mirko Jurkovic, and his mother, Ljubica Jurkovic, who spends most of her day and evening in the kitchen, preparing plates one-by-one. A few other hands help with chores, like washing dishes, but Jurkovic swears only he and his parents touch the food. It’s a promise, he said, ensures high quality meals. "During the war, we moved to Croatia and then a little bit in Germany, and we worked with some Greek people in Germany,” Jurkovic said. “Basically, we took all those cuisines and combined [them] together.”
On the menus at Mediteran, 14 national flags, from the Czech Republic to Turkey, signify the restaurant’s pan-European flavors.
The Vienna Schnitzel ($11.99 at dinner) comes with pork loin (or chicken) blanketed with a mushroom sauce. The Austrianinspired dish features a bed of homemade noodles, called “schpetzle.” The dish is a work of art; an intricately sliced pear is perched at one corner, its soft, delicate flavor pleasantly contrasting the hearty pork and mushrooms. A wide spiral of lemon peel rests next to a peel of tomato, folded into the shape of a rose. Both are surrounded by three large basil leaves, which add another layer of color and flavor to the dish.
The house salad is equally invigorating, with mixed greens, shredded carrots and cabbage, maroon slices of beet and wedges of strawberries in a homemade vinaigrette.
Soups made fresh daily, more than a dozen sandwiches and salads and specials priced at $6.95 make up the lunch menu. A counter at the front offers the opportunity for a brief visit, where java connoisseurs can indulge in gourmet Italian coffees.
"I’ve always wanted to do this, run a restaurant," Jurkovic said. "You see a lot of people fail. It’s not just about opening up. The thing is to run a successful business, run something that really makes people happy. And that’s what we do; that’s what we like."
Restaurant Mediteran. 333 S. Washington Sq. 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. 4 p.m.-9 p.m. Saturday. (517) 372-1072.