Happy marriage of Croatian, Vietnamese at Sunset Pho Caffe

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Finding common ground in the kitchen can be a challenge, especially when one spouse is from Eastern Europe, and the other from Southeast Asia.

But a couple on Chicago's Far North Side is doing just that, integrating highlights from both of their native countries on their menu.

The menu at Sunset Pho Caffe reads like a greatest hits from Vietnam and Croatia. And even though the effort is a form of marital compromise, it hasn't completely altered things.

In fact, if anything, the inclusion of Eastern European sausages with Vietnamese spring rolls and sandwiches seems to be a pretty tasty match.

Spring rolls dominate most Vietnamese menus, but at Sunset Pho Caffe in the Arcadia Terrace neighborhood on the city's Far North Side, they look slightly different. That's because in place of the usual shrimp or pork, you can get them with cevapcici, the Croatian beef sausage.

"I cannot just say only my food, I have to please my husband too. So I want the people to know this place is from both of us," said Ngoc Stakic, the co-owner of the restaurant.

And both husband and wife influence the menu. I first met them at last month's Strange Foods Festival, where they served head-on seafood and tiny, delicate half-moon cakes embedded with shrimp to a pretty adventurous crowd.

Back at the restaurant, they stuff cevapcici into the French bread-based sandwiches called banh mi, which also have mayo and liver pate shmeared on the inside, along with pickled carrots, daikon and cilantro.

As for the traditional Croatian platters of cevap, arriving with traditional spreadable cheese and red pepper sauce, they offer that same French bread, instead of the usual pita. At first, those Croatian customers weren't pleased.

"They say 'no, you do the wrong thing. You have to eat the pita bread.' I say when you come to food to eat, nothing wrong or right. You have to create it. And if you don't try this, how can you know it's good or not?" said Stakic.

That willing attitude is a must, for her deep bowl of rice noodles, embedded with crispy egg rolls, shrimp and vegetables, dressed in a homemade nuoc mam, or fish sauce.

"With the egg roll, shrimp, white rice noodles, lettuce, bean sprouts, comes with my mom's nuoc mam and good. People love it," she said.

In this week's Extra Course, Steve shows you how to eat one of the classic dishes at the restaurant. Hint: you get to use your hands.

Sunset Pho Caffe
5726 N. Western Ave.
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