If you've ever have one of those days when you have to drag yourself out of the house to get food (because the only thing in the god-forsaken fridge is flat champagne) but you're so hung over you don’t want to see or be seen by anyone, then you know what I felt like the morning after a recent beer festival. Luckily, the RT Cafe on Lincoln Street is an easy blind stumble from my home.
The inconspicuous RT, with drawn shades and empty dining room, was the perfect hideout for my friend and me to nurse ourselves back to health with Eastern European comfort food — with nobody around to judge us for still wearing last night’s makeup.
The RT Cafe offers breakfast from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., but we wondered if the place was actually open, as deserted as it seemed. I eventually tracked down someone to take our order after peeking into the kitchen with a few empty “hellos.” Eventually a lone woman popped out who gave us menus and was nice enough to let my friend bring her puppy inside with us (seeing as we were the only souls in the place).
The owners — a husband from Belarus and wife from Ukraine — told us they recently closed the space for three weeks for a remodel, and although the place is still somewhat bare-bones, it's a considerable improvement over the previous incarnation as Drew's Denver Deli. As part of the improvements, an additional wall was built to conceal the kitchen — much homier than the original exposed, diner-style setup. Oddly, though, a bank of cold-storage units are hidden by curtains, which only draw more attention to ingredients being stored in plain sight. The hum of the refrigerators was not so subtly masked by the Russian pop radio, making for quite the a.m. overseas adventure. The owners also mentioned that they lost their chef during the renovation period, so they have been temporarily pulling double-duty cooking until they can find a suitable replacement.
RT Cafe has a full bar, but the usual Saturday-morning done-up mimosas and Bloody Marys didn't seem quite right; better to stick to beer, cheap wine or the classic Russian cocktail: vodka. (In fact, vodka with an egg yolk was recommended as a cure-all for any ailing four-legged friend — giving new meaning to the phrase “hair of the dog.")
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The menu is extensive, with Russian and Polish staples immediately catching my eye. Sadly, the kitchen was out of cabbage rolls, so we opted for potato-and-onion pierogi and a Nutella croissant for dessert, our reward for dragging our butts out of bed. A number of other sweet treats tempted us (I’m always a sucker for a good crepe), but it was hard to pass up a sandwich of strawberries, banana, hazelnut and chocolate. Pictures of menu items scrolled on a TV screen in the corner, staring us down and urging us to order more. It wasn’t a tough sell, given that nothing was more than $10. The pierogi came in perfect Eastern European fashion, with a dollop of butter melting on top; we devoured them in record time. An extra order of potato pancakes with smoked salmon rounded out the meal. I was hoping for some innovative lox-and-pancake construction, but the dish was a simple plating of the two elements served separately, divided by a ramekin of sour cream — leaving us to build our own potato-pancake hors d'euvres.
Despite the lack of ambience at RT, the owners are a super-sweet, hardworking couple — the kind of people we root for to succeed. A variety of generous deals rotate on the screen or are advertised outside in an attempt to attract return customers: a complimentary bottle of wine with dinner for two, or free beer with any happy-hour purchase of a lunch or dinner plate, for example. Given the location and the style of the place, weekdays probably see more business, but weekends are waiting for neighbors to come in for a little love.