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article imageSan Francisco Bakery is honored to carry on Russian traditions Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Jul 22, 2011 in Food
San Francisco - Russian Culture in San Francisco is alive and doing well at Cinderella Bakery & Café in the City’s Richmond District. And, what better way to get acquainted with a people and their culture than through food.
Since 1953 the bakery café has been one of the well-established gathering spots for the Russian community to enjoy fresh made specialties like Pelmeni, Vareniki, Borsch, Piroshki or Blinchiki with caviar.
The aroma of baking bread and sweet pastries fills the air along the 400-block of Balboa Street. Standard specialties like Makowiec, (some people in the Ukraine call it Makivnek) are among the most popular items. The tasty sweet bread is rolled and filled with poppy seeds.
“My favorites are the croissants,” said Patricia Lilavois. “They are so delicious,” she said. Cinderella overs a wide variety of fresh baked breads from rye to country loaf to multi-grain, just to name a few.
Lilavois visits Cinderella frequently. It is one of her favorite café’s in the neighborhood. “I like the way they remodeled the place,” she said.
She was eager to encourage passersby like this reporter and a friend, Tom Condon to come in and “try the artisan coffee, it is really good,” she said.
Gone are the lace curtains and tablecloths, that had adorned the cafe for many years. The new contemporary interior is smaller, yet clean, tidy and efficient with more room for shelves and glass counters that display a plentiful array of baked goods.
Owner Mike Fishman opened an adjacent door, and exclaimed, “see, now we have a lot more baking and cooking space” as he pointed to rows upon rows of bread and pastries cooling on shelves, in a state-of-the-art facility.
Cinderella does catering. Russians love to celebrate and the most universal way everyone celebrates is with food. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner Tables and chairs are now outside for a more sidewalk café type of atmosphere. And, on a sunny day in the often-foggy Richmond District, outside is where everyone wants to be.
Fishman is pleased that he and his family made the changes. “About a year ago, we did a complete remodeling, it was time for a change," said Fishman. He is pleased with the results because as he said, “the response has been tremendous.”
Fishman proudly called attention to a “Certificate of Honor” presented to Cinderella Bakery by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors this past May 17. Such accolades are no surprise, the steady stream of customers flowing in and out give even better witness to the bakery’s success.
Orders for Piroshki are constant. Cinderella offers them in seven varieties baked or fried. Piroshki are a soft donut like pastry filled with beef, vegetables, such as cabbage, potatoes, mushrooms and various cheeses, like Cheddar and Gorgonzola.
A customer has just ordered a dish of Pelmeni. Condon a resident of the Richmond District, lives not far from Balboa Street. It is a busy corridor where local shops, cafes and restaurants are abundant. Yet he admitted, “I have never been here before,” he said. “
He was curious about the Pelmeni. “And what is that?” Condon asked with fascination as his eyes followed the dish to the table.
“These are Russian style dumplings,” said staff member, Sergei. “They are served with sour cream,” he said.
Sergei who works behind the counter helping customers brings the Pelmeni steaming hot to the table where the man who ordered them eagerly stops texting and puts aside his electronic device to enjoy his meal.
“Something that gets someone to set aside a cell phone, laptop computer, wow!” Condon was amazed, “what is it that Cinderella has, Condon asked, aloud, that can get the attention of the people to break the spell that 21st Century gadgets have over them?”
“And, what’s this?” Condon noticed all the people as the seating area was filled. “People ordering food and having their pastries with a cup of coffee at table are actually socializing,” he said.
“They are talking to one another with smiles, greeting passersby. “What is this magic that Cinderella has?” Taking a bite of his beef and Gorgonzola cheese Piroshki, he suddenly got the answer.
Good, wholesome old-fashioned food cooked and baked fresh each day as it has been done for generations. “That is the magic,” he surmised. The renovations and remodeling are new but the food is stable, steady abundant and delicious.
“My mom and I have worked here since the 1980’s,” said Fishman. The bakery has been a fixture in the area since 1953. Over the years ownership has changed hands.
"We purchased the business in the 80's," said Fishman,. "Then my mom retired and and I had a partner, then couple of years ago it became just me and that is when I decided to give it a new approach." he said.
Fishman, who attended the San Francisco Baking Institute, noted that his mom was very helpful in the endeavor. Together with others, as a family enterprise they were confident they could carry on the traditions to a new generation with a new approach.
“I want to go back some time soon and try more on the menu,” said Condon. He noticed that Cinderella’s serves dinners too like Beef stroganoff, Chicken Kiev and Cornish Hen stuffed with garlic and spices. And, entrées are under $12. That appealed to Condon very much.
Cinderella Bakery & Café at 436 Balboa Street is open six days a week. Eat at the café or call or email to place orders for easy curbside pick-up.
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