Cinderella Bakery is the Beyonce of bakeries – it has a lot of crossover appeal. When my family arrived to this city as Ukrainian immigrants in the mid-90s, Cinderella Bakery was what my mother called an “old-Russian” bakery; it was still operating as an old-school Russian “pekarnya,” a place to get a loaf of freshly made rye bread that was baked using traditional methods. Today, they do brunch and the only Russian-speaking customer I encountered during my first visit was ordering a latte to-go.
There’s something both absurd and appealing about the thought of enjoying a “Go Green Salad,” packed with arugula and avocado (ingredients still imported into Russia at high prices today) with a side of piroshki with cabbage. Yet, that combination could very well symbolize the dual identity of San Francisco residents with Russian roots.
I did take notice of the truly authentic parts of the café – the whiff of light-rye bread when you step in, a dollop of sour cream on top of an aromatic borsht, and a sprinkle of dill on top of most entrees – and the menu wasn’t lacking in Russian dishes. Herring salad, Pelmeni (Russian dumplings), Solianka soup, and Vinaigrette salad are all dishes that Cinderella serves and that my grandmother still makes. They also offer classic holiday specialties like the “kulich,” an Easter bread filled with dried fruit and raisins and the “pashka,” which is an incredibly rich and sweet pyramid-shaped cream cake.
The bakery has become a hotspot for USF students because it is just a short walk from campus. If you want to stand out from the American college crowd, and order a dish outside of the “safe zone,” I’d recommend these outliers:
If you love the taste of Kombucha but wish it wasn’t so darn healthy, Kvass is for you. It is a fermented drink made from rye or black bread, with a lot of added sugar. A Kvass vendor can frequently be found on the side of the road in Eastern Europe on hot summer days, pouring the beverage out of a barrel. When I was a teenager, my Eastern European friends and I pretended it was beer and gulped it down happily. My parents called it “beer without repercussions.”
Russian cult film “Ivan Vasilievich Changes Profession,” which is based on a play written by Mikhail Bulgakov, has a scene at a royal feast during Ivan the Terrible’s reign that shows a gastronomically-rich table that has giant pots of black and red caviar and only one microscopic dish of eggplant spread, because eggplants were an imported delicacy at the time. This may or may not be based in reality, but Russian eggplant spread is pretty special.
While caviar and sour cream might seem like a strange combination, you’ll begin to understand it as the salty caviar bursts and the savory flavor folds into the sweetness of the sour cream.