Apr 252008

International Grocery/Taste of Russia has closed

This was an interesting lunch. I was driving east on 79th just beyond downtown Overland Park, heading god knows where when I saw this little spot I had not noticed before. There is a sign that reads “Taste of Russia.” Next to that is a sign that says “International Grocery.” In front of the door was a placard advertising $3.99 lunch specials with a free drink. A double-take and a u-turn later there I was. Here’s the story of how I went in pursuit of borscht and wound up with middle eastern food…

This place is absolutely nuts, and I loved it. A sign on the door in rambling, verbage described how they would honor any competitor’s coupons and would not be taken by scams or other unscrupulous business practices and so forth. Only the sign said it much less eloquently than that.

Inside was a small grocery full of all sorts of imported foodstuffs, vegetables in the sunset of their years, and items which can only be described as “knick knacks.” Very gaudy knick knacks. Anyhow, there was also a deli counter full of salamis, sausages, dried and pickled whole fish, and various other delights. But I wasn’t really getting a Russian vibe, mostly because the woman behind the counter was wearing an Islamic headscarf.

While waiting for the woman in front of me to remove 6 dozen coins from her handbag, count them, drop them, hand them over, take them back and hand them back again, I noticed that there were two tables by the front window with menus on them.

That’s right, just two tables.

I read the menu while the change-lady–who sure as hell isn’t Russian either–finally paid up. The menu was only barely making sense. “What’s good?” I ask the proprietess. “Kabobs” she replies.

Kabobs? I thought this was “Taste of Russia?” I mean, there was even a photo of Supreme Overlord Russian President Vladimir Putin behind the cash register. I asked about Russian food, and she indicated the “Salami, bologna kielbasas–stuff like that” is the Russian food. She didn’t sound too excited about it so I didn’t push my luck. I don’t want scary Russian bologna unless its prepared with love.

I ordered the kabobs.

She then told me it would take 15-20 minutes for her to prepare the meal. She disappeared behind a curtain for a long time. Someone came in the shop, looked at the menu and left. Someone else came in and talked (yelled) with the owner while she shopped. This was just too weird. I looked around the market while I waited and…hey wait, didn’t meesha post about Russian candy yesterday? Just went back and read the post and not surprisingly, he mentions Taste of Russia at the end. Is this like some kind of weird harmonic convergence? Anyhow, KC’s favorite Russian Jew is correct, there are a million kinds of candy at this place, easily 1/3 of their entire stock. I also discovered a hilarious soft drink called “Cockta” that I wanted to try but there was no bottle opener and the proprietor was hiding behind the magic curtain making my Russian kabobs or whatever. I was pretty much convinced this meal was going to be a disaster.

Jesus Christ that was a long wait, but finally the food arrived, steaming hot in a styrofoam container. And let me tell you, it was good, really good. If you had an Egyptian grandmother who was married to a Russian, this is what her food would taste like.

The kabob was very similar to the kind I had at Holyland Cafe, but came atop the most delicious rice dish I have ever had. The rice was cooked perfectly, and tasted simple and humble, complemented with nutty grains that looked like little brown squiggles, like…well, you ever seen fish poop? Anyway, there was also some chunky hummus which was surprisingly good and obviously made from dried garbanzo beans. The pita triangles were even toasted for my pleasure.

After I ate, I talked with the woman for a few minutes. She is indeed Egyptian and I couldn’t get a straight answer why there was a sign that said ‘Taste of Russia.’ outside. I asked about all the Russian foodstuffs, but she simply said “this is the international grocery, we have everything.”

This is definitely an odd experience, and I could go on and on, but I have rambled too much already. Basically, it’s a great little ethnic market that has a lot of stuff you won’t find anywhere else. I’m going to try the kielbasa next time, but I can’t imagine this will be a regular stop for me, just because the awkward atmosphere. But I’m very glad I went and think everyone should pop in when they are in the neighborhood. Buy some candy.

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  18 Responses to “International Grocery: 7228 W 79th St. – CLOSED”

  1. Wow! The store was started by a Russian immigrant couple some years ago and then they sold it to the current owners. They added more stuff but still maintain Russian food supplies which mostly come from Chicago and NY. They speak and understand few words in Russian and are very nice. They are within walking distance from Santa Fe Towers where many of their older non-English speaking customers live. They sell lots of candy,canned stuff,deli meats and cheeses. Most of these are made in NYC and FDA inspected I am sure. So no need to be scared of bologna. They also sell some vegetables. The other store – European Delights is more upscale and better organized but I believe slightly more expensive.I never ate there though but I talked to the lady-owner and she sounded like a great cook.
    I enjoy your reviews and wish, you’d eat out every day.We have to hook up for lunch some day.

