Prime position to taste wild game in this region is Restaurant Gradina, in the very centre of old Muljava in Josipdol. This restaurant, chosen 14 times as one of the hundred best in Croatia, is famous for its game dishes, including deer, boar, roe deer, and bear, and for its lamb on the spit, such an essential part and brand of the mountainous Croatian gastronomy. Since 1995 this restaurant is proudly run by the family Pavlić.
We were welcomed with excellent homemade brandy (rakija) and with huge smile of Mrs Anita Pavlić, who spent whole time with us, talking about the traditional cuisine of the Josipdol region. Apart from the restaurant itself, the family also has beehives and first honey products are already produced. Every guest may expect to find a small honey gift. Bees usually make meadow honey, with beautiful yellow colour and sweet taste. This honey is also used for many desserts, mostly strudel, that house prepares for its guests.
Love for the family business is seen in every thought and recipe in this place. It is proud to offer domestic and homemade products, and to sit and dine in Gradina is almost as savouring the tastes of every Josipdol household. One such experience is to taste Miščević cheese, which blends superbly with the venison pate, beautiful and tasteful pate with spicy twist, and served on crunchy toast bread. Definitely an enjoyment by its own standard!
Gradina is proud on its boletus cream soup with sour cream, a rich and creamy and refreshing soup made with fresh boletus. But where the heart of guests really lies is stuffed roe deer with homemade polenta and gnocchi. And while roe deer can be praised by itself, according to a very subjective opinion, the polenta is top dish on the plate. The reason is simple; it is made in old way, using the power of the watermill, with rich taste and special granulate substance. It is made by a single woman in Josipdol, as undying memory of the old time. Polenta was once used throughout the day, tells us Anita Pavlić. It was staple food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Now it adorns game dishes, including the roe deer filled with carrots, pickles and bacon. Soon it will be served with fresh Ogulin sauerkraut. By itself, roe deer is full of taste and richly seasoned, but next to polenta and additionally gnocchi it makes several very recognisable and joyful tastes. Gnocchi are made from Lika potato, which is rich in starch, as the Lika environment has substantial difference between day and night. Thus, it is excellent for baking, but also for making gnocchi.
Our culinary journey was accomplished with help of beautiful Plavac of Ivan Dolac, one of the premium Croatian red wines, excellent for game dishes. Next to it, the restaurant offers famous wines from Ozalj-Vivodina wine area, notably Vrbanek. Awarded local blackberry liqueur of OPG Belavić is great addition to desserts because of its sweetness.
And Gradina cares also for its sweet tooth, especially strudels and štrukle, made with cheese, vegetables or mushrooms, or in sweet version with cranberries, blackberries, and walnuts. One of the more curious dessert is the carrot strudel, a quite special cake which has its tradition in the local area. The carrot is simmered in butter until it gets dry; double cream and milk cream is added, as carrot is tender in more fat. Occasionally vanilla is added to boost the flavour. This is really good dessert, especially if you are not fan of really sweet cookies.
By far, Gradina is among the best places on old Josephine road from Karlovac toward the sea, and very much worth of detour to your final destination.