When I came to Seattle four years ago from the Tri-Cities, I figured the big city would have a lot of Russian or other Eastern European restaurant offerings. I was disappointed to find that wasn’t the case. That is, until a couple weeks ago when I discovered a hidden-gem that may be the only full-service Russian restaurant in Seattle. They’ve done a good job of keeping it a secret so far.
Despite the name, Crepe Cravers, at 45th Street and the Ave (University Way) is actually selling blini (accent on the second syllable), which is a common street food in Russia. Although not unlike a crepe, being a wrap and all, blini are traditionally sold in booths or at carts at city corners, filled with various meats or vegetables and served with a dollop of sour cream.
As a proud fourth generation Slovak immigrant, I’ve taken it upon myself to bring several friends to Crape Cravers to see how they react to the Slavic fare. Vegetarians, meat-eaters, Floridians, Seattleites, and small-towners alike have given me that look off bliss you get when you stumble onto something serendipitously pleasant. No one can quite believe that its as good as it is.
This long seems to have been a problem for Slavic-American culinary relations, as best expressed by a Croatian restaurant I recently went to in Oregon. The owner’s sentiments on the menu were almost pleading, begging the American palate to give it a shot, it’s a lot like our comfort food, please believe me I’m not lying! It was, of course, delicious.
Crepe Cravers doesn’t even bother with such an approach–they just tell everyone they’re selling crepes. But the French wouldn’t have any of this. The politeness and delicateness of many Western European dishes, which pride themselves on being correctly portioned and expertly prepared, can’t really compete with the culinary frankness of stuffed crepes served on cafeteria-style orange trays. It’s unselfconscious kitsch, and it’s pretty endearing to me.
The owners, Steve and Arina, though they sometimes search for the words to express themselves fully in English, are very open and engaging. My first investigation of Crepe Cravers lead me to foolhardily test my Russian skills by asking, “вода, пожалуйста?” (Water, please?).
Arina stared me down and said, “What are you trying to say?”
“Uh… I asked for water?”
“No. Do you know anything about Russian?”
“I guess…not? I know a little?”
She then told me she grew up with a harsh grammarian as a mom, a schoolteacher, and if I was so inclined, I should come back for more Russian lessons.
In many ways, the food serves as a physical expression of their frankness. Its simple and unadorned, yet substantial and delicious. As Arina says, “Our food is filling, you know? It’s not like other food where you can leave and not feel full.”
She’s right about that. I gorge myself everytime I go in there. I haven’t had borscht (beet-based vegetable soup) in years, and it was great. The hand-made pelmeni (Steve: “It’s called pelmeni, because we don’t have a word for just one [dumpling].”) were a breath of fresh air compared to typical Ave options, and of course, dessert was a true dessert crepe, with coffee-flavored pudding and whipped cream. I practically had to be rolled out of the door.