Southern Brooklyn

Cafe Glechik: Pelmeni & Vareniki – The Bite

Brooklyn Cafe Glechik Sheepshead Bay
Vareniki comes smothered with crispy fried onions.

Welcome back to The Bite, Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we’ll check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.

This week, we take a bite out of two Eastern Eurpean food standards: pelmeni and vareniki. Both are usually served hot; both are available in just about every “Russian” restaurant in the neighborhood; one is from Russia and the other from the Ukraine. Both are delicious.

“But what are pelmeni and vareniki? A Russian high wire act?” I hear you say. Pelmeni are small dumplings traditionally consisting of small portions of ground meat and onion wrapped in a thin, unleavened dough and boiled. Pelmeni are thought to have originated in Siberia as a variation of the Chinese pot sticker, and created by the Komi, a people indigenous to the Urals. Today, pelmeni are found throughout the former Soviet Republic.

Vareniki on the other hand, is a Ukrainian adaptation of the pelmeni. It’s traditionally vegetarian, though there is a version that is stuffed with a ground meat paste that has been cooked and mixed with fried onions. The more traditional stuffing versions include mashed potatoes, sour cherries, tvorog (Russian farmer’s cheese – творога) or kasha (cooked buck wheat). Unlike pelmeni, vareniki’s popularity is limited to the Ukraine and Western Russia according to Moscow Kitchen.

At Cafe Glechik they offer three vesions of pelmeni (all stuffed with meat) and pelmeni “Moscow” which is oven baked with eggs and cheese. They offer nine varieties of vareniki, from potato to cherries to meat. Prices run from $5 to $8.50 for hearty portions. We sampled the pelmeni “Siberian,” which was stuffed with a mixture of nicely seasoned ground pork and beef ($5.00) topped with fried onions and served with sour cream on the side.

On the plate of my lunch companion, was vareniki with potato. Traditional bland mashed potatoes provided the stuffing here, reminding me of its close cousin, the pierogi. We shared the two dishes and left the restaurant full.

Not being “Russian,” I hear from many of my long time neighbors that they would never enter a “Russian” business in the neighborhood as they find them too unfriendly. That’s really a shame. Ten years ago,  I may have agreed with them, but times have changed. Now, the vast majority of “Russian” places are friendly and welcoming to us ol’ timers and seem to want our business.

Unfortunately, Cafe Glechik, much like its decor, seems to be stuck in the past.

The Bite’s function is to highlight some of the foodstuffs of the area, not to review the restaurant; but here I feel compelled to talk a little about the dining experience. While never being overtly  rude, the staff seemed annoyed by our presence. I felt like I had entered a private club and everyone was just waiting for me to leave. The service was perfunctory and the attitude bordered on the unfriendly. Maybe the staff was having a bad day, but that should never be experienced by the diner.

It’s a shame, too, since the establishment’s excellent food stands in stark contrast to its service.

Cafe Glechik of Sheepshead Bay, 1655 Sheepshead Bay Road, (718) 332-2414.

Cafe Glechik on Urbanspoon

Comment policy


  1. I think the common problem is a lot of russians embarrassed of their bad english and feel really stressed by serving americans, which is sad and shame. So please, take it easy and use, use, use russian restaurants and stores, because they offer really nice food. Also in old soviet Russia being rude to their customers was a norm( my daughter didn’t believe it, but noticed herself speaking english in russian stores), so please, ignore it and take the best out of it. 🙂

  2. you should have complained….. LOL

    also you should try Ctolovaya on AVE U and East 8-9th

    same menu better service. imo, Also i used to work there and know for a fact the owner doesn’t Phuck around!

  3. “While never being overtly rude, the staff seemed annoyed by our presence. I felt like I had entered a private club and everyone was just waiting for me to leave. The service was perfunctory and the attitude bordered on the unfriendly. Maybe the staff was having a bad day, but that should never be experienced by the diner.”

    It’s a Russian thing. I’ve experienced it too They tend to rarely smile and appear stiff all the time for some reason. Come on folks, Soviet Union ended 20 years ago. Cheer up.

  4. In case of Glechik, I don’t think language barrier is an issue.
    I mean, I’ve eaten in Mexican, Chinese, French and Czech (in Prague) places where nobody spoke any English at all, and received decent service.

    I speak perfect Russian (and Ukrainian, albeit with limited dictionary), and I think that “private club” description is right on the money (at least for the first Glechik location on Coney Island Ave. near Brighton Beach).
    A number of years ago, upon walking in, we were told (fairly loudly) that it’s reservations only, while kind of snickering in my face. Fortunately, I spend a lot of time at work as a tech support, so I successfully resisted an urge to tell her where she should go… (Russian-speaking will understand the reference.)

