#105 Slovenia: dormouse-free palacinke at Cafe Marlene

Apparently, this type of European mousey is delicious when coated with honey and poppy seeds... but wouldn't the honey and poppy seeds dreadlock his fur?

Whenever I hang out with Slovenians, I learn something interesting.  As I sat around Café Marlene, a Slovenian-owned spot in Sunnyside, my Slovenian companions started reminiscing about their favorite Slovenian meals, which did not include Icelandic putrefied shark.  Their favorite Slovenian dishes did, however, include dormouse stew called obara, which is apparently a delicacy consumed only in the diminutive nation of Slovenia.

A dormouse is Europe’s outdoor version of a North American apartment mouse, except that the European variety is much fluffier, almost like a runty, short-tailed squirrel.  Apparently, dormice are also tastier than squirrels.  In ancient Rome, roasted dormice were considered a delicacy; they were raised in special enclosures, and served with a coating of honey and poppy seeds.  (Yes, you read that correctly.)  In the Middle Ages, dormice fell out of favor among the European elite, and were eaten only by desperate peasants.

Slovenian palacinke... without dormice, honey, or poppy seeds

Today, dormice are consumed only in Slovenia, but not necessarily by desperate peasants.  One of my Slovenian friends is the daughter of a renowned Slovenian dormouse hunter, who managed to catch enough dormice to make a full-length coat for his wife and several Russian-style hats for his friends and family.  Also, dormouse lard supposedly has healing properties, and is applied to the skin in an effort to heal bruises, rheumatism, and upset stomach.  I am not making any of this up.

Café Marlene, owned by a pair of Slovenian sisters, serves some hearty Slovenian-style crepes (palacinke) … but alas, roasted Slovenian dormouse is not among the available ingredients.  You can, however, get your choice of prosciutto, ham, spinach, roasted red peppers, pesto, feta cheese, bresaola, emmentaler cheese, tomatoes, or smoked salmon in your palacinke.

dessert crepe with chestnut cream... wait a sec, is honey-dipped dormouse considered an entree or a dessert?

They’re everything you could possibly want from a crepe:  fluffy, soft and thin, all at once. Café Marlene’s desserts are also fantastic, if not typically Slovenian—we inhaled a nutella-smeared croissant, a slice of pear tart, and crepes stuffed with a shockingly amazing chestnut cream spread.

I don’t get to say this very often in NYC, but Café Marlene is one of those rare, unhurried places where there is absolutely no pressure to eat and run.  You can sit around all night, drinking wine or tea or espresso, and nobody would ever think about looking at you funny, even if you stay past closing time.

Despite the limited menu and limited seating, Café Marlene is an unusually loveable NYC spots where time seems to stop.  Now if they could only add some roasted dormouse to the menu, I might be fully in love.

I somehow don't think that this American mousey would be all that tasty in a crepe, but it sure was fun to stick him on a train to Flushing.

Cafe Marlene on Urbanspoon

Cafe Marlene
4111 49th Street, Sunnyside, Queens
Subway: 46th-Bliss (7 train)

6 Responses to “#105 Slovenia: dormouse-free palacinke at Cafe Marlene”

  1. Petra says:

    Thank you for this lovely review; I am a Slovenian coming to New York in a week and will definitely try to make it there for a portion of palačinke.

    It is funny that I never heard of the dormouse “obara” (the name obara doesn’t mean dormouse stew; it means a type of soup or stew that may consist of a variety of ingredients). But I just googled it and asked my mom so I have to confirm that it indeed exists.

    But nothing is funnier than reading about your home country and its supposed traits from a foreign perspective. I always get the urge to hang up on every tiniest detail and tear it to pieces. But since I am nice, and there aren’t any heart-wrenching inaccuracies in your review, I will simply state one thing that bothered me: We never eat palačinke with salty ingredients like salmon or cheese. They are always eaten as a dessert or a playful dinner (kids are the biggest fans), best consumed in the congenial setting such as the seaside in the summertime, and the top three toppings are: nutella, marmelade and sugar soaked with lemon juice (squeezed directly on to your palačinka prior to rolling it – yes, we roll them up carpet-style, the triangle design looks more French to me). Another favorite is cottage cheese mixed with sugar and put in the oven for a few. So the type you described as not completely Slovene – the sweet type – is in fact much more characteristic as the savory one.

    I hope you enjoyed my lecture on palačinke and keep up the good work!

  2. Thank you for the lecture! It’s actually a lot of fun for me to hear from people who know far more about a particular country’s food than I do… and I’m sure that I’ve provided plenty of unintentional comedy for readers from around the world. I try to get my facts straight, but it’s hard to know whether a particular dish is truly authentic when I’m sitting in a restaurant in NYC.

    And for what it’s worth, Cafe Marlene never really presents itself as a “Slovenian” restaurant, and the palacinke are listed on the menu as simply “crepes.” My Slovenian friends indicated that they weren’t exactly the same as one would find in Slovenia, but I left that part out of the post, and instead chose to focus on the fact that they were really, really tasty. 🙂

    Enjoy your trip to New York, and thank you again for the comment!

  3. Joan says:

    I am so happy to learn that Slovenians don’t eat dormice! They are adorable.

  4. Valerie says:

    Next time you get a hankering for a Slovenian sweet, try potica (or povitica). It is a yeast bread that is filled with cinnamon, honey, raisins, and ground walnuts then rolled (like a jelly roll) into many thin layers. Truly delightful and rodent-free.

  5. Nina says:

    I think it is unfortunate that you feature that disgusting photo of crepe a la dormouse on what is otherwise a very positive review of a place I find delightful.
    Would you consider removing that photo, at least, if not also the description? What purpose does either one serve, if you like the cafe?

  6. What “disgusting” photo of “crepe a la dormouse” are you talking about? There’s a photo of a cute dormouse. And photos of some tasty dormouse-free crepes served at a place you find delightful. Perhaps you didn’t read carefully before offering a condescending lecture?

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