Sounds of muffled conversation and soft jazz intermingle in the main dining room of Cafe St. Petersburg. The cozy restaurant has specialized in Russian fare since it opened in Newton Centre in 2005.
“In general for me, [Russian food] is very homey food,” manager Dan Mataiev said. “The best way to describe it is like food cooked by your grandmother. It’s very homey, very warm. We love our potatoes. We love our vodka.”
Those are no understatements. Cafe St. Petersburg’s potatoes are covered in herbs that give them a rich flavor. A bite through the golden crust unveils the tender filling inside.
Of course, diners can wash their meals down with one of the many seasonal infused vodkas available, including garlic and lemon, cranberry, horseradish, pineapple, and strawberry.
The family-owned business opened in Brookline in 1994. After 10 years, Cafe St. Petersburg moved to the current location nestled in Newton’s Piccadilly Square. Off of Union Street, a red brick path leads to the venue’s distinctive terrace and entrance.
A satisfying appetizer is indispensable to a good full meal, and Cafe St. Petersburg offers many traditional Russian dishes that serve the role perfectly.
Pirozhki are pastries that come hot to the table for a price of $2.50. Guests can choose between meat or cabbage as the filling beneath a flaky crust.
Some of the restaurant’s most popular dishes are Borscht for $8.95, Siberian Pelmeni for $18.50, and the Sturgeon “Tzar” for $25.95.
The Sturgeon “Tzar” comes either steamed or pan fried, as the fish swims in a white spinach and dill sauce with fried potatoes on top. The soft Sturgeon meat contrasts the crunchy potato, and interplay between the two consistencies makes every bite interesting.
Diners can also find Georgian dishes at the restaurant. The Chicken Tabaka, a pressed and fried cornish hen, and the Chicken Shashlik, skewered and covered in plum sauce, are two standouts.
The restaurant, however, is not just a place to eat—it is also a social hub for the local community. The restaurant hosts Karaoke nights on the first Friday of each month and jazz nights every two weeks.
Visitors can hear multiple languages throughout the establishment, which is frequented by Newton residents and Boston College students as well as members of the Greater Boston Russian community.
Mataiev said he is particularly grateful for the Eastern European community’s support during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Without them, we probably wouldn’t even be open,” he said. “They held us down through COVID. We had a lot of customers that came in and times where a lot of people didn’t want to.”
The restaurant’s community ties also drive its charity work. Earlier this year, the restaurant organized a sold-out fundraiser for Dynamo Fencing Center, a fencing school run by a local Ukrainian fencing coach.
Cafe St. Petersburg’s website contains information on how to donate to Helping Hands, a charity that provides Ukrainians displaced by the Russian invasion with meals and other necessities. One of Mataiev’s former roommates—who is Ukrainian—is among the charity’s organizers.
Cafe St. Petersburg is located at 57 Union Street, Suite 1. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday from noon to 1 a.m., and Sunday from noon to 11 p.m.