    Needless to say, I have no desire to check out the new location.

  5. Agreed…being Russian myself, I’ve noticed that in a lot of Russian establishments. It happens because of the “Old School” Soviet Union mentality. The owners/workers seem to think that the customer who just walked in should consider themselves lucky to be even stepping foot in their fine establishment, not realizing there are probably 4 more similar places on the same block. Granted, some people are just plain racist (I’ve heard several waiters talk Russian behind my back thinking I do not speak the language), while others are, in fact, embarrassed of their language skills.

    I just visited the new Glechik location yesterday and, besides waiting a bit to be served, have absolutely no complaints. The food was delicious and the staff was not rude.

  6. LOL! i love pretending i don’t understand either. then when i catch them saying something unpleasant, you get reported to the boss bitches!


  7. It’s funny, because they’re usually the same people who assume non-Russian-speakers speak Russian. They just can’t get their languages straight, eh?

  8. its sometimes hard to put the past behind you, Same thing here and the World Trade Center Attacks… even though it’s been like 10 years people are still hurt by it…


  9. Robert,

    Thank you for referencing my website! I really appreciate it and I’m glad you found it a useful source of information about Russian cooking! Just a small correction – the name of my business is Moscow Gourmet Kitchen (not “Moscow Kitchen”).

    Irina Vodonos, Owner & Chef
    Moscow Gourmet Kitchen

  10. “While never being overtly rude, the staff seemed annoyed by our presence.”
    YES! I’ve been to the CIA and Sheepshead locations once each, and both times, I felt like they would rather be watching paint dry than have me in their restaurant. I was waiting for SOMEONE waiting on me to smile. Nobody ever did. Food was good, though.

  11. What strikes me as amusing is that you seem so desperate to get a smile out of a waiter . Is that really the most important thing when attending a resturants? The waiter did his job the food was good what else do people expect really? I mean this seems like the sort of psycho analytic stuff they teac about in med schools …. You don’t get enough affection from those you are closest to so you begin to expect it from total strangers. It’s also a shame that this blog sees it fit to perpetuate an untrue and misleading stereotype about the Russian community. Wha happens most of the time in Russian restaurants is either one of two things : a) the waiter acts as he would usually act with any customer but his behavior becomes amplified for the person receiving the service because he is aware that this is an ethnically different place that he’s used to so he automatically discards everything he isn’t pleased with into the “oh it must be just the typical Russian attitude ” box… Or b) in which case the waiter is acting differently toward an American or any other non Russian client because of the countless times he’s seen people of other nationalities come into the restaurant and treat the decor people and food as if part of some highly amusing circus act there for their personal pleasure. I’ve personally seen , countless times, people marvel with great exaggeration at the simplest most unaffecting things about our culture and cousine and after a while it begins to look like insults.

  12. It sounds yummy and also fairly reasonable. I enjoy some Russian foods especially, and I’m probably going to misspell it so correct me if you can, pirotchi. It’s those thick, greasy meat filled doughy rolls sold for $1.25 to $2.00 along Brighton Beach Avenue. I don’t really think about the meat inside only that it’s a good, filling snack especially in the winter. It is a shame that the Russians who sell and serve this food are ashamed of their poor English. I give anyone credit for trying no matter how difficult it is. Maybe someone can teach me a few more Russian phrases. The most I know are how to say “Thank You” and “Goodbye”.

    The first thing Russian I ever enjoyed (this was at the first taste) was Kvas. That was at the now defunct White Acacia, where they served it in styrofoam cups for $1 back in the 80’s. Now I can get a 2 liter bottle of it for about $2. Some Kvas brands are more than $2. I’ve always wondered what the difference was and never found anyone in stores like NetCost to explain it to me. I have tried a few brands of it and enjoy the “monastic” variety best. I’ve learned that some of the less expensive brands are weak and tasteless. Others in the same price range are decent. The most expensive one I’ve seen does seem to make much of it coming from Moscow itself. I have no idea why that would make it worth almost $4. Unfortunately, aside from Kbac or Kvass words on the bottles none of the other information on the labels ie: ingredients, is comprehensible.

  13. Fascinating cultural lesson. I’ve heard and read that some parts of Russian culture involve a shared misery. “If I’m miserable than you must be miserable too” seems to be the attitude. Is this rudeness part of it? A shame that any business would wish to discourage customers. That’s counter productive.

  14. I do sympathize with that feeling of “being put on display” yet one must understand that for a lot of non Russians these restaurants are very new to them so it’s quite natural for us to gawk. So to distract the customer and focus them on the purpose and service of the restaurant as opposed to all the baubles on display, the staff should draw attention to themselves and present a pleasurable experience for the patron. This will encourage repeat business and make it less of a novelty thus minimizing the tourist factor.

