Alameda a la Carte: Mama Papa Lithuania Restaurant and Tea House
Alameda a la Carte: Mama Papa Lithuania Restaurant and Tea House
Mama Papa Lithuania's medutis, a honey-soaked spice cake. Photo by Denise Shelton.
I come by my devotion to Eastern European soul food honestly. My grandparents were ethnic Poles and there are similarities in dishes prepared in the Baltic nations. (My maiden name is Luczaj, and even I can't pronounce it properly.) So it was with great anticipation that I awaited the opening of what is touted to be the only Lithuanian restaurant in the western United States.
I was not disappointed. It was as if my Babcia (grandmother) had risen from the dead and gone straight to the kitchen.
My first experience at Mama Papa Lithuania was at lunchtime during its second day of operation. I was not planning to comment on this visit because they were just getting started, but my experience was very positive, nonetheless.
Lace curtains adorn the windows, softening an otherwise rustic interior reminiscent of a cottage deep in the forest. Sturdy, peasant-style tables and chairs of dark wood are arranged comfortably around the room and a huge, wrought iron chandelier hangs overhead. Light jazz plays in the background at an agreeable volume.
I was greeted by Vaidas Sukys - who identified himself as "server" and "owner," in that order, indicating to me that his priorities are straight. Vaidas is a gracious and solicitous host, happy to answer questions and make recommendations. The menu is not extensive, but there are both vegetarian and gluten-free options highlighted. (Vaidas himself confesses to be gluten-intolerant.)
For lunch, I ordered the cream of mushroom soup and a cucumber salad. The soup was possibly the best cream of mushroom soup I've ever tasted. It was served with shredded mushrooms, chopped green onions, and a luscious dollop of sour cream. The salad was also quite tasty with slices of cucumber mixed in a yogurt and dill dressing, topped also with green onions and garnished with a sprig of fresh dill.
A selection of herbal teas is on offer. Although I'm generally not a fan of herbal tea, in the spirit of "when in Rome" (or should I say Vilnius?), I tried the thyme and apple peels variety and found it to be refreshing and satisfying. I was eager to return for dinner, which I did a week or so later.
On my second visit, my husband accompanied me. At both lunch and dinner, Vaidas brought a large bottle of tap water and glasses for the table. I liked having the option of helping myself rather than having to wait for the server to come around and ask if I'd like a refill.
We ordered the Cepelinai (Zeppelins), two potato dumplings stuffed with minced meat and served with a creamy mushroom sauce. These are similar to the Polish pierogi, but with a somewhat greater dough-to-filling ratio. The dumplings are good, and filling, but where Chef Danute Sukiene (aka Vaidis' "Mama") really outdoes herself is with the Kedainiu Blynai Su Mesa, a heavenly concoction of awesome deliciousness masquerading as potato pancakes with meat. The outside is lightly browned to perfection with soft potato underneath encasing the wonderfully spiced meat filling. Yum-bo!
The menu here may be limited, but we found it hard to resist trying another selection and difficult to choose. We settled on the sweet cheese crepes, stuffed with lightly sweetened, cinnamon-spiced, artisanal cottage cheese served with mashed berries. They are not too sweet to serve as a dinner entree, but I would probably prefer them at lunch.
To drink, we ordered the Svyturio Alus "Extra," a gold-medal winning Lithuanian lager that was a winner with us as well. Other beverages on offer include house wine, soda, juices, and Lithuanian home-style coffee, unfiltered and brewed using the "pour over" method.
Now, if you've read this far and not been convinced, please do yourself a favor and read on because I've saved the best for last.
Medutis is a labor-intensive, multi-layered spice cake and Chef Danute, who owned a bakery back in the old country, is an absolute master of the art. Individual layers are baked separately then infused with a honey solution and allowed to dry. The cake is then assembled with an impossibly light sour-cream based filling between each layer.
I was reluctant to try this because, when I hear "honey" and "dessert," I think of sticky and overly sweet things like baklava, which I don't like at all. Medutis is different. Trust me. Although it is currently the only dessert on the menu, Vaidus assures me his mother has a few other gems in her confectionary repertoire that may debut before long. Her medutis is a tough act to follow, but from what I've seen so far, I'm confident Danute is up to the challenge.
Mama Papa Lithuania, 1241 Park Street. 522-4100, http://www.mamapapalithuania.com. Open seven days a week from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Home Cooking: 'Tis the Season for Comfort Food
Fall is upon us. The weather is changing. The country has been locked in an epic political and financial crisis. At times like these, the tough get cooking. (Besides the fact that it's a great excuse to hit the cooking sherry.)
The recipe I'm about to share with you comes from Louisiana, a red state to be sure, but good cooking, like good music, has the power to transcend political bias. It's all about the love, darlin'.
Bendette Texada "Tee" Gieselman's Gooey Butter Cake
Butter and flour for baking pan
1 package of Duncan Hines Classic Yellow Cake Mix
1 stick of butter (melted)
8 ounces of cream cheese (softened)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups of powdered sugar, sifted if lumpy, plus a little extra for garnish
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour a 13 by 9 inch baking pan and set aside.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat two of the eggs on medium speed until combined.
Add cake mix and melted butter and beat until smooth. The batter will be thick.
Spread batter evenly in the bottom of the prepared pan with a spatula.
In the same bowl, beat the other two eggs on medium speed until combined.
Beat in softened cream cheese and vanilla until well blended.
Gradually add the three cups of powdered sugar and continue mixing until the batter is well combined.
Pour the thin batter over the thick batter already in the pan.
Bake at 375 degrees until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The time can vary due to differences in ovens and it's important not to over bake.
I would begin checking at 30 minutes or as soon as the fragrance of baked goods hits the air.
Sprinkle the finished product with powdered sugar and let cool on a rack at least one hour before serving. Can be eaten right away or served chilled. Cut into 12 squares if serving for dessert or bite-sized pieces for larger gatherings.
Note: The first time I made this, I overcooked it, but it was still so good, my family ate it anyway. My niece Katy claims she was able to pay a cab driver with Gooey Butter Cake when she didn't have money for the fare after returning to Tee's apres Mardi Gras partying. Yes, folks, it's that good!
New and Noteworthy
-Scobies Sports Bar (2431 Central Avenue) is now 88 Sports Bar and Korean Grill.
-Alameda Vintner's Club, housed in the rear of the Angela's/Cellar Door site on Central in the Alameda Theatre complex, has closed. R&B Cellars will shift its in-town tastings to the as-yet-to-be opened Wine and Waffles, next to Ole's on Park Street. Word on the street is that a deal has been signed for a new restaurant at the old Angela's/Cellar Door location. More to follow in next month's column.
-The cafe planned and advertised as first "Betty's" then "Park Cafe" at the former Boniere Bakery site at 1417 Park Street has been scrapped. Instead, new owners have taken the helm. The newly renovated building will be home to Lola's Chicken, set to open later this month. Is this THE Lola's Chicken of song and story, old Alamedans may ask? Word is, no. The name is reportedly the initials of the owners' grandchildren. But that doesn't mean it's not good. Let's wait and see!