Nostalgia and Convenience
Emelya is part of a growing number of cafeteria-style restaurants in Russia. These are generally more cost-effective than the usual sit-down restaurant – and can be great for foreigners as you don’t need to read a menu to chose what you want. You can rely on your sense of sight and smell because the food is right there in front of you. These also apparently have nostalgia working in their favor. One of my local friends told me that these Soviet-style cafe “stolovaya” were extremely popular during Soviet times and have been seeing a resurgence in recent years.
My friends Barbara, Victoria and I ordered the largest of the three “Business Lunch” options for 210 rubles, and were able to choose from a variety of soups, salads, sides, and main dishes. Because we were feeling adventurous, apparently, we all ordered exactly the same four items – vegetable soup (in chicken broth and with bits of chicken mixed in), cabbage-cucumber salad, buckwheat, and schnitzels (a dish made of pounded meat, breaded and fried). While the food itself was somewhere between adequate and underwhelming, it served its purpose in filling us up, and for less than 10 American dollars!
When we came in we were the only three people in the entire restaurant. Apparently 12:30 is an early lunch time for Russians, as we noticed a small wave trickle in about 30 minutes after us. As we approached we saw three servers standing behind the counter, all of whom turned out to be very friendly and accommodating in patiently explaining our business lunch options and flashing a hint of an unusual-for-Russians smile in the process. The only other curious part of the ordering experience was that as we were paying, our food was heated in the microwave directly behind the cash register before it was given to us. We were definitely happy our business lunches were warmer, but it was still a little odd to witness the process.
The food itself was fine – nothing to write home about (even if that’s sort of what I’m doing now), but it was satisfactory. The vegetable soup was a tad bland, the salad was a bit strong, although to be fair it could have been the local cabbage providing the kick, and the grechka was very plain and dry, though I suppose this is Russia’s definition of grechka. The schnitzels were probably the highlight of the meal. We had a hard time getting through all of the food (none of us finished) because it was so much. In a great customer-service move, they also gave us take-home boxes for what we couldn’t finish. Some might call saving the scraps from a cafeteria-style meal in Russia a bit odd – but I would call it true budget eating. After all this was our goal coming in!
Cost and Final Assessment
The service is above average, the atmosphere is quiet and pleasant, the food is filling and diverse but not stellar, the prices are very reasonable (210 for the biggest business lunch, 260-290 if you add a drink). Overall our experience was a positive one. Enough so that we went back each of the next two days!
For groups and faculty-led tours, Emelya can be a very good option. The service is fast, ordering lends itself to providing all levels of Russian speakers to use their skills if they have them (or not if they don’t). There is plenty of seating – including an outdoor patio in the summer.