Linda Alenov, half of the husband and wife owner-and-operator team of Russian Tea House and Piroshki in St. Paul, will tell you that their Piroshki are like Russian hamburgers. But, I think their Piroshki ($4.50 including tax), which are a mixture of ground beef, cheddar cheese, and rice, rolled into a soft, layery pastry dough and baked, remind me of my Irish grandmother’s meatloaf sandwiches, minus the ketchup.
My husband, who, if I let him, would pack our deep-freezer full of Russian Tea House’s frozen to-go Piroshki ($20 for six, plus the friendliest reheating instructions you’ll ever hear) so he can have them in his lunch-box every day, says they remind him of Hot Pockets. And he means that in the very best way.
Perhaps piroshki are the Rorschach test of meat-stuffed pastry, upon which you may project your own fond memories of childhood, bachelorhood, or wheneverhood.
Regardless of what memories piroshki invoke for you, Linda and Nikolai Alenov’s Russian Tea House and Piroskhi, located in a charming century-old house on University Avenue in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood where it’s been a fixture for more 30 years, is a St. Paul original. When the Alenovs first opened Russian Tea House and Piroshki in the late seventies, they offered take-out only. They lived upstairs. Eventually, they renovated, turning the upstairs into cozy dining room, where you occasionally (typically on Fridays) might find a volunteer musician playing the mandolin, accordion, or violin.
The only hitch is that they keep limited hours, open for lunch only, Tuesday through Friday. I’m not saying you should take a day off work to visit Russian Tea House and Piroshki — even though you might — but if you’re like me, you’ll set aside a couple of hours of at least one day of every vacation to swing by for lunch, and pick up a dozen or two Piroshki for your freezer. I’ve also been known to schedule all my University Avenue errands so that I coincidentally end up in the Midway between 11 and 3, Tuesday through Friday. If you’re clever enough to run your errands on Fridays, you can order their Beef Stroganoff (ground beef, green peppers, tomatoes, and onions) Over Potato Vareniki (dumplings) ($5.60). The Vareniki are also wonderfully comforting on their own, but again, you can only get them on Fridays.
I always get an order of crumbly Russian Tea Cakes, too (two for $1 or five for $2). My husband doesn’t know this, because I always, despite every intention not to, manage to eat them in the car on my way home. Unless he’s noticed the dusting of powdered sugar down the front of my blouses, we’ll just consider that our little secret.
Russian Tea House and Piroshki
1758 University Ave W, St. Paul
OWNERS: Linda and Nikolai Alenov
ENTREE RANGE: $3-6
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
BEST BETS: You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu — Borscht, Pel’Meni (Tuesday through Thursday only), Cabbage and Meat Rolls, Vinaigrette Potato Salad — but their Piroshki, Beef Stroganoff over Vereniki (Fridays only), and Russian Tea Cakes are impossible to resist. If you can’t choose between Piroshki and something else, buy the frozen Piroshki for your freezer so you can have them whenever you want.