For this installment of Cheap Eats I finally made it to the restaurant with the chicken hearts that I mentioned in my previous entry. Set’ Pivnikh Barov, or literally “Chain of Beer Bars,” are dotted throughout the city, with 18 outlets in St Petersburg alone, plus an additional 10 in Moscow and one in Kazan. There are SPBs near a couple of the dorms on Vasilevsky Island, meaning you can get a late-night meal without worrying about the bridges going up and stranding you. Although I went alone this time, I’ve visited it in on numerous occasions with other SRAS students, and members of my local host family have also gone there for a drink and to hang out.
“SPB,” as they cleverly call themselves, open in the afternoon and stay open all night. The Sadovaya street outlet where I ate closes only at 3am on weekends. The atmosphere is definitely more that of a club than a restaurant and is generally pretty dark! They play club-esque music throughout the day, and I ate my lunch to English-language hip-hop with pretty questionable lyrics that were more suited to a 1am drunken dance party than a 1pm student lunch. You can tell they want to be the cool place for Russians to hang out, as the menu is printed in a confusing mix of English and Cyrillic letters, and the menu headings are English words transliterated into Cyrillic (think “фиш”). This gives it a quirky and fun atmosphere, and you can tell they don’t take themselves too seriously.
SPB has a selection of both Russian and Western food, including chicken wings, borscht, solyanka and shashliks. The initial draw for me was their advertising of a dish they called the “Lady Killer.” I went in with two other students and we all ordered the same thing, only to find out that it was actually chicken hearts on a stick. It is unapologetically chicken heart-y, and isn’t disguised in any way. Although they’re incredibly chewy and taste like internal organs, it’s definitely an experience that you don’t get everyday. It comes with delicious french fries, which one of my student dinner companions devoured while leaving the majority of the chicken hearts.
SPB also offers a number of three-course business lunch options for 190 rubles, which includes a drink of either mors, kvas or juice. These drinks will probably seem small to Americans, but three courses and a drink for 190 rubles really can’t be beat. I ordered “Lunch Number 1,” which offers fresh, raw vegetables with sour cream, cold borscht, and chicken ragu. The vegetables were crunchy and tasty, and there were a lot of them, mostly cucumber and tomatoes. The borscht was surprisingly flavorful, and had large vegetable and meat pieces floating in it. I was taken aback by the chicken ragu, which I found to actually have a somewhat spicy flavour, something of a rarity in Russia. I definitely had to leave some food and was full until dinnertime, so I think that the business lunches are a real bargain.
The table service was polite and they cleared plates away quickly, but unlike in some other restaurants, they make sure you’re finished first. They also advertise kalyani (hookah pipes) and serve flavored beers for a fairly reasonable rate. The sheer volume of SPB outlets around town means they’re an easy and reliable option for students, and as they’re geared towards a younger crowd, there’s a more welcoming atmosphere than in some restaurants (the Soviet-style cafeterias for example). For good beer, cheap food and a dozen chicken hearts on stick, definitely stop by SPB!
For groups and faculty-led tours, most SPB locations have plenty of space to accommodate you and the Sadovaya street location has booths big enough to seat 10 or more if they squished in together a bit. Although this is not a place to showcase traditional culture, 190 rubles for a filling business lunch is great, and it’s interesting to see what restaurants aimed at our Russian contemporaries are like.