Česma is a picturesque park from the 19th century, where one of the numerous tributaries of the Cetina River springs. As a gathering place, it had great importance in the life of the people of Vrlika and inspired the writer Milan Begović to write the libretto for the most popular Croatian opera "Ero s onoga svijeta". Therefore, it is very appropriate that the restaurant in that park, the only one in Vrlika, is called "Ero", and it is even more appropriate that it is run by the Lelas family, which has won first place in the world competition for the preparation of Vrlika uštipak (local fritters) on several occasions!
We tasted the fritters and convinced ourselves of their deliciousness. The secret of making the champion uštipak is not revealed, but Mario Lelas tells us how it is prepared: "We bake it in homemade lard, mix it with a food processor (not a mixer), and add homemade brandy. They must not be too fatty, but should be a little crispy". He learned to make uštipak from his mother, and every Vrlika family has its own way of making them, and no two are the same. Lelas compete every year, and regularly win prizes in a fierce battle. We tried these fritters ourselves and realised that no one can remain indifferent!
Six members of the Lelas family take care of the restaurant under the owner and chef Martina Lelas. For the fourth year, they have been running the only restaurant in Vrlika, popular among the residents of the town and their guests. Most of the ingredients come from Lelas' household, which is located on a hill near Vrlika. We talk with Mario Lelas, the younger member of the family, while enjoying a top-quality domestic Williams pear brandy (viljamovka). In addition to being a champion in making of Vrlički uštipak, Mario is also a bocce champion, and he proudly shows us the bocce court called "zog" in Vrlika.
The Lelas Family keep pigs, from which they make their prosciutto, and they also keep black Slavonian pigs, which are much fatter. Prosciutto from black Slavonian pig has up to 40 per cent more fat, and crackers are also made. We tasted excellent prosciutto prepared according to the Dalmatian recipe, meaning without additives, lightly smoked and dried in the wind. Lightly salty and with a dull red colour, it wins the hearts of gourmets who will also notice the masterful cuts. It was served with cheese, olives and tomatoes.
Everyone comes to Ero. Brunches and ready-made meals are offered during the day, and lambs and suckling pork are baked when ordered in advance. It is obvious that the restaurant hosts weddings, christenings, birthdays and parties. Grill and pizza are also popular, and we got a huge amount of grilled meat for which we had to work hard. In merciless clashes with the body, the Lelas family's homemade wine helped us. We may have drunk too much of it, but it was good for us because it reveals another charm of this family. Perhaps they will also plant their own vines, so the wine of the house will be entirely domestic. Tomo Lelas, Mario's father, is not kidding when he says that grapes can be made into wine!
We ask him what the family prepared for him to eat in his childhood. "Bread and milk was given to me by my grandmother when I was little, and that's what I loved the most," Tomo Lelas tells us about his culinary memories. In addition, he was delighted with the pan-fried potatoes topped with eggs. With eggs from domestic chickens, we will make this dish ourselves at home! And until then, there is no choice but to stop by the Ero restaurant:
Put česme 4, 21236, Vrlika
Photos: Taste of Adriatic & Restaurant Ero