April 16, 2003
funny in Kansas
Arts and Entertainment
by Dan Leone
HAYWIRE ATE ALL his burritos without me. One day I thought we'd get a burrito, but he had a better idea. Him and his wife, Salwire, the sane and fantastic singer, were going to get lunch at the Cinderella Bakery, and why didn't I join them?
OK. The Cinderella Russian Bakery Cafe is in the Richmond on Balboa between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. I like Cinderella, as a person. But according to reliable sources, I ate at the restaurant once 11 years ago and hated it. I can't imagine why, unless mayonnaise got on my food by accident. Anyway, I liked the idea of writing about Russian food instead of burritos, and I liked that it was in the Richmond, 'cause I can get there quicker than I can get to the Mission, for example. I like Haywire and Salwire. I'm not a big fan of Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. But Cinderella ... I like Cinderella.
The restaurant has been there for 50 years, almost exactly. "Since 1953," it says on the awning. That's 50 years, almost exactly. They've got a big American flag in the window, but you can't see it on account of stacks of plastic crates on the sidewalk. There are green crates and blue ones, red, tan, and black ones four or five stacks of 10 or 20 and together they make a flag of a different color.
Inside (where you can't quite see the whole flag, either, on account of display cases full of pastries and baked goods my kind of patriotism, in other words) there's the bakery and there's the café, which is colorfully decorated and comfortable. They've recently retro-remodeled from icky carpeting back to hardwood floors, according to Haywire, a Cinderella "regular." I use the word loosely, since Haywire lives in Brooklyn. And is about as irregular in general as his name would imply.
On the back of the menu there are a few paragraphs about the old days and Russian cafés, and a sort of internal review of the food. Here's my external review:
And in sports ... just kidding. But help me out here, someone: what's the difference between piroshki and pirogi? Haywire ordered a meat piroshki ($1.95), and I ordered cabbage pirogi ($2.10). Now, I knew that pirogi wasn't going to be piroghi, in the Polish sense, which is to say fried dumplings filled with mashed potatoes and onions and cheese, or cabbage, or just about anything. The surprise was that the pirogi was what I would call piroshki, a big, soft, fried doughy pocket of, in this case, cabbage. And the piroshki was something else: a smaller, harder-crusted, flaky pastry pocket of, in this case, ground beef. Confusing matters, in the case of baked stuff in the bakery, under "piroshki," there were all these things that looked exactly like my so-called pirogi.
Go figure. Maybe the waitressperson dude got our order mixed up.
In any case, my thing was better than Haywire's thing. Even Salwire thought so. As she put it, after tasting both of them, "If this one and this one were drowning, I'd save this one" pointing to my pirogi (piroshki).
I thought that was a pretty good way to say a thing, and so I'll leave it at that.
What else we ate was stuffed peppers ($5.95), meat dumplings ($5.95), sour cherry dumplings ($6.95), and of course there was borscht ($2), and great, fresh homemade bread. As I might have mentioned, everything was great, in one manner of speaking. But let's take a closer, more sophisticated look at what I, personally, would save if this thing and that thing were drowning.
If the meat dumplings and the sour cherry dumplings were drowning, I'd save the meat ones, not because meat is necessarily better than nonmeat (see above discussion of piro-things) but because I don't like sour cherries.
If the meat dumplings and the stuffed peppers were drowning, I'd save the stuffed peppers. The stuffed peppers, stuffed with a ground beef and rice mixture and smothered in a sweet tomato sauce, were excellent. Which isn't to say that the meat dumplings weren't equally excellent; it's just that, as everyone knows, dumplings float.
As for the borscht, I didn't like borscht 11 years ago, but that was before I developed a newfound appreciation for beets. I love beets. So if the borscht and the sour cherry dumplings were drowning, I'd definitely save the borscht. But if the borscht and the stuffed peppers were drowning, I'd save the stuffed peppers.
In summary, if Cinderella and Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and a ham sandwich were drowning, I'd save Cinderella.
Cinderella Russian Bakery Cafe. 436 Balboa (at Sixth Ave.), S.F. (415) 751-9690. Tues.-Sat., 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Takeout available. Beer and wine. American Express, MasterCard, Visa. Wheelchair accessible.