In South City, a longstanding family-owned restaurant recently refreshed its interior and concept. Arber Café rebranded last May, offering counter service and a casual menu of savory and sweet Albanian cuisine, as first reported by St. Louis Magazine.
The concept comes from chef-owner Limoza Hoxha and her husband Hysem Hoxha, with help from their son and daughter, Serxhio and Eli. In 1997, the Hoxhas moved from Albania to St. Louis, and Limoza began working at Dominic’s Trattoria, where she learned valuable cooking skills.
“There, she gained a lot of experience in baking and pastry as well as Italian cuisine, which meshes very well with Albanian cuisine,” Serxhio says. “There’s a community of people from Albania called the Arbëreshë who migrated to Italy. They took both cultures and used all the fresh ingredients in the region to make delicious food, and we’re featuring those ingredients here.”
According to Serxhio, the Hoxhas remodeled the interior to help fulfill his mother’s dream of creating a cozy corner café for the neighborhood. The modernized design features refinished wood floors, framed images of Albania, potted plants and a walk-up counter with a chalkboard menu of vibrant fare.
Some of Limoza’s best-selling items are the ones she cooks at home for family gatherings. Her olive salad combines olive, onion, lemon, orange and olive oil. Another family favorite is Ali Pash rice, a special named after an Albanian warrior made up of Arborio rice, golden and black raisins, almonds and grilled chicken.
Arber Café's gyro deluxe is a popular pick among regulars with lamb and beef gyro meat, qofte (Albanian meatball), lettuce, tomato, Feta and housemade yogurt sauce. All the meats come from a local butcher shop located next door.
Sweets include made-to-order petulla, or pan-fried yeast dough drizzled with honey and pistachios. The dessert is a common Albanian breakfast item. Another authentic Albanian treat is zupa berati, a layered dessert made up of vanilla custard, chocolate custard, sheet cake, whipped cream and toasted almonds.
Limoza also draws from her pastry experience at Dominic’s with her tiramisu, featuring lady fingers dipped in coffee and layered with a whipped mixture of eggs, sugar and mascarpone cheese. Her housemade baklava is another popular item, and she takes care to preserve its delicate flaky texture and taste by adding syrup to it at the last minute.
To drink, choose from Chauvin Coffee drinks as well as Turkish coffee. A brunch menu is available on Sundays featuring items such as a three-cheese and spinach quiche, as well as French toast served with Feta cheese and jam, a Mediterranean omelet and a parfait with housemade kos (yogurt).
“The café showcases my mom’s passion for cooking. She loves to do it and wants to share it with others,” Serxhio says. “It’s something unique for the community to experience.”
Arber Café is open Tuesday through Saturday from 8am to 7pm and Sunday from 8am to 3pm.
Arber Café, 6955 Gravois Ave., Princeton Heights, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.833.6622, facebook.com/Arbercafestl