Welcome back to The Bite, Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we’ll check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.
This week, we take a bite out of two Eastern Eurpean food standards: pelmeni and vareniki. Both are usually served hot; both are available in just about every “Russian” restaurant in the neighborhood; one is from Russia and the other from the Ukraine. Both are delicious.
“But what are pelmeni and vareniki? A Russian high wire act?” I hear you say. Pelmeni are small dumplings traditionally consisting of small portions of ground meat and onion wrapped in a thin, unleavened dough and boiled. Pelmeni are thought to have originated in Siberia as a variation of the Chinese pot sticker, and created by the Komi, a people indigenous to the Urals. Today, pelmeni are found throughout the former Soviet Republic.
Vareniki on the other hand, is a Ukrainian adaptation of the pelmeni. It’s traditionally vegetarian, though there is a version that is stuffed with a ground meat paste that has been cooked and mixed with fried onions. The more traditional stuffing versions include mashed potatoes, sour cherries, tvorog (Russian farmer’s cheese – творога) or kasha (cooked buck wheat). Unlike pelmeni, vareniki’s popularity is limited to the Ukraine and Western Russia according to Moscow Kitchen.
At Cafe Glechik they offer three vesions of pelmeni (all stuffed with meat) and pelmeni “Moscow” which is oven baked with eggs and cheese. They offer nine varieties of vareniki, from potato to cherries to meat. Prices run from $5 to $8.50 for hearty portions. We sampled the pelmeni “Siberian,” which was stuffed with a mixture of nicely seasoned ground pork and beef ($5.00) topped with fried onions and served with sour cream on the side.
On the plate of my lunch companion, was vareniki with potato. Traditional bland mashed potatoes provided the stuffing here, reminding me of its close cousin, the pierogi. We shared the two dishes and left the restaurant full.
Not being “Russian,” I hear from many of my long time neighbors that they would never enter a “Russian” business in the neighborhood as they find them too unfriendly. That’s really a shame. Ten years ago, I may have agreed with them, but times have changed. Now, the vast majority of “Russian” places are friendly and welcoming to us ol’ timers and seem to want our business.
Unfortunately, Cafe Glechik, much like its decor, seems to be stuck in the past.
The Bite’s function is to highlight some of the foodstuffs of the area, not to review the restaurant; but here I feel compelled to talk a little about the dining experience. While never being overtly rude, the staff seemed annoyed by our presence. I felt like I had entered a private club and everyone was just waiting for me to leave. The service was perfunctory and the attitude bordered on the unfriendly. Maybe the staff was having a bad day, but that should never be experienced by the diner.
It’s a shame, too, since the establishment’s excellent food stands in stark contrast to its service.
Cafe Glechik of Sheepshead Bay, 1655 Sheepshead Bay Road, (718) 332-2414.