Hangover Helper: Fried Cabbage Vareniky at Varenichnaya in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn
The Russians may be the most experienced drinkers-to-excess in all of Europe, so you'd imagine they have a hangover cure or two up their sleeves. My favorite is a hair of the dog drink, a variation on the Bloody Mary in which you swap out the tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, and ice for more vodka. Visit any Russian cafe on a weekend (or, frankly, a weekday) and you'll see a table halfway through a fresh bottle of BYO vodka as they eat their lunch.
So that's one reason to make the trek to Brighton Beach the morning after some overindulgence.
The other is the sweet, starchy comfort of Russian dumplings, with toothsome skins and soft fillings at once pleasantly mild but intense in flavor. Vareniky, which are slightly smaller than your average pierogi, are my favorite, and are at their best when simply boiled. Sure, fried skins are more flavorful, but I find they get in the way of the Slavic dumpling's textural harmony. The fried cabbage vareniky ($6.50) at Varenichnaya allow for the best of both worlds: sweet, caramelized cabbage filling in a slightly chewy boiled wrapper. This is comfort food to be sure, but it's also an especially fine example of Eastern European dumplingcraft.
A handsome pile of vareniky comes topped with candy-sweet caramelized onions; be sure to order some sour cream on the side. If a meal of vodka and boiled dumplings sounds too sparse for your tastes, round it out with a glass of the house compote (not-too-sweet fruit cocktail juice). It's not the best in Brighton Beach, but it'll do in a pinch. All the more with a slurp or two of vodka added. Hey, when in Moscow...
3086 Brighton 2nd Street, Brooklyn, NY, 11235 (map)