For chef David Pruteanu, Little Danube, his restaurant in Ozark, Missouri, is deeply rooted in family history. Thirty-two years ago, Pruteanu’s father, Troyan, escaped Communist Romania into what was then Yugoslavia across the Danube River. Pruteanu, the youngest of 13 children, was only a few weeks old when his father made the journey. In 1987, Troyan moved to Union, Missouri, and his late wife, Viorica, and their children followed in 1990.
Although Pruteanu’s roots are in his family’s native Suceava, Romania, his childhood was spent in Missouri; he remembers summer jobs picking grapes at wineries in nearby Marthasville, and back at home, watching his mother prepare a range of Eastern European dishes. At Little Danube, which opened last July, that’s exactly what's inspiring Pruteanu’s cooking today.
Why did you focus on family recipes at Little Danube? The recipes I’m serving are mainly what I remember my mother cooking. She passed away three years ago, and this kind of connects me with her. I do it the way my family did it. Every Romanian makes it a little differently: However many houses there are, that’s how many styles there are to make it.
Tell us about your menu. I had been cooking French food for 12 years [before opening Little Danube, and] this is the food I missed. I do some things very traditionally, but others are more unexpected. The Balkan burger, for example, is inspired by ćevapi kebabs; I use a ćevapi sausage recipe as a model for the patty and I get Bosnian [somun] bread [for the buns]. And then it’s served with Amish farmer’s cheese and ajvar [a roasted red pepper condiment]. I make as much in-house as I can; it’s mainly just me in the kitchen.
What’s next for Little Danube? We’re thinking about adding a food truck in the next few months so that I can share some of the dishes we do at the restaurant in Springfield. That’s why we’re offering some new specials, too, like kolache and bierocks – to see how people will take it. We’re looking for one-handed meals, food that are grab-and-go.
What’s been the most rewarding part so far? We’re getting a lot of good reviews. People have said, “Wow, I have family or ancestors who came from Romania or that general area, and this is just like Grandma made – or better!” It’s just good comfort food. I wasn’t expecting it to be this busy, but I think the area was hungry for something different.
Little Danube, 519 N. 21st St., Ozark, Missouri, facebook.com/littledanube