Hammer & Sickle
1300 Lagoon Avenue
(no reservations taken)
Lagoon Avenue might make a suitable site for arbitrating the dust-up in Ukraine, at least from a culinary point of view, with Coup d’Etat on one side of the street and Hammer & Sickle on the other. Trading a Cold War aesthetic for a Red-hot ambience, its crimson door—unmarked, in true knock-three-times style—sets the tone, abetted by a scarlet lighting scheme, ruby napkins and lipstick-bright lampshades glowing in the booths.
In homage to its Russian trappings, vodka is a featured player, with around 60 global labels, available in solo shots or flights of four designed to deter frostbite for the foreseeable future. Standout in my chosen flight was the herbal house brand H & S vodka straight from the motherland, followed by Dutch and French renditions (forget the flavorless Texan attempt). Complimentary skewers of crisp pickles serve to revive one’s palate between sips. Caviar flights also are offered for those with deep pockets.
The menu itself is kinda, sorta, Russian, with apps like meatballs, mini Reubens and Kobe sliders sneaking in, as well as more authentic platters of smoked/pickled fish and cured meats. For our starter, we chose a bowl of borscht, warm and ruddy, mild and modest, with lots of tender beef among the bits of beet and topknot of sour cream. (OK, folks: My own recipe features cabbage and the sweet-tart pique of sour salt, as I’ve enjoyed in Moscow—along with pigs’ ears, which might not go over here in Minnesota. For good reason.) A slice of (“grilled,” but it wasn’t) dark rye accompanies each bowl.
Next, choose among half a dozen fillings for pierogi (five little pastry-clad dumplings to an order, $10). We inhaled a comforting blend of mashed potato and mild cheese, dressed up with toppings of caramelized onion and bacon aside a cache of sour cream for dipping. Then, time for shashlik, aka food on a stick, which we Minnesotans can relate to: Our choice, lobster—threaded with crisp nuggets of zucchini, onions and mild peppers—was terrific, and a steal, at $10 for three sweet and juicy nuggets atop a field of rice.
Entrees read like grandma’s cooking—both a Russian and a Minnesota grandma: cabbage rolls, stuffed dumplings, chicken Kiev and stroganoff (choose beef or, hmmm, lobster), $15 range. We opted to share a portion of the beef variety, and tasty it was—the best plate of the evening, in fact, with generous slices of beef cooked to order (ours = medium rare) mingling with mushrooms and onions in a rich gravy, set atop—your choice—spaetzle or mashed potatoes. The al dente noodles were fine.
No room for dessert, but just in case: Options included a housemade chocolate cake, chocolate pudding-filled pierogi or a crème caramel, each $6. Service was far more Minnesota Nice than authentic, and that’s a very good thing.
Queen of Cuisine “Détente in Uptown”
Hammer & Sickle