Chef Vytauras Sasnauskas (Americano) invited me to join him for Sunday brunch at his club. But this was no ordinary omelets and pancakes meal with a view of the golf course. We met on E. 185th Street in the dining room of the Lithuanian Village and Community Center. The buffet featured traditional ethnic dishes from his home country. Before we set the date, he checked in to be sure that I like pork, potatoes and bacon— what he called “the three Lithuanian food groups.”
The spread is nothing fancy and would not qualify as light, but dishes are full of heart and history. Everything was tasty, plentiful, and out-of-the-ordinary for me. Luckily I was part a group that included Paulius Nasvytis (owner, The Velvet Tango Room) and Kristina Kuprevicius Dunn (VP Marketing, Judson) who like Chef V grew up eating this way. They provided a guided tour for every bowl and plate, telling me about the versions made by their own mothers, fathers, and generations of forbears, sharing the ins and outs of koseliena (think head cheese, which is not a dairy product…enough said) and zemaitiski blynai (crepes).
One of the best bites was the simplest: slices of bread pan fried in oil, rubbed with raw garlic and sprinkled with salt. Dangerously addictive. The feasting began in earnest with cold beet soup, served with roasted potatoes and sour cream on the side. Then we moved on to cepelinai, aka zeppelins, a reference to the shape of this stuffed potato dumpling; kugelis, a potato pudding that’s cooked with bacon, onions and eggs and served with more onions and bacon plus sour cream; cabbage rolls stuffed with ground pork; and koldunai, sort of mini-sized pierogi, also filled with ground pork and dressed in…bacon and sour cream.
There were many different Lithuanian beers on the table (only members can order alcohol). The fact that I tasted all of them probably accounts for my inability to remember the name of even a single one. According to Chef V, the groundwater there is high in minerals and very good for brewing. It tastes better drunk in in-country, he explains, before trans-ocean travel and warehouse storage. With any luck, someday I can find out if this is true.
For dessert we had “tree cake.” It could be said to look like a evergreen. But to me it had the appearance of a beach construction— the sort of chunky tower made by dropping blobs of wet sand. To create the this bit of confection, a sweet and buttery batter is baked in layers on the same sort of rotisserie used for gyros. You can actually buy the cakes online or order via email firstname.lastname@example.org
The wood paneled dining room features intricate carvings and ethnic artwork. The place seems both out of time and far from its North Collinwood address. It’s open to the public for brunch every Sunday from 11:30 AM-1:30 PM. And there is no better deal in town: the cost is just $10.75 per person for all you care to eat. Parties larger than six should call to make reservations, 216-531-2131. It’s located at 877 E. 185 street right next to post office, but entrance is in the back of the building, off the parking lot.