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Borscht, barley, herring, and more at Cafe St. Petersburg

Soup and pirozhok
Borscht ($8.95) is a flavorful Russian meat soup with beets, carrots and potatoes. It comes with a meat pirozhok and sour cream. (Photo by Ling-Mei Wong.)

Borscht? Check.

Russian pickled herring? Check.

A selection of top-shelf vodka? Another check.

The headlines from Ukraine have been excruciating. I wanted to support Ukraine and find a local restaurant that served Slavic cuisine, and wearing gold and blue, recently made my way to Newton Center and Cafe St. Petersburg, a gathering place for Russian, Polish, and Ukrainian locals.

The charming restaurant feels like traveling to a Russian hotel, with outdoor murals depicting St. Petersburg’s landmarks, including the Church of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ with its onion-domed spires.

The borscht ($8.95) at Cafe St. Petersburg was the highlight of my meal. It is a hearty Russian meat soup with beets, carrots and potatoes. The borscht comes with sour cream to swirl into the soup. I had wanted to try the borscht as a proper Russian soup, but was expecting a salty reddish stew. Instead, the meat broth heightened the sweetness of the beets and carrots, with sour cream adding acidic brightness. The warming broth hit the spot on a wintry night.

The borscht’s complimentary meat pirozhok ($2.50 individually) is placed on a plate over the soup bowl, so the steaming broth keeps the pirozhok toasty. My pirozhok’s pastry was shatteringly crisp and stuffed with meat. Cafe St. Petersburg serves a cabbage version as well (more than one pirozhok are pirozhki, a popular street food in Russia and Ukraine).

Wild mushroom soup ($8.50) is made with white Russian mushrooms, barley and onions, and served with sour cream. (Photo by Ling-Mei Wong.)

My partner ordered the wild mushroom soup ($8.50), made with white Russian mushrooms, barley and onions, and served with sour cream. He had a spoonful of my borscht and declared it the clear winner, then proceeded to inhale my soup. I love barley, while my partner doesn’t care for it, so I wasn’t too unhappy about trading soups. The wild mushroom soup was tasty, but was eclipsed by the bright freshness of the borscht.

Russian herring ($11.95) is pickled fish slices with boiled potatoes, sliced onions and olives. (Photo by Ling-Mei Wong.)

Russian herring ($11.95) is technically an appetizer, but the pickled fish coupled with boiled potatoes was a meal-size portion for me. The hearty soups had already filled my stomach halfway, so the fish with sliced onions and olives was satisfying. Cafe St. Petersburg serves complimentary white and rye bread with butter; we combined the herring, onions and bread for a tasty fish sandwich.

Cherry blintzes ($8.50) were thin rolled pancakes served with sour cream and maraschino cherries. (Photo by Ling-Mei Wong.)

Cherry blintzes ($8.50) were three thin-rolled Russian pancakes served with a side of sour cream and maraschino cherries, making for a sweet and tart dessert. Cafe St. Petersburg fills the pancakes with either cherries or strawberries.

Beef stroganoff ($19.95) is tender sliced beef filet in cream and spices. (Photo by Ling-Mei Wong.)

Beef stroganoff ($19.95) was tender sliced beef filet in cream and spices, with a side of steamed vegetables. It was rich and hearty, but not as memorable as the soups and pirozhki.

Meal prices are reasonable for generous portions. The thoughtful wait staff made us feel welcome, and beyond the food, Cafe St. Petersburg’s cozy dining room features live piano music. The restaurant entrance is accessed by a red brick pathway that runs from Union Street to Beacon Street. You’ll see Piccadilly Market on Union Street, turn right, then head down to a garden-level space. On a Saturday night, you’ll hear the piano music and animated conversations in Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian. The restaurant is steps from the Newton Center stop on the Green Line D branch.

The restaurant opened in 1993, with the romantic lighting and white table cloths evoking the ambiance of a palace. Enjoying steaming borscht was our way of standing in solidarity with the Slavic people.

Cafe St. Petersburg’s outdoor murals depict Russian landmarks, including the Church of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ with its onion-domed spires. (Photo by Ling-Mei Wong.)

On a busy Saturday night, we were the only Asian Americans in the room and our waiter asked if it was our first visit, patiently answering our questions about the menu. The server also appreciated my partner’s blue and gold football jersey. We loved the borscht and music, and I can’t wait to return for more pirozhki and chicken Kyiv soon.

Cafe St. Petersburg, 57 Union Street, Suite 1, Newton Center.

This story was published in the March 10, 2022 edition of DigBoston.

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