THE BITE: Comrades! Today we admire Soviet kitsch in a Soviet kitchen: Back to USSR, at 2817 Coney Island Avenue off of Avenue Z.
Here you’ll find an oversized bronze monument of Lenin in the main dining room, and walls emblazoned with waving hammer-and-sickle flags in the side room. There’s 70s-style rotary phones hanging off the walls, and all kinds of memorabilia of the Soviet era.
The menu features 10 flavors of homemade infused vodkas and an extensive list of cleverly named Russian dishes printed in both English and Russian. I know, I’m supposed to be focusing on the food, but you can’t talk about this place and not mention the ambiance.
And, actually, after chuckling a little every time I passed, I was so very curious if it was a mistake that the definite article “the” was left out of the restaurant name. Is there a sense of humor about the good old USSR here?
Curiosity got the best of me. I gathered some friends and made the trip.
I ordered the duck confit with raspberry sauce, mostly because I don’t see much duck on menus outside of the Peking variety. Turns out, duck is a very old tradition in Russian cuisine, served with baked apples in the fall when duck hunting and apple picking are both in season. Records dating back more than a thousand years show that Slavic people thought ducks were a lucky symbol of messengers and husbands. And it appears duck remains popular in more recent times; if you check out this video , you’ll see 40 seconds of many adorable, succulent, delicious ducks waddling around in the Motherland itself in 1956.
True to tradition, this duck was served with a couple of wedges of baked sour apple, and the raspberry sauce over it was somewhat tart, but not too sweet or thick. These both complimented the duck meat well. It was all served on a bed of greens that put me off a bit as they were limp and soggy.
You have your choice of side dish when you order – I went with vegetables, but maybe should have chosen the potatoes or kasha because the vegetables were too greasy for my liking, especially when paired with the already greasy duck. Duck meat is known for being fatty so that was no surprise; that is also exactly why it is so flavorful. I was served two plump legs; the skin and meat were juicy and easy to separate from the bone.
The menu at Back to USSR is meant to reflect a broad spectrum of Russian dishes, from peasant food to aristocrats’ fine-dining favorites. This dish will set you back $16.50, but this makes sense given that duck is usually a relatively expensive raw ingredient compared with other fowl such as chicken or turkey.
Anyway, I didn’t get a clear answer to my one burning question about the restaurant’s title, but I suspect there is more humor than seriousness here. Their logo includes a hammer and sickle where the hammer head is chicken kiev, and the sickle is a kielbasa. But that’s about the highest level of evidence I can submit, so some day I may go back to Back to USSR for further investigation.
Back to USSR, 2817 Coney Island Avenue, (718) 759-6999.
– Sonia Rapaport
The Bite is Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we 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.