By G. Michael Dobbs
WEST SPRINGFIELD In an industry dominated by cookie-cutter chain restaurants, restaurateurs such as Arturas Ribinskas stands apart.
Ribinskas is one of the people behind Crepes Tea House, a restaurant that serves primarily Russian and Slavic dishes with an emphasis on fresh ingredients and cooking each dish to order.
Ribinskas proudly said there are no microwave ovens in this kitchen.
"The idea is to make the food, not to heat it up," he explained.
By insisting on fresh ingredients, Ribinskas said the staff does a lot more shopping, but the results are worth the extra effort.
Ribinskas said the restaurant takes different approaches to familiar dishes. For instance, with the stuffed peppers, the staff cooks the meat stuffing first, then places it in the pepper, which is then steamed, instead of baked.
"You kill the pepper" by baking it, Ribinskas said.
The restaurant uses as little oil as it can in its recipes and what it does use is extra virgin olive oil.
Opened about a year ago at 261 Union St., Crepes Tea House has a coffee house feel to it. Half of the restaurant is set up as a traditional dining room, while the other half features comfortable couches and tables.
In the center is what used to be a bar, but Ribinskas doesn't have, or want, a license to serve alcohol. Instead, the bar is used to create the tea and juice drinks the restaurant features.
Seeing a wine list in a restaurant is a common site, but being handed a tea menu with more than 100 different teas is singular to this area. Ribinskas even has exclusive teas such as one dubbed "Cossack Tea." The teas sell by the cup, pot or samovar.
The restaurant is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday and on Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Every Thursday, Ribinskas features music and, once a month, he stages an interview show, which is then taped from broadcast over local cable access channels.
He even offers free WiFi to customers.
Reminder Publications news staffers Katelyn Gendron and Chris Maza joined me for lunch at Crepes Tea House. The wide and varied menu took a moment to view. The eatery features breakfast items such as potato pancakes ($4.55) as well as lunch and dinner items, such as beef stroganoff ($11.95), varenki pierogi-like dumplings that come stuffed with cheese or salmon and mashed potatoes ($7.55) and Ukrainian borsch (small bowl, $4.60 and large bowl $6.95).
When one comes to a place called Crepes Tea House, one should try the crepes, which we did. Katelyn went for a sweet crepe ($5.35) stuffed with fruit of her choice, while Chris and I ordered crepes with meat and vegetables.
The diner designs his or her own crepe. I chose beef with onions, black olives and green peppers. Chris chose chicken breast and vegetables. We then chose a sauce, which was served on the side. We both chose the large size, which is $5.55.
All of us were impressed by the taste and quality and were defeated by the portion size.
Our host wanted us to sample several of the desserts they make a tiramisu and a layered trifle that was made with rye bread crumbs. The tiramisu was amazing, one of the best I've ever tasted. The trifle featured layers of sweet cream with a berry jam and sweetened breadcrumbs that had a nut-like flavor. It was also very impressive.
Ribinskas also wanted us to try some of the restaurant's signature drinks. Katelyn tried the Cossack Tea, which she enjoyed, and I ordered a Coke. What I received though wasn't an ordinary Coca Cola, but a Mexican Coke that still has cane sugar as the sweetener instead of high fructose corn syrup. Ribinskas make a point of finding the Mexican Coke to offer to his customers.
We also tried Kvass (small glass $1.95), a traditional Russian non-alcoholic drink that is made at the restaurant from bread. Our beer expert Chris noted its yeasty taste and I liked its combination of sweet and tart tastes.
For more information, visit www.crepesteahouse.com.
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