There’s an old house along University Avenue in St. Paul with a sign that reads “Russian Piroshki and Tea House.”
Since moving back o the Twin Cities, we’ve driven by the tea house often, curiously commenting that we’d like to visit sometime.
Linda and Nikolai Alenov have actually operated the Russian Tea House for over 40 years. Nikola’s brother Pete used to operate a famous guitar shop in the house, too, called Pete’s Guitars, until his passing in 1998. Bono, Alton Brown, George Harrison and Bob Dylan are noted as guests. According to this Citypages article, Alton Brown described the tea house as his favorite stop in Feasting on Asphalt: The River Run.
One thing to know is that the tea house is only open on Fridays between 11-3pm.
Unless you don’t typically work on Fridays, visiting may require some advanced planning. Go early, be patient, and order a lot of food.
The tea house is clearly beloved. By the time I arrived the line curved towards the stairs. People politely pointed out to new guests that the line began by the stairs instead of by the entrance. A few of us seemed like first timers, but many were regulars. When I finished my meal and returned to order more food, it still reached the stairs.
The owners work together to take care of each customer at the window. Each dish is thoughtfully prepared and served to-go (hot or cold) or on a tray that you can carry upstairs to the dining room.
Varenki dumplings are carefully plated by hand and drizzled with one’s choice of vinegar and mustard or served in broth. Piroshki and chocolate-poppy seed rolls are carefully wrapped in wax paper. If Linda asks if you want sour cream on anything, just say yes, yes, yes.
I happily enjoyed a solo lunch munching on a meat pie and slurping borscht. The piroshki bread pocket has a lovely, almost crisp exterior and the meat filling is perfectly salted. It’s a comforting, gentle thing to eat along with a hot bowl of borscht.
Whether you order for here or to-go, add a cup of tea. You’re at the tea house, after all! Sweeten it with honey provided in squirt bottles.
You’ll feel like you’re dining in someone’s home because you are.
Heavy Table visited the tea house as part of their Green Line Checklist along University Ave in 2016. I think they describe it best when they write,
This place continues to operate not out of some delusion that someone is going to get rich serving borscht and Russian tea for four hours every Friday. It seems to exist purely out of love. Because the people running it have a passion for celebrating their heritage and keeping a tradition alive.
Fridays off are a rare occurrence for me. When I encounter another one, you’ll likely find me here.