Sep 5, 2023 - Food and Drink

Chicago's Russian Tea Time turns 30

A crepe

A beet-infused mushroom crepe at Russian Tea Time. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

When Russian Tea Time opened in 1993, it was under the name Russian Tea Room, which drew complaints from a certain New York fine dining restaurant.

  • Decades later, the Chicago restaurant is facing controversy over a different R word in its name.

What they're saying: "We got a lot of backlash and cancellations — people saying 'Oh, you support Putin. Why don't you change the name?'" co-owner Enesh Mantyyeva tells Axios.

  • "But we thought that changing it would just be giving into ignorance" that Russian food equals support for Russian aggression in the war with Ukraine.

Driving the news: Mantyyeva and her sister and co-owner Altyn — both from Turkmenistan — are celebrating the restaurant's 30th anniversary this week, five years after buying it from Ukrainian-born founder Klara Muchnik. (Muchnik came to Chicago from Uzbekistan.)

two women
Altyn (sitting) and Enesh Mantyyeva at Russian Tea Time. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Zoom out: Throughout the years, the restaurant has offered an oasis of calm elegance and a place for Art Institute and Symphony Center-goers to enjoy fragrant currant tea, plump varenyky, and rich beef stroganoff before shows.

The latest: While older arts patrons still fill the dining rooms, Enesh says she's seeing younger guests too — like one who celebrated her high school graduation there and then later, her wedding. "For many diners, they have strong memory ties."

Enesh's recs: Tea service of sweet and savory housemade sandwiches and pastries, which we devoured on a recent visit.

  • But also "the beet-infused crepe with gourmet mushrooms. It's light but also very filling," Mantyyeva says. "And, of course, the beef stroganoff."
three tiered tea service
Justin was enthusiastic about the tea service at Russian Tea Time on a recent visit. Photo: Carrie Shepherd/Axios

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