Sailing is one of those activities that always let you meet and get to know interesting people. Our friend Dennis and his lovely wife, Bise, in Vis are two of them.
We got to know Dennis when we docked for the first time at the island of Vis in Croatia, over eleven years ago.
We brought our chartered Jeanneau 49i sailboat to the quay, stern first, for a Mediterranean mooring and threw Dennis, who was the dock hand on duty, our stern docking lines. He gave us the lazy lines that we would attach to the bow cleats. There was a very short stone finger pier on the port side of the yacht and one of our crew members got in an argument with Dennis because she insisted on having a spring line to that finger pier.
Dennis kept on saying that it was not necessary and that with the stern docking lines and the lazy lines at the bow we would be just fine. With the fenders along the side, the yacht was totally secure. No overkill required…
The discussion became more heated and, as captain, I had to tell the crew member, who is a dear friend of mine, to tone it down. Once we were safely docked, I gave Dennis the boat documents, as is customary in Croatia, and apologized for the ruckus. He was very gracious about it and we chatted a bit. He mentioned that he and his wife had started a small Konoba or restaurant in their vineyard in the mountains of the island. Would we be interested in going there?
When it comes to food and wine, you can always count me in and we made arrangements for him to pick us up a bit later.
About one hour later, we boarded a beaten up van and headed up the mountain. The road zig-zagged up allowing us to have a great view over the harbor and the city below. We arrived at the vineyard and had to hike our way down from the road to the small establishment that they had recently opened and were welcomed by Dennis’ wife, Bise, a jovial Croatian women, and by her little daughter, Marina, who must not have been more than four years old and by Bise’s sister Dinka.
We were treated to a phenomenal traditional Dalmatian meal. Zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese and then deep fried, shark carpaccio, marinated sardine and anchovy fillets, local cheese and more delicious appetizers followed by a fabulous lamb stew dish called Peka. Big chunks of lamb with vegetables and potatoes are put in a deep round dish which is then shoved into a very hot hearth and covered by a heavy steel dome covered with hot ashes. After two hours, one of the most delicious lamb dishes you can imagine is served with a never ending supply of Dennis’ own white and red wines. Let us not forget the home made brandies infused with a variety of herbs…
Over the years, Konoba Magic (pronounced Magitz) has grown and has become one of the more popular restaurants on the island. We return religiously every year with our flotilla crew members. It is an annual gastronomical pilgrimage for us and we are always welcomed with open arms by Bise, Dennis and their parents. The restaurant is family operated and Maika (or grandma) is the Chef in the kitchen. She prepares all the meals from scratch while Juraj tends to the fire in the open hearth and makes sure that the Pekas are kept covered by the hot embers.
Dennis and Bise have become very successful and have benefited a lot financially thanks to their hard work. Dennis does not work as a dock hand any longer. We follow them on Facebook and are always very happy for them when we see them spending their winters in exotic places like Thailand and South Beach. When we first met them, their English was quite poor. Nowadays, we hear them discuss their menus in Italian, German and English with their ever increasing number of happy customers.
Dennis is a great guy and he will gladly share his knowledge of the fascinating history of the island. Vis has always been very strategic real estate during its history and especially during WWII and the post-war Tito years, when it was off-limits to outsiders. It is replete with abandoned fortifications, hidden tunnels and a formerly top-secret torpedo boat base. Dennis can tell you all about these places, but the history of Vis goes way back to even before the Greeks and the Phoenicians and you will readily find remnants from Roman and Byzantine times. Vis was also the setting for the “Greek” island in Mama Mia II.
The Wikipedia page is a must-read and is chock-full of interesting facts about this scenic island and its fascinating history.
If you ever go to Croatia, make it a point to go to Vis, either on a sailing yacht or by regular ferry from Split, and go look up Dennis and Bise at Konoba Magic. Tell them that we sent you and not onnly will you be treated like royalty but you will go home with an unforgettable memory of a unique gastronomic experience.
Capt. Jean De Keyser