Just two blocks east of Huckleberry, where just-baked fruit crostatas and gorgeous chocolate croissants are displayed in all of their sunny Santa Monica glory, you will find Ukraina Deli. This nondescript sliver of a Russian/Ukrainian shop takes the opposite approach of so many popular food markets today by specializing in foodstuffs that get better as they age. Sausages, bacon slabs and bologna piled on top of one another in no apparent order; Russian rye bread as it should be (dense, dark and dry); whole smoked herring and other unidentified preserved fish.
The tiny, shotgun space is lined with packaged imported Russian cookies and candies along one wall, a dairy refrigerator in back (filled with fresh Russian cheeses like tvorog), and two refrigerated deli counters on the opposite wall. It is there, beneath a Happy New Year sign circa 1992, that you will likely find the proprietress speaking in Russian to longstanding customers as they point to this bologna and that sausage (Estonskaya, Krakovskaya, Shinkovana, Krestianska).
It is also there where, when you step up to order the salmon roe that your Russian friend so kindly brought to dinner recently, you may get a blank stare as the preceding conversation with other customers in Russian comes to an abbreviated halt. Not that we blame the proprietress, as some Yelpers are wont to do. All we could do was point to the tub of Atlantic salmon roe and say we wanted “some” in English, so the proprietress pulled out several sizes of Styrofoam cups. “This is the ¼ pound,” she declared more than said in a thick accent. It was a reminder, we presume, for us to remember the correct quantity next time, and at those prices, we most certainly will. For about $20 we got enough poor man's caviar to spoon on an entire month's worth of crackers as appetizers — or, as our Russian friend instructed us, on very thin, small squares of that dark Russian rye spread with butter.
And then, just before we left with our caviar, we spied a handful of fantastic aprons behind the counter. “These?” asked the proprietress. “They are 100% handmade.” Indeed, and at $25 a bargain compared to the mass produced aprons making their way through Sur la Table checkout lines. She promptly pulled one down to model it for us.
It was then that we mentioned that our Russian friend had told us about Ukraina, which we had passed for ten years but had never ventured inside. And thus he had saved us a trip to West Hollywood, where so many great Russian markets await. “A Russian friend told you to come here,” she said more than asked. And with that, we got the sense we might had been welcomed into the local salmon roe fold. “Happy New Year,” she said, smiling.
More from Jenn Garbee @eathistory + eathistory.com.
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