Unless you know your Cyrillic alphabet, if you’ve ever stumbled into one of Portland’s deep-east-side Russian markets you know the flush of abject terror when you realize nothing is in English, few sundries are recognizable from the American food pyramid, and the women hustling behind the deli counter seem very serious. It’s a delicious adventure, if you’re willing to put in work.
That’s the gift Bonnie and Israel Morales give with Kachka Lavka, just up a flight of stairs from the couple’s cavernous Goat Blocks restaurant and bar. It’s like walking into the abovementioned Eastern European specialty markets with a Babel fish translating in your ear.
The tiny loft positively sparkles with mid-century Euro charm, colorful wrapped candies to pelmeni presses to an ancient Soviet scale. Yes, it’s technically a grocery, stocked with rarities from cheese sukhariki (salty, dry croutons, basically) to Slovakian red wine and delightfully refreshing Baikal cola. But you’re here for three things: the frozen dumplings, Kachka-branded tchotchkes, and the deli.
A tiny bar and a few high tops mean you can sit down to sample Lavka’s deli menu, broken down into buterbrodi (open-faced sandwiches), “na pososhok” (grab-and-go meals), and doughy, airy, fresh-made piroshki. From a brief sampling, the Moraleses aren’t pulling any cultural punches: the Noychik Special (beef salami and litovsky cheese on rye) is smeared with real Russian mustard hot enough to singe your eyebrows. An oily-fish-loaded Lunchables-style Selyodka na Privaly includes brined herring so salty it could survive a trip to Mars. For a lot of Yankees, Lavka could probably dial the intensity down a few notches.
Is Kachka Lavka as economical or authentic as old-school Russian markets like Roman Russian or Elegant Food? No. (Those spots sell the traditional layered fish-and-potato dish Herring Under a Fur Coat by the pound.) But it’s adorable, user-friendly, and smack-dab in the middle of the city. With sour cherry vareniki dumplings stacked in the freezer, infused vodka lining the walls, and hunter’s sausage rolled up in the deli case, Lavka is everything that makes the Kachka brand great, in 300 square feet.
960 SE 11th Ave, 503-235-0059