    • It was interesting to read your blog about the unrefined sunflower oil. I tried to contact this store and couldn’t…I guess it must have closed.

      Our company, Bainter Sunflower Oil, located in western Kansas, processes sunflower oil the same way. It’s 100% pure, natural sunflower oil! Not bleached, deodorized or refined with chemicals. We do not add anything to our oil – no stabilizers, etc.

      I would be very pleased to send a bottle to you for your opinion. I have many customers from foreign countries who love our oil, because it is like the oil they used at home.

  2. While you are on the international grocery “theme”, there is a place on the northeast corner of 75th & Metcalf (across Metcalf from 24 Hour Fitness), that might be interesting to compare and contrast. I went there to get philo dough for making Balava, and noticed that they had lunch specials. I remember it smelled pretty good in there…

    Sorry, I don’t remember the name.

  3. Oh goofy I’ll find it. Expect a report before too long. Philo dough is a bitch, huh?

  4. Thanks for writing up the adventure! I look forward to trying it – maybe even eating if I have the time.

  5. The place is run by an Egyptain name Akman. I’ve been going there for years.

    They have the best hard Salami. I really like their Kabanosy (a small polish sausage stick). See if they have any cured (dried). There was a Polish deli back home in Chicago called Helen’s that reminds me of this place.

    To Goofy Girl: your thinking of Mediterranean Cafe on 74th & Metcalf. We buy their Gyro meat in bulk for a good price.

    While your at it check out; Werner’s Fine Sausage. They make their own German sausages and grill outside on the weekends; 5736 Johnson Drive in Mission, KS. They make their own hotdogs, veal brats, veal loaf, other Brats & Landjaeger to name a few. Well worth checking them out.

    If anyone’s interested I have a list of places in the area on the same theme.

  6. I’ve always wondered why Santa Fe Towers is filled with Russians. Any thoughts, Meesha?

  7. 1)section 8 2)older people who don’t speak English like to congregate in places where they are understood.

  8. I just stumbled across this almost at random, but I’ve gotta tell you, you missed out on one of the real delights of Russian/Ukrainian/whatever cuisine… what you need to try is smoked salo (pork fat) with young garlic or green onions… and I wonder if the rice you had was plov? it’s a Uzbek dish of lamb-fried rice and it is fantastic…

  9. knives-errant, this place doesn’t have much in the way of Eastern European fare, it’s mostly Middle Eastern because of the changeover in ownership. That being said, I am so all over smoked pork fat if i ever see it. Thanks for the tip.

  10. Fritz’s on State Line and 435 has it. See proof,not the same but close enough. Russian store may have it, I personally never bought it there.

  11. Leonard, I’d really like to see your list of places in the area along the lines of “Taste of Russia” and Werner’s. Thanks!

  12. Bichelmeyer Meats
    Great homemade sausages and great meats
    7th Trafficway & R35

    European Delights
    Another Russian place great sausages & salamis
    95th & Antioch

    Krizman Sausage
    They make the sausage for Oklahoma Joes
    North Kansas City
    Also, check 'Amy Renee's Bakery' across the street

    McGonigle's Market
    Great sauages and meats
    been on that corner forever
    1307 West 79th Street
    KC, MO 64114

    And of course: Taste of Russia & Werner's Fine Sausage

    If there are any other old world places, please list them. Lenny

  13. The prize of this location is the pickled tomatoes. FANTASTIC. They have several sizes, but the best are cherry tomatoes, they are bite size flavor bombs that explode in your mouth with an intensity that makes you want to move to Russia. the green tomatoes are firmer, and can be eaten like an apple. sometimes I go with those just so I limit my intake to one or two. I could eat one of the 5 gallon jugs they brine the cherry tomatoes in.

  14. Just so everyone/anyone knows…my wife and I tried to visit this store yesterday. IT IS GONE. Vacated. The place is no longer there. And the Russian Grocery store on 75th and Metcalf has been gone for at least 3 years (pizza hut is now there).

    The only store in the Kansas City area that we could find with Russian merchandise was "European Delights" 8841 W 95th St Overland Park, KS 66212 Which it was a delightful store filled mostly with Russian things. If anyone else knows more about places in the Kansas City Area, we would love to know. THanks.

  15. Yes, this place has been closed for some time – I thought I had updated the post to reflect that but it seems I overlooked it. I didn't realize the market on 75th and Metcalf was closed, however.