Like a lot of people, I do not get to travel as much as I would like, but as in any city, the Twin Cities offer a variety of opportunities to experience some of the worlds culture and still get to work tomorrow morning.
Last week, I went on one of my favorite day trip “staycations,” taking in a couple of tastes of Russian culture in Minneapolis-St. Paul, the Russian Tea House and the Museum of Russian Art. Visiting both in an afternoon is a fun way to get to know a little more about the culture of a nation that has definitely been in the news lately, under more grave circumstances. It is definitely valuable, I feel, to learn more about the world through food and art, and these local spots have a lot to offer.
We began our afternoon with a spot of tea and so lunch at the Russian Tea House, on University in the Midway area of St. Paul. A cozy, casual restaurant tucked into an old Victorian house, I think it is one of the best deals for lunch in the cities. After ordering from the counter, take your lunch upstairs to the creaky upper floor dining room to enjoy the view of the bustle down on University and the Minneapolis skyline in the distance. Oftentimes, an accordionist will be in attendance, accompanying lunch with some traditional Slavic music. The Tea House offers a variety of delicious, hearty fare for extremely reasonable prices; the borscht is probably some of the best I’ve had, vegetarian, served with or without sour cream and full of beets, onions, beans, and dill. I also recommend the savory potato dumplings, verenyky, topped with sauteed onion. This is great comfort food, perfect for a winter evening (or a spring afternoon that feels a little wintery). If there is one thing that Minnesota and Russia have in common, it’s the stereotypical penchant for an icy climate.
Also, one cannot visit without having one of the awesome chocolate poppy seed rolls, washed down with the Russian Tea Houses’ tea, served steaming in a continuous flow from a large tureen, a rich black tea lightly sweetened with a hint of saffron. Definitely one of my favorite tea flavors around. With limited hours, open only for lunch on Fridays and Saturdays from 11:00 to 3:00, there may be a bit of a line, but any wait is well worth it. I also recommend picking some up borscht or Russian tea cookies for the road, keeping them around for dinner or lunch later.
After a filling, cheap, delicious lunch, it was time to make a trip across the river over into south Minneapolis to check out the Museum of Russian Art (TMORA). It is about a 1o mile drive from the Russian Tea House. Definitely one of the most interesting “hidden gem” museums in Minneapolis, TMORA is devoted to displaying art and artifacts from Russian history, the only such collection in North America. Housed in a historic building, the old Mayflower Congregational Church built in 1935 in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, an interesting setting for Russian Art and Minnesota. It makes for a very atmospheric setting for a museum. A small museum, TMORA’s collections can be taken in in an hour or two, though like all art museums you can be sucked in by the artworks and it is easy to take your time examining the pieces which span the centuries, from medieval to modern. In addition, The collection of Soviet art is particularly interesting. In addition, the museum hosts special exhibits on a regular basis.
Currently, the museum is featuring the atmospheric monochrome works of the artist Eva Levina-Rozengolts, painted during her exile in Siberia, which makes some very moving pieces. Also, the museum is showing an exhibit called “The Art of Collecting,” which explore the background and history of the museums collections, the largest collection of 20th century Russian art outside of Russia. A very good time to drop in for first time visitors, I think. In any case, I highly recommend checking it out sometime! Either of these places are a good place to get a little taste of Russian culture and history.
Russian Tea House, Friday and Saturday 11:00-3:00, 1758 University Ave, St. Paul
The Museum of Russian Art, Monday-Friday 10:oo-5:00, Saturday 10:00-4:00, Sunday 1:00-5:00, Admission $9 Adults, Seniors $7, students $5, children free, 5500 Stevens Ave S, Minneapolis