  15. You raise some valid points. If I was received the same level of service say in Maria’s (for those who don’t know, it is a long established Italian restaurant on Emmons Ave) would I automatically condemn all Italian businesses as being unfriendly and unwelcoming, no. I’d assume it was a bad restaurant and move on to another Italian restaurant.

    But, if I received the same treatment in Anthony’s Place (again, a long established Italian restaurant on Ave X) I might begin to think that this is the standard practice at all Italian businesses and begin to avoid them.

    From the comments of the readers, it seems I’m not alone in my experiences.

    But Italian restaurants, businesses and people have been part of the American landscape for generations now. They’ve assimilated into the American fabric. “Russians” are just beginning to do that.

    “Russian” businesses are the new kids in the neighborhood, even though they’ve been here for a long time now. It was a culture unfamiliar to many in the neighborhood and of course we’re curious about what is being displayed and what they enjoy.

    Frankly, everything in a restaurant should be there for the customer’s enjoyment. The choice of plates, silverware, napkins, clothing, paint colors, decor, music, lighting, knick-knacks, service level, attitude and everything else should contribute to the diner’s experience and enjoyment.

    I’ve been in restaurants that are filled with souvenirs from the home country and restaurants that have generic decorations. Both may serve good food, but the place that is decorated with ethnic items creates a different atmosphere where the culture is purposely and often extravagantly put on display. Investigating the displays, commenting on them and even “marveling with great exaggeration at the simplest most un-affecting things,” is bound to happen. It’s not an insult. It’s curiosity.

  16. Wow, the Kvas in the barrel at White Acacia really brought me back. That was my first taste of it, too. I was probably 9 or 10 years old and so curious. My mom handed me the styrofoam cup and I was horrified, and spat it out. While I don’t have kvass frequently, I do love fermented foods and beverages. Thanks for sharing about which ones you like, may have to go get some.

  17. I have to start off by saying that I am Russian and I love Russian food. I went to Cafe Glechik about a week ago for the first time. The food was very tasty and the staff was a little rude (and I was speaking Russian) but after the meal, until the next afternoon, I was so nauseous I thought I was going to puke my guts out at work. My body is used to Russian food, but this stuff was greasy and made me sick. I could recommend a lot of Russian restaurants in the neighborhood, but this one will leave you begging for pepto. You have been warned.

  18. It’s like a Spanish Malta. I believe it is made from bread or some kind of grain. It’s not as sweet as malta and often can be found with added fruit flavors. Russians tend to have a great liking for fruits and nectars. I really like the unusual flavors one can find in Kvas. I think there’s one with Boysenberry. Delicious!!

  19. I’d love to know what the reference is. It’d be cool to learn some Russian cuss words. The only one I’ve ever heard often is “Bozhmoi!”. That one seems pretty mild.

  20. They did pretty good….

    Violations from 06/22/2010 Inspection

    Violation points: 8

    Violations were cited in the following area(s).

    Sanitary Violations
    1) Facility not vermin proof. Harborage or conditions conducive to vermin exist.
    2) Other general violation.

  21. You’ve lived in Sheepshead this long and never heard any Russian curse words? I know more Russian curse words than I know “polite” words, and that’s because of the frequency I hear them!

  22. Yes, very mild – “Bozhe Moy” means “OMG”. My reference would mean “F-k
    you” (literally “Go on a dick”)… I’m not so sure I should post a
    phonetic spelling of this one, though. You have to ask someone in person…

  23. Well Ned, my generation didn’t grow up around as many Russian speaking people as yours has. Give up a few Ned. Maybe you can send me some in an email. Yet considering the kind of language I’ve seen posted here (in English) there wouldn’t be any further harm done by posting a few along with pronunciations.

  24. there is a better place than gleechik on ave U and east 7 & 8th ?
    much cheapper too and taste more like home cooking
    i tried gleechik twice and i was not impressed

  25. they staff is very rude in this place
    we came in and all the waitresses who seated us girls straight from russian spoiled sugar daddys grilled all of us. and it was already unwelcoming
    the food was not as goood at all as advertised
    the place on AVe u & east 7 is much better and delicious our bill was expensive when we orderd a salad and soups ?

  26. Generally, rudeness is characteristic for the New York-style waiter service, and I personally have no problem with it. Many tourists enjoy this highly personable style, many locals have fun while snapping back. Many also worked as waiters/waitresses, so they know what this job entails etc. Biggest problem is to hire professionals, and almost none of the area’s eateries can afford it, or to train those who they have hired for whatever reason. Ultimately, we the patrons would be paying for it. The Almighty Dollar is a stern teacher, so let your tips and feet talk. Most waiters jokes came from New York, and I wouldn’t agree to loose even one of them in exchange for a waitress’ politeness.


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