In 1998, Mikhail Goncharov was inspired by the immense popularity of McDonald’s in his home country and decided to start a fast-food chain of his own: Teremok, serving Russian classics instead of burgers and fries.
Goncharov, who is CEO of the chain, adapted his mother’s recipes for Teremok’s menu, featuring blinys, soups, and kasha. Today, there are more than 300 Teremok locations in Russia.
In the last year, two Teremok locations have opened in New York City as the chain plants a flag on American soil.
We stopped by the nearest Teremok to see if the Russian chain could compete with the hegemony of American classics like the Big Mac and the Crunchwrap Supreme.
This Teremok is one of two locations in New York and is located at 6th Avenue and 16th Street.
Inside, the atmosphere is familiar; the typical, minimal fast-casual vibes of white tile, blond wood, and a pop of color.
Teremok is all about promoting its heritage. For those who aren’t familiar with Russian cuisine and terminology, there are numerous posters on the walls explaining what you’re ordering.
The prices are quite reasonable — nothing is over $10, and most entrées hover around $7.
Like most fast-casual restaurants, there’s an open kitchen that’s bright and clean.
The chain’s specialty is bliny, which are crepe-like Slavic pancakes that are typically wrapped around savory fillings.
The bliny are made to order, and you can watch the employees pour the batter onto the griddle. The smell of the bliny and fillings like bacon and potato fill the restaurant.
Teremok makes an effort to provide authentic Russian beverages, such as tarkhun and duches, which are tarragon and pear drinks, respectively.
Then there’s kvass, a carbonated, malt-based beverage that’s bready and sweet. It has no direct parallel in mainstream American beverages — the closest match would be kombucha, with a Guinness-like aftertaste. It may sound strange, but it’s oddly addictive.
Our food was ready within 10 minutes — and we ordered quite a lot.
To dip our toes into the sea of bliny, we started with “The Original:” a simple meal of ham and Swiss cheese. For only $5.45 for a small, you get a hearty and compact Russian take on the croque monsieur. It’s simple, kid-friendly, and delicious.
For the more adventurous bliny lover, there’s the “Butcher’s Block.” It’s stuffed with mashed potatoes, fried onions, bacon, and pickles. This isn’t necessarily a traditional bliny, but it’s a full feast packed within the delicate pancake.
For those looking for a more traditionally constructed bliny, there’s the “Goldie Lox,” heaped with oily salmon lox, Swiss cheese, and a rich sour cream that tastes remarkably close to cream cheese. It’s incredibly filling and makes a perfect meal on its own. The lox is remarkably good, exceeding expectations of quality for a fast-food chain.
An even more decadent bliny is the “Red Stars” bliny, packed to the gills with salmon caviar. As one would expect, it’s salty, briny, and texturally very satisfying — the little caviar eggs burst in your mouth with every bite. It’s the most expensive item on the menu at $9.45, but it’s worth the extra cost.
Kasha is one of Russia’s most popular national dishes, so its inclusion on the menu is no surprise. There are several mix-ins to choose from, including hot dog slices, pork, salmon, chicken, and mushrooms. While Russian expats who visit may enjoy the taste of home, it was texturally displeasing and lacking in the appealing flavors of the bliny.
Teremok’s side salad selection is eclectic — there’s a Caesar salad, a Russian salad, a “vinegret” mix, and “Herring in Furs,” pictured below. It’s not a salad in the Sweetgreen sense, but rather an egg salad with herring and beets mixed in. If you’re an egg salad fan, go for it; if you’re not, don’t.
Borsch is one of the most well-known of all Slavic soups, with its rich magenta beetroot-based broth. Teremok tweaked the traditional recipe for Western tastes, opting for a thinner, less stewy broth, and throwing bacon and tomatoes into the mix.
A good chowder is hard to find, but at Teremok, we found it. The salmon chowder isn’t the thick, viscous chowder of New England tradition, but instead a more delicate and light soup with a creamy, buttery soft-cheese-based broth dotted with carrots and smoked salmon hunks.
One item no one should pass over is the Pelmeni dumplings. These little doughy nuggets filled with meat are rich, oily, and heavy — the bright tang of sour cream is needed to prevent a meaty monotony.
For dessert, we ordered the syrniki, which are analogous with cheesecake bites. However, these are made with pressed cottage cheese and fried like little fritters, resulting in a crumbly, almost cake-like texture. The strawberry compote elevates the dessert to the next level.
All of these dishes could have been felled by subpar ingredients and lackluster preparation, but surprisingly — especially considering the price point — the ingredients in the salmon caviar, strawberry compote, and many others met a higher standard than was expected.
We walked in expecting fast food — craveable, but ultimately forgettable. We left eager for our next return.
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