By LAURA REILEY
Times Food Critic
ST. PETERSBURG — When I hear "Yummy Mama," my thoughts turn to British chick lit about fashion-forward young mothers. So what is Yummy Mama's Food? Frozen yogurt for toddlers and their nubile handlers? No, it means delicious food that a mama might make, specifically a Russian one. Confused?
This is why it has taken me a long time to find my way over to Yummy Mama's Food Kafe & Marketplace, which opened in a lovely historic Queen Anne-style house in December. Yelena and Jakov Podolskaya are doing a nice job, providing a pleasant environment in which to sample a range of traditional Russian foods and beverages, but I wasn't clear on the concept.
It doesn't help that a gargantuan sign outside says "European Food." That covers a lot of ground. French? Italian? I tried to find out, but there's no Web site and it's not listed with directory assistance (an unfortunate trend I've seen recently where restaurateurs try to cover all phone needs with a cell, not realizing the continued importance of directory assistance in reaching consumers).
The building itself has had a long run. Built in 1901 for St. Petersburg mayor Albert Blocker, the building later was a Shrine Club, then the International Club, a nursing home, a school of dance and then a lunch spot called Mansion by the Bay. Little bits of each of these incarnations are still perceptible, but it all fades when you sit down to a Ukrainian Obolon pale ale ($4.50), while chasing potato vareniki ($7) around a plate and listening to live Russian music (weekends only).
The Georgian wines may be an acquired taste, but a Russian cream soda ($2.50) and classic Russian herring ($6) don't need much introduction. The plush plank of herring is served traditionally, with simple boiled potato rounds and shaved white onion, a light meal when paired with a bowl of sturdy, wholesome Ukrainian borscht ($5), heavy on the cabbage and soft stew beef.
Polish pierogis may be better known than their Russian and Ukrainian cousins, which explains why all these dumplings are clustered under the heading "handmade pierogis." Russian pelmeni are usually characterized by more filling and thinner dough than Ukrainian vareniki, but Yummy Mama's potato vareniki ($7) are thin and delicate, the potato flavor complemented by a dab of sour cream. Thicker and sturdier, veal pelmeni ($7) and hinkali ($8), ground lamb with Mediterranean spices in a perfectly pinched dumpling, were practically a meal in themselves.
Still, the kebabs ($11 to $16) and the dessert pastries ($2 to $4) may be the menu highlights, the former a heavily marinated Russian shashlik style served with a nice multicolored tomato salad, another cold cucumber salad, rounds of white onion and a big pile of rice. And the desserts, a range of cookie-like napoleons sandwiching chocolate or fruit and cream, are imported from Russia, a nice marriage with a bracing housemade Russian coffee.
The Podolskayas aim to add a Russian breakfast and brunch buffet soon, another enticement to try the earthy foods of our namesake city.
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, is at www.blogs.tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.