Driving around South Side neighborhoods you'll notice quite a few old school taverns—the kind of places inside brick buildings with just a few windows and an old fashioned beer sign still up from when the bar first opened. I've been through many of these establishments, and you get a totally different perspective of Chicago than the norm many are used too. Over on the Southeast Side you'll find a few of my favorites, including Loncar's Liquors, South Shore Inn, and Small World Inn, which is today's stop on the tour.
Sitting on 106th a couple blocks east of the river, Small World's history goes back a few generations. It's been a local haunt for drinks, chit chat, and Yugoslavian food, specifically the countries that eventually became Serbia and Croatia. It did however close for a certain period of time a few years back before the current owners re-opened it without changing too much. They kept most of the charm and the menu, but made sure the necessary duties to keep a place up and running were met.
Besides booze flowing, the one thing most of these South Side taverns have in common is really friendly folks behind the counter. The bartenders at Small World Inn are no different. The menu has tavern favorites like a house burger, which is hand-patted beef with bacon, grilled onions, jalapeños, and cheese. But you really want the old world staples.
Start off with an order of Ćevapi, a popular bar snack in countries throughout southeast Europe. They're grilled minced meat kebabs that are traditionally served with chopped onion and kajmak—he latter being a creamy dairy product from Turkey that pairs great with the kebabs when spread on some pita bread and wrapped around one. They go perfect with a pilsner.
The menu has a few of other old world dishes, but the best thing is their Saturday lamb sandwich special ($10.95). I knew I had to try one when I got a whiff of another patron's plate. They use thinly sliced lamb, which is roasted using just olive oil and a little bit of salt, so the natural flavor really comes through. That only gets enhanced with the gravy they spoon on after it's assembled. It comes served with lettuce, onion, tomato, and a smear of kajmak on some fresh bread that's able to hold the whole thing together . The result is a fantastic tavern sandwich. I find it much like the surroundings: there's nothing fancy about it, but it's very welcoming, especially on one's belly. Mary need not enter.