Like many girls (and some boys too), I loved the Disney movie Anastasia. I guess when you are young and you get grounded by your parents because you didn’t clean your room or whatever, you can totally relate to the harsh, harsh story of Anastasia, all alone in some poverty-stricken orphanage in Siberia wearing fingerless gloves and a newsboy cap not because they’re cool, but literally because it’s all she has to wear. And then, what do you know, she’s actually been a princess the whole time, she gets taken in by her insanely wealthy and appropriately bejeweled grandma/empress and gets Dmitri to boot. Because really, what little girl doesn’t dream that maybe, secretly, she was a princess all along?
Well for the little Russian princess in all of us, there is a place we can go that is much closer than St. Petersburg: The Royal Eagle in Harper Woods, MI.
The Royal Eagle is more than a restaurant, it’s an experience, a story, that you will tell to everyone for days (or in my case weeks) after you eat there. A visit to the Royal Eagle stimulates not just your taste buds, but your eyes and ears too, and by doing so, transports you to another place and time.
The Royal Eagle is a non-profit arm of the St Sabbas Orthodox Monastery, and shares the monastery’s beautiful garden. All the costs of items on the menu are listed as donations, as all profits from the restaurant go to support the monastery. The chef, Petr Balcarovsky, donates his time to the monastery.
A few very important things to note before I get to my review. The Royal Eagle is only open for dinner on Thursdays. As such, it can get very crowded. I would not venture out there without a reservation. However, it does have a tea service on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There is also a dress code: since the restaurant is located on monastery land guests should dress respectfully: no shorts, short skirts, midrifts, low cut tops etc. This might be just the excuse you were looking for to buy an on-trend midi or maxi skirt.
The experience of the restaurant begins before you even get inside. As you walk towards the entrance, you are greeted by a gated walkway, twinkling lights, and a monk (yes, a monk!) will direct you through the gardens to the door of the restaurant.
Open entering, I truly felt like I had stepped back in time to the Romanov’s private dining room. Chandeliers hang from the ceilings, and one entire wall in this hallway was painted with a cheery scene of a Russian village with people sledding.
A small silver portrait of the tsar. A matching portrait of his wife sits on the opposite end of the mantlepiece.
A gilded mirror fit for a princess’ bedroom.
To begin, we had the Siberian Pelmeni: small round dumplings stuffed with beef, pork, and veal accompanied by a garlic dipping sauce. Eastern Europeans aren’t shy when it comes to their sauce. In another restaurant you might expect to find a dipping sauce in a tiny dish on the side of your plate. Not here, the dumplings were literally placed like islands in an ocean of sauce. The dumplings were perfectly light, and their stuffing was perfect not one flavor of meat overwhelmed the other, instead they work together to create a perfect symphony of flavor in your mouth.
So we wouldn’t feel like we were setting ourselves up for certain cardiac arrested, we also opted for a “Tower of Basil” salad. A literal tower, the tomato was bursting with so much flavor, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find a headscarf-ed babushka walking in with a basket of tomatoes she’d picked and brought in from her garden.
Next up, a garlic soup. Listen, if you are a gun shy foodie, don’t come to an Eastern European restaurant. If you are on a diet, don’t come to an Eastern European restaurant. Here, there is plenty of cream, butter, garlic, and red meat. My garlic soup fit right in, not overwhelmingly garlic-y, a perfect warming soup made with beef broth accompanied with potatoes, marjoram, parsley, melted cheese, and a spattering of satisfying homemade croutons.
And, how can I fail to mention the beautiful dishes!
The star of the whole ensemble was, of course, my goulash. Anyone of Eastern European descent from the Ukraine to Poland to Russia to Macedonia knows goulash. It’s the ultimate comfort food. While I am always hesitant to order a dish that my grandma makes, for fear that it will in no way live up to the expectations I have, this dish was a perfect take on the traditional dish (not saying that it was better than yours, grandma!).
The beef stew was flavored with paprika, as it should be, and accompanied by steamed carrots, the creamiest mashed potatoes I’ve ever eaten in my life, a single yellow pepper, and seasoned with some freshly chopped parsley. This dish literally tug at my heartstrings, reminding me so much of what I think of as home cooking. I kept eating it long after as I was full to bursting, because it was literally just that good. I heartily, heartily recommend you get this dish if you visit the Royal Eagle.
To top off the meal, because we hadn’t been decadent enough already, we ordered a Russian Tort Napoleon accompanied by a tasting of the chocolate wine. While we had drank a carafe of the house red throughout the meal (delicious and perfect), the chocolate wine was simply sublime. I didn’t even know chocolate wine existed! But it was an extravagant “dessert” on it’s own. A Russian Napoleon is an airy pastry–multiple layers of a perfectly flaky dough is stuffed with custard. A fresh strawberry, a dash of chocolate sauce, powdered sugar, and some generous dollops of whipped cream accompanied the desert. Every bite of the dessert was so rich! Even if you don’t have room for dessert–I know I didn’t!–you have to try it anyways! …Or one of the many other desserts, such as Cherry Strudel.
Aside from the food, the entire experience was personable, friendly, and wonderful. When the chef heard he had a fellow Czech (me!) in the restaurant he came out to greet us, chat with us, and make me practice my rusty Czech. Our Macedonian waitress chatted with us pleasantly throughout the meal. This place could have been oozing with pretension, but instead was perfect just the way it was.
This experience left me with a full stomach and heart. If you live within the vicinity of the Royal Eagle, you have to go. Believe me, your stomach will thank you.
Overall Grade: A
Mentionables: Only serves dinner Thursdays, Tea on Tuesday and Thursdays. Strict dress code. Reservations highly recommended.