I once lived in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood of Chicago where delis selling pierogies and Russian delicacies were on every street corner. With the exception of a couple of places, Cincinnati’s been devoid of good Eastern European food, until now.
Bea Terekhov and her family make their “puffins,” aka puff pastries, from scratch using family recipes. Their signature pastry is what’s called a piroshky, a smaller, Russian version of the Italian calzone or a thicker version of the Polish pierogi. It starts with the freshly made dough that’s full of sweet yeast and light spices. After being stuffed with vegetables or meats like Bavarian sausages, the pastries inflate in the oven.
Puffins Bistro and Desserts is nestled in a Blue Ash office park off the main drag of Reed Hartman and can be hard to pin down — just look for the “Now Open” banner outside. The interior combines a European al fresco café with Eastern European sensibilities. A rustic mural of an outdoor café dominates the walls along with faux Venetian plaster. The dining room mirrors the mural with a set of 14 or so wooden tables: a few four-seaters, a few allocated just for two people. The menu items are listed on a chalkboard above the counter, which is where you order. On a rainy Friday night, there was only one soul in the entire place. It’s not much of a dinner destination yet, but since they’re in an office park they’re full during lunch. They’ve also been busy lately with catering and holiday dessert demands.
The menu offers a variety of individual piroshky ($5-$7 each) such as egg, cheese and green onion; smoked salmon and cream cheese; beef and sautéed cabbage; beef, rice and cheese; potato, mushroom and onion; and sausages served with mustard and sauerkraut.
Realizing their piroshky combos were the most economical and opportune, I ordered the potato, broccoli and cheese piroshky with a scoop of Russian potato salad and a scoop of potato and beets deli salad ($8.99).
The boyfriend chose the Bavarian sausage combo ($9.25) and a cup of chicken stew. As for drinks, they just have fountain and bottled Coke products, coffee and iced tea — no interesting Russian beverages or anything. Terekhov, who was working the counter, quickly gathered the food and served it to us in minutes. In that short time, our eyes shifted to the mouthwatering dessert case containing cream puffs; we decided to return for more puffs after we ate those warm, savory pockets.
The slightly browned samosa-esque pocket was thick enough to drive me to use a knife and fork to cut it open. After the steam subsided, my first bite was met with a shock of pepper and a light cheese flavor — a hearty and filling meal. Made with carrots, fresh dill, peas, egg and creamed with mayo, the potato salad was good, but I wasn’t into the beet salad (not surprising since I hate beets). The cubed colors of beet red and fuchsia were pretty, though, and the boyfriend, who is a beet aficionado, said it was “a very good beet salad.”
His dishes were also satisfying: The soup, served in a crock, was rich and tangy, and the Cajun sausage was moist, with the bread absorbing the juices.
Next came the moment we’d waited for: cream puff time. More than 10 different types of desserts filled several rows of the case, each one more desirable than the next. Terekhov rattled off the names of desserts, but there were so many I couldn’t keep track. What I did catch were Russian tea cakes, Napoleons, Oreo cookies with a festive holiday marshmallow hat, iced cookies, cream puffs with and without sprinkles, pumpkin rolls and buckeyes (Ohio, represent!), but we decided on an apricot rugelach, a chocolate glazed cream puff and a Napoleon drizzled with chocolate ($8.50 for the three desserts). The pillowy cream puff was made with the right consistency of speckled vanilla bean custard and was so good it really should be in competition at Oktoberfest next year. The crescent-shaped rugelach embedded with apricot preserves had a nice crisp and crunch to it, and the Napoleon, layered with vanilla bean, was the most pedantic and soggy of the three desserts.
The sweet part of Puffins is reason alone to visit, but the savory part should be given attention, too. Terekhov told us no one else in town is making this kind of food — luckily she’s doing it right.
Puffins Bistro and Desserts
Go: 11033 Reed Hartman Highway, Blue Ash
Hours: 10:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturday