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Comfort food, Russian style at Nane's Pelmenis

Carly Horton Stuart
Beef and pork dumplings are served up at Nane's Pelmenis Russian Dumplings.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Nane's Pelmenis Russian Dumplings is at 410 W. Fourth Ave.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News

Variety may be the spice of life, but there's something to be said for doing one thing and doing it well. Nane's Pelmenis does not boast an extensive menu or endeavor to be all things to all people. Rather, the no-frills eatery offers pelmeni, Russian dumplings akin to pierogi, in potato and meat versions.

Customers can spice up the dish with chili sauce, cool it down with sour cream or add a dash of soy sauce for Asian-inspired flavor, but no matter how you top them, the savory little dumplings are the star attraction.

Nane's opened in August, the brainchild of Natalie "Nane" Bevegni and her husband Andres. Neither is of Russian extraction, but Natalie grew up in Juneau, where pelmeni were popular among the late-night bar crowd. After moving to Anchorage, she set about creating her own recipe, and her husband made two trips to Russia to perfect it.

My husband and I visited on a dreary spring weekday. The dumplings are produced every Monday at an off-site kitchen, but steam rose from a pot boiling away on the stove at the Fourth Avenue eatery. Instead of tables, a counter with barstools lined the perimeter of the restaurant. The Spartan kitchen held only a burner and sink. A refrigerated case displayed cans of soda and plastic condiment containers of sour cream.

First-time visitors, take note: The restaurant only accepts cash, and if you place more than one order, you can ask for both potato and meat (a blend of pork and beef) dumplings. We each opted for the potato-meat combination. Eight dollars will get you a bowl of pelmeni, a slice of rye bread and a can of soda.

Our orders were up in about 10 minutes. The dumplings were topped with melted butter, a sprinkling of curry, chili sauce and fresh cilantro. We were instructed to mix in the sour cream and let the pelmeni sit for a few minutes to absorb the flavors. The bread could be used to sop up the remaining sauce.

We did as advised, and the dumplings did not disappoint. Tender dough gave way to a filling that was either rich and savory (meat) or creamy and comforting (potato). The chili sauce added heat and nicely balanced the cool acidity of the sour cream, while the cilantro added fresh flavor and a vibrant dose of color. It was the perfect dish for a cold, gray day -- comfort food with an exotic twist.

I decided I needed an expert's opinion, so on my second trip I enlisted the help of my friend Victoria, a Russian. She described pelmeni as the "ultimate Russian comfort food" and said every family has its own way of eating them. The dumplings should be small and uniform, with not-too-thick dough that holds its shape after boiling. Russian cooks pride themselves on (and are judged by) the uniformity of the shape of their pelmeni.

We ordered two bowls of meat and potato dumplings. Victoria said the curry powder, chili sauce and cilantro were unconventional condiments -- Russians eat pelmeni with butter and sour cream and possibly a squirt of ketchup.

My friend thought the dough was too thick, though, and a few of the dumplings were falling apart. In authentic pelmeni, the dough shell is as thin as possible (not unlike a wonton) and the proportion of filling to dough is usually higher. Still, for the uninitiated, a doughier dumpling might not be a bad thing.

The eatery is open until 3:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and I'd imagine pelmeni would be delicious after an evening out on the town. Those looking for a tasty, affordable, stick-to-your-ribs meal would be wise to check out Nane's Pelmenis at any time of the day or night.

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By Carly Horton Stuart
Daily News correspondent