For years, I've written about the piroshky, hearty breads and delicious cakes of Friendly Foods, an Eastern European grocery store near the corner of South Union Avenue and Center Street in Tacoma. In January, the little grocery store expanded next door with an equally small fast-style cafe serving European steam table fare.
The cafe reminded me of the steam table offerings at Euro Food & Deli in Federal Way, which has a decent selection of take-out foods (get the cabbage rolls and piroshky), but no seating area. Little European Cafe changes its menu daily. On one visit, you may find chicken in tomato sauce and chicken with a thin gravy next to savory pork meatballs. On another, you might find borscht or sausage soup. Steam table entrees are $5-$6 a pound. Sides like potatoes, plain pasta or rice are a daily offering at $2.99 a pound. Soup is $2.49 for a small bowl. The same piroshky made at the grocery store next door also are for sale for $1.69.
On a recent visit, I sampled meatballs - the kind that fill the palm of your hand - made from seasoned ground pork and fortified with rice. The football-shaped meatballs were pan fried and crispy on the edges, breaking soft and tender to the middle. The pork-cabbage soup tasted strongly of beets, although I didn't fish any out of the tomato broth. On another visit, sauerkraut with salty German sausage tasted straight from grandma's kitchen. The yeasty potato piroshky was fresh from the fryer.
The piroshky left a trace of grease on my fingertips, and a pleasing flavor on my palate - these are some of the best (and only) piroshky in the region and come stuffed with pork, cabbage or potato. They also sell the cousins of piroshky - belyashi and chebureki, which are pockets of fried dough stuffed with meat and vegetables.
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The cafe is fast casual - order at the counter for take-out, or serve yourself on ceramic plates and find your own seat in the handsome dining room with couches in the corner meant for lounging with espresso, which the cafe also serves. Make Little European Cafe a dessert and coffee destination, too. In the display case, you'll find a by-the-slice selection of the same honey, chocolate and strawberry layered cakes you can buy next door at Friendly Foods.
Little European CafeWhere: 3612 Center St., TacomaPhone: 253-752-5649Hours: noon-9 p.m. daily