Cafe Glechik goes out of its way to distinguish itself from the other Russian joints in Brighton Beach. There’s no Casio, no attempt to lure you into a big splurge featuring bad caviar, free-flowing vodka, and endless courses of desiccated smoked fish and imitation French cuisine. The menu offers simple, freshly prepared peasant fare from all corners of the former Soviet Union, with a penchant for Ukrainian and Central Asian dishes. Featuring an array of ceramic pots perched atop a room-dividing wooden fence, the decor is self- consciously rustic, and the walls are dotted with rural landscapes that might have been painted in a half-hour on Channel 13 by Bob Ross. My favorite shows a mill by a churning stream, crazily framed in birch twigs.
Nearly everything comes in one of those crocks. A lidded pot that might be an acorn—or maybe it’s an eggplant—houses kulesh ($5.50), a dilled mushroom-barley soup way better than you expect from Jewish delis or Polish cafés. Maybe it’s the handful of crushed garlic thrown on top of this Lenten standard at the last minute. A decidedly nonvegetarian version called “kulesh in the meadow” is also offered; the English translation notes it contains “chicken bowels.” We dutifully ordered it every visit, but it was never available.
Similarly entombed in clay are a series of peasant stews ($8.50) so good you should bring enough guests to order them all. Number one in my book is “rabbit stew in a pot,” the Russian answer to English jugged hare. The well-browned half-bunny arrives submerged in a delicious cream sauce bobbing with cubed vegetables and fried potatoes that gradually suck up the liquid. Featuring hunks of beef long simmered in a dark sauce with a subtle sweetness, Odessa stew is also delish. You’ll know why when you discover the prune skins on the bottom—a Persian idea about cooking meat. A more pallid stew, “pork shoulder,” depends on the extreme tenderness of the meat and a handful of allspice berries for its appeal, while the lure of chanahi is a massive lamb shank poking above the surface of the superfluous broth.
An elongated clay plate schleps kebabs to table, sided with parsley fries and sumac onions. Lamb ($8.50) is king—gorgeous smoky cubes still pink in the middle, though the fattier pork ($7.50) has its polysaturated appeal. Don’t bother asking for the ground-meat lula kebab; it’s rarely available. Instead of fries, side your brochettes with native Russian kasha, more tender and buttery than you’ve ever tasted it. Equally Russian and equally buttery are the miniature meat-stuffed wontons called vareniki, which come in a crock with cheese, with meat, with sour cherries, etc. Our hearts were won, however, by pelemeni Moscow style, 10 larger dumplings baked in a crock with a topping of bubbling farmer’s cheese.
Another advantage of Glechik, apart from the culinary one, is that you can bring your own wine—or bottle of liquor, as the case may be. If you go the vodka route, chase it with a pitcher of compot ($8.25), which combines canned cherries and their juice with fresh apples. Or mix them together and call it a cosmonaut.