The night before I was to host a small dinner party, I found myself frantically pouring over cooking magazines and my food-centric Pinterest feed. I had little more in my fridge than a few lemons, half an onion, some tomato sauce and a bag of kale that was on its last legs, but no inspiration. So I decided to take some short cuts. The next morning, I drove out to PACIFIC COAST FOOD, an Eastern European supermarket on Greenback where I am always delighted to be greeted by the store clerks in Russian despite the fact that I can’t speak a word of it. I made a beeline to the deli and bought small tubs of cucumber-dill salad and spicy pickled cabbage. Then I measured out two large bags of vareniki dumplings, one version stuffed with potato and onion, the other with potato and mushroom.
That night, I tossed the vareniki with brown butter, fried sage, sauteed peas and shaved Parmesan, and served them with the deli salads as sides. (Vareniki are supposed to be dipped in sour cream, not eaten like ravioli.) And it killed. There wasn’t a single thing left over by the end of the evening.
In the past few months, Pacific Coast’s deli has become my favorite grab-and-go lunch spot. It all started when I fell madly in love with its braised cabbage pirogi, which taste like an Eastern Euro riff on a deep-fried spring roll. These large fritters cost mere pennies but pack more flavor than cabbage has any right to. Just as good are the golubtsy: cabbage leaves wrapped around a filling of lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, rice and vegetables.
Cabbage isn’t the only thing that shines in Russian cuisine. Eggplant does, too. The sweetly smoky eggplant spread called ikra, available both freshly made at the deli and in jars in the canned-vegetable aisle, is perfect as a dip for bread (the traditional use) or as a pasta sauce (my own invention). I’m also a fan of Pacific Coast’s two eggplant salads, which oddly have the same list of ingredients (bell peppers, onion, carrots, tomato paste, salt) but profoundly different flavors. One is roasted and rich, the other tart and bright.
Because I believe no meal is complete without dessert, I always do a drive-by at Pacific Coast’s bakery corner. For a uniquely Russian dessert, the cashier suggested I try medovnik. Sold as a whole cake or by the slice, this soft, dense, milky honey cake melts in your mouth and is neither too sweet nor too rich. It’s also less than $2 for a slice, so there’s no excuse for skipping it.
7263 Greenback Lane, Citrus Heights; (916) 721-3050
- Cabbage pirogi ($1.49)
- Eggplant salads ($4.99 a pound)
- Vegetable vareniki ($4.99 a pound)
- Golubtsy ($1.80 each)
- Medovnik cake ($1.69 a slice)