The Skeptical Diner: The Russian Piroshki & Tea House

Plenty of people (including Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl and, later, Alton Brown) have told the story of Linda and Nikolai Alenov, the couple who opened the Russian Tea House on University Avenue in 1978. So let’s skip the anecdotes about the rock stars brought to this humble St. Paul restaurant by Nikolai’s brother, a dealer in rare guitars. They’re good stories, but they’ve been told before.

Instead, here’s what $16.50 bought for lunch for two people:

Two piroshki, the “Russian hamburgers” packed with ground beef, rice and caramelized onions. The filling is packed into rolls that are relatively tender, and it’s mysterious as to why they aren’t rendered soggy by the moist filling. Suffice it to say that they aren’t, and the resulting meal is sustaining and pleasant, if not terribly subtle. While similar to pasties, the piroshki were lighter and more elegant and consequently a much more enjoyable meal to eat.

A bowl of hot borscht with a dollop of sour cream. Bright and soothing, this stuff wakes your taste buds even as it soothes you with its warmth and the agreeably mild taste of beets. Sour cream is a quarter extra, but eminently worth it. The richness of the sour cream is a natural complement to the austere soup.

Two cups of tea with honey. Cleansing, simple, and sweet (but not overly so). Perfect with…

A chocolate poppyseed roll for dessert. Similar in shape and function to a cinnamon roll, the moist, coiled bread enfolds a thick molten paste of good chocolate and poppyseeds. Rich and gooey without being childish or overly sweet. Extremely messy, however.

Served with disposable plates and cups presented on plastic trays, lunch at the Russian Tea House has very little pretense, but a great deal of charm and spirit. The Alenovs appear to own and operate the place without assistance (which may account for the disposable plates and the odd Tuesday-Friday 11am-3pm hours), and their quirky spirit is reflected in the short but unique menu and Russia-themed upstairs dining room.

Word is that the Friday special stroganoff is worth the effort. I’ll be there next week.

Comments are closed.

Terms of use | Privacy Policy | Content: Creative Commons | Site and Design © 2009 | Metroblogging ® and Metblogs ® are registered trademarks of Bode Media, Inc.