Did you know you could find authentic Russian food in Alabama? Yes, you can if you attend the annual St. Nicholas Slavic/Russian food festival in Brookside, Alabama. Brookside is about 30 minutes northwest of Birmingham and an easy drive now that I22 is open. Brookside is the site of a Russian Orthodox church that is over one hundred twenty years old. Russian men were sent to Brookside to work in the local mines and the first thing they built was a church. Then they sent for their families and built a community. Descendants of those original miners as wells as religious converts are members of the church and continue to keep it robust and an important part of the greater Orthodox Church.
I’ve known about the food festival for years but never seemed to have a free Saturday to visit. Last week I squeezed in a Saturday visit and soon realized I did not budget enough time. The food is served in the fellowship hall, adjacent to the church. You can choose to dine in or pick up your take out. I chose take out because of my tight schedule and I ordered a large variety plate to share with my mom. I tried to buy some desserts but after standing in a static line for 20 minutes I had to leave.
Our plate had Holupki (cabbage stuffed with beef and pork), Halushki (potato dumplings with cheese and onions), Varenyky (boiled dumplings with cheese and potatoes), Pigachi (cheese stuffed bread), Piroshki (baked beef and sausage pie) and Olivier salad. I am unaccustomed to eating such heavy food and I’m glad I could share it with Mom.
The food was delicious! The cabbage of the Holupki was firm and gently held the ground meat which was moist and flavored with parsley. The Halushki was pleasantly chewy and the onions lent them a hint of sweetness. The Varenyky seemed to have an extra amount of cheese and I loved it! I thought it might be pretty bland but it wasn’t. I could not detect special seasonings in the Pigachi or the Piroshki but the Olivier salad was unbelievable. It was bright with a sweet vinegar base and was the lightest part of our meal. I could have eaten an entire plate of it.
Five things to know when you go to the festival:
- BE ON TIME. The parking is limited and I ended up parking in a field about a block away from the church.
- GET DESSERT FIRST. I’m still kicking myself that I missed enjoying my first Russian desserts. That line moves slower because of the numerous delicious choices so make a beeline for the basement, get your desserts and put them in your car.
- EAT IN THE FELLOWSHIP HALL. My food was delicious once I arrived at Mom’s but I think it would have been even better if I’d had it hot out of the kitchen. And I could have tried the black bread which I’m so curious about. So eat your meal there and then get something to go!
- MAKE TIME TO VISIT THE TEMPLE. The original temple was destroyed by a fire and a tornado and the current temple is a testimony to the community’s desire to have religious fellowship. The temple is an intimate space filled with holy objects, images and prayer candles.
The food festival is held the first full weekend of November so I’ve already penciled it into my calendar for next year. I’ll make sure I allow enough time and maybe invite some friends so we can double or tripe team the food! St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church is located at Park and Pastor Streets, Brookside, AL 35036. You can check out the menu here.
Have you had Russian food? What was your favorite dish?