Among the many touristic places on the island of Krk, Kornić is somewhat side-lined although it is situated just above the beautiful marina of Punat Bay, interesting also for the islet Košljun, the peaceful retreat of the Franciscan order. This is not necessarily a bad thing, though. Kornić is attractive in its peace and rural beauty, featuring small churches and chapels, centuries old olive groves, and an ethno-house presenting the life of sheep shepherds and olive growers through the centuries.
For our gastronomy minds, always focused on finding good food with spectacular food history and foodways, Kornić means only one thing: lamb! It is not a coincidence that we came to Kornić during the Days of Krk Lamb and Cheese, two signature products of the largest Croatian Adriatic island, to which local olive oil and Žlahtina wine adds up perfectly. Coincidentally or not, it is exactly Kornić that combined one of the best lamb and cheese on the whole island. Sheep roam freely on the karstic meadows and between the olive trees. In winter, one should be careful when driving through the magistral way from town of Krk to Punat and Baška, as sheep act as traffic controller, although with their own rules. Don’t guess twice who has advantage on the road here!
In summer, though, sheep are more likely to be found beneath the olives, grazing the grass and bleating quietly. Maybe they are trying to avoid the unavoidable; month of May is the high season for island lamb, and local varieties may be found in the only tavern in Kornić: Konoba Marea. This stone gastronomic paradise is situated just across the small Church of St. Jacob. Its owner, Mr. Damir Jurković is a jolly and friendly person, originally coming from Slavonski Brod in continental Croatia, but for the last two decades lives on the island. He is experienced restaurateur, with an excellent understanding of a modern kitchen utensils. In a rather small kitchen, his staff use shocker, convection vapor ovens and utensil for oil filtration; things even large hotel kitchen would be envious for.
No wonder, then, the food tastes excellent and pure. No additions, no nonsense, just pure tastes of an ingredient. We realised this immidiatelly after tasting appetizer, with meaty and mild prosciutto, beautiful octopus salad (favourite seafood appetizer on the Northern Adriatic), and Krk Cheese. The cheese comes both from the local dairy Magriž and from the cheese makers in and around old town of Vrbnik. Lightly smoked cheese fits perfectly with Ivan Katunar’s Žlahtina, original white wine from Vrbnik.
Outside the sun burns relentlessly but we enjoy our visit to the Konoba Marea immensely. In jolly talk with Mr. Damir and his kitchen staff we find out how Kornić spreads here and there, with ever lasting desire to come to the sea front but always keeping with tradition never to cross the line of olive groves, just above the magistral way. Here, around centuries old church of St. Krševan, overlooking the Punat Bay, one may feel the spring jumping into summer. However, spring brings quite special delicacies, particularly lamb.
Lamb that we had in Marea was just perfect example of old-style lamb roasted on a spit. Its crusty skin hides beneath wonderful soft and aromatic meat, with a distinctive flavour of lamb that used to gaze the karstic meadows looking for various Mediterranean herbs. Just divine! Don’t be surprised if island lamb is thinner and with less fat. The area where this lamb lives is different from continental or mountainous lamb sorts, that need fat to keep warm in winter and that is at least half a year closed and fed in stalls. But don’t worry, for those who would die for a strip of clear white lamb fat, you could find it under the skin. On the island of Krk sheep roam the open countryside, with spectacular views - who knows if they enjoy these views too?! Simply added to lamb are potatoes, but what a potato that was! Soft and full of flavour, it blended perfectly with lamb and additional litre of Žlahtina!
Marea is not only known for lamb, but also for pork ribs, apparently very favourite among the locals and guests alike. The tavern is open in the tourist season, starting always with Easter holidays and ending sometime in October. Too bad, as the tavern would be a perfect spot for various brunches (marenda) combining many Krk’s lamb and sheep recipes, but also other occasional winter and autumn foods typical for this part of the Adriatic. The kitchen’s use of excellent utensils keeps the meat juicy and balanced, as sometimes one can find quite dry roasted lamb. Not here!
Sweet finish of our visit was dedicated to the apple and carob (rogač) cake with chocolate topping. Excellent combination hides almost unrecognisably carob that tends to stay as an aftertaste. Truly a bite everyone could afford after having a lamb feast. If you want to visit a restaurant with experienced staff and good cooking, don’t look far from Marea; just be careful, as others have realised that before us and now the booking of a table is highly recommended!