The Baltic countries have provided an interesting trio of experiences during the course of my project. I had an absolute blast at a Latvian community center called the DV House – where I ate an outstanding, hearty holiday meal with a fleet of friendly Latvians — and at the New York Estonian House, where I ate pickled herring, drank enough Estonian booze to become flammable, and pretended to be a barn swallow.
Lithuania, though? My first attempt didn’t work out so well. I arrived at an awkward church event, had an unfriendly interaction with the priest, sheepishly nibbled a few baked goods, and that was it. I knew that my experience wasn’t a fair reflection of Lithuanian food or culture, but it was all I could find at the time. I checked the proverbial box somewhat unhappily, and moved on.
Fortunately, a friendly reader named Ramona (thank you, Ramona!) offered a chance for a do-over. The Avenue Restaurant & Bar, a wonderfully friendly neighborhood pub in Glendale, sporadically serves a Lithuanian brunch, roughly once a month. And it features lots of bacon. And I mean, like, lots of bacon.
The menu for the Lithuanian brunch is limited to just four items, and our wonderfully warm (non-Lithuanian) server kindly walked us through all of them. Koldunai, she explained, are small meat dumplings, served with sour cream and bacon. Kugelis is a hearty potato-and-egg casserole, served with sour cream and bacon. And cepelinai are giant potato dumplings, stuffed with meat and served with sour cream and bacon.
The fourth and final menu item was a combination plate, with kugelis and desra. Our wonderful server explained that desra is type of sausage.
I rudely interjected: “Does it come with sour cream and bacon? I like it when my sausage is served with bacon.”
“No, it’s sausage, so it doesn’t come with – wait, actually, yeah. It’s in the combination platter with the kugelis, so it does have sour cream and bacon.”
I liked this place. A lot.
You can’t go wrong with koldunai, which resemble small, pelmeni-like dumplings, stuffed with a beautifully seasoned nugget of beef and pork, and topped with bacon and sour cream. The kugelis was equally tasty: picture a three-dimensional potato latke, but with a hint of egg and plenty of bacon. And my favorite was probably the cepelinai, mostly because they seemed just a little bit more decadent: it was like eating a sausage meatball encased in a dense potato softball, topped with bacon. It was freaking delicious, and not something that would allow you to fit into clothes at the Leaner Men’s Shop across the street.
But who needs to shop at the Leaner Men’s Shop, anyway? You probably need to eat Lithuanian food instead.
The Avenue Restaurant & Bar
Call ahead for information on Lithuanian brunches
71-22 Myrtle Ave., Glendale, NY
Subway: Fresh Pond Rd. (M train)