WESTMONT – Located in a bifurcated strip mall and sandwiched among four other culturally diverse eateries, Ruta Café & Restaurant serves homemade European cuisine and traditional Lithuanian fare in a comfortable and pleasant environment. With Andrea Bocelli serenading our meal, the stage is set for a relaxing and hearty experience.
Every restaurant has its own vibe, and Ruta’s is one of comfort. This feeling is further enhanced by Rita, our server for each of three visits, who took the time to explain dishes, execute flawless service and still answer phones and process carryouts. Stop in for lunch, dinner or coffee and a pastry, or make arrangements for a special family meal.
The inside is bright and cheery with curtained glass providing enough cover from the distraction of the strip mall exterior. The restaurant is immaculately maintained, and tables are easily joined to create beautifully decorated formal dining for large parties with fresh-cut flowers, linen and glassware.
Appetizers are comprised of mostly salads, with the red beet salad being a solid choice and often served as side accompaniment. Herring, a Lithuanian staple, is a firm fish, slightly fishy, and served in a generous portion with various garnishes. Mine included roasted potatoes, beet salad, pickled onions, tomatoes, dill and scallions.
Soups at Ruta are of the hearty Eastern-European style, with cold beet soup always available and a selection of rotating daily soups. The mushroom soup was a perfect example. A rich, buttery broth was stocked with mushrooms, potato, carrots and onions. Served hot with a topping of fresh dill, the aroma was intoxicating.
Several breads are available in the adjoining store, and a basket accompanies your soup order. Ours was a dense, dark seedless rye that complimented the soup perfectly. Yes, I dipped!
Potato pancakes were flawless. Reflecting the "everything is made fresh" mantra, four golden pancakes arrived sizzling hot. The outside crust was perfect, the inside creamy smooth. We chose sour cream, although apple sauce also is available.
Chicken and pork are both menu staples and available in many combinations. Kabob or cutlet, sauced, breaded or both – there is an option for most diners. Each dish is reasonably priced and often provides the next day’s meal as well. The chicken kabob is a lighter option with nicely seasoned and charred pieces of chicken breast, white rice and sides of tomato, pepperoncini, pickled onions and pepper rings.
As a chicken cutlet, the chicken breast is lightly battered and sided with the more traditional roasted potatoes, cabbage slaw, beet salad, and cucumber and tomato slices. The cutlet was prepared with a light hand as it arrived juicy and grease-free. Every dish served was beautifully presented, reminiscent of higher-priced venues.
My favorite dish was the pork Ruta, which sandwiches butter between two ground pork patties before battering and sautéing. The resultant entrée is topped with a melted layer of cheese and was fork tender (butter does that) with a nice savory flavor from the incorporated spice mixture. Carrot slaw made its way into my garnish and was delicious.
The pork roll “Westmont” also caught my eye. What a plate! Pork is pounded thin, topped with a finely chopped mix of carrots, onions and seasonings, and then rolled tight before a nice pan sauté. The resulting wurst-shaped pork dish has a nice exterior crust and is topped with sautéed onions. Plated with a slightly sweet beet salad and a slightly sour cabbage slaw, as well as cucumber and tomato slices and roasted potato wedges, the plates have a nice variety. I requested a sample of the white cream mushroom gravy, which is found on both chicken and pork cutlet entrees, and it was a nice addition.
Not sure where to begin, the Lithuanian sampler plate is a bit pricier than other entrees, but it is literally four entrees and a side rolled onto one enormous platter. While each of these entrees can be ordered as a full meal, the sampler is perfect for sharing and tasting, as long as you have a friend.
Potatoes feature prominently in three of the four dishes, but each has a unique preparation so that they create an individual flavor palate. The mashed potato pancake surrounds fine-ground and seasoned pork. It’s sautéed to a golden brown on the outside and topped with a warm mix of bacon and onions (spirguciai), which is a typical Lithuanian topping.
Potato pie, or kugelis, uses shredded potatoes mixed into a sauté of onions and bacon. After a quick toss, milk and eggs are added, creating a rich custard-like filling, which is then baked until golden brown. Squares are plated and topped with spirguciai.
The third potato dish is the cepelinai, or zeppelin (football-shaped) dumplings. Using grated (raw) and riced (boiled) potatoes, they are combined to form a smooth puree. Hand flattened and filled with a pork mixture similar to an elongated meatball, they are rounded into mini football shapes around the filling. The cepelinai are boiled, resulting in a translucent and wiggly texture. Also topped with more spirguciai, this dish is found at the center of most Lithuanian tables.
The fourth component to this platter is sausage and kraut. It’s a large serving of Polish sausage, slit on a diagonal for presentation and to avoid bursting during the grilling session. The bed of kraut is as fine an Eastern European rendition as you’ll find.
It seems most cultures have their dumplings. Lithuanian koldunai are small, dough-based dumplings not unlike the Polish pierogi, Asian pot stickers or Italian ravioli. Filled with meat (pork), cheese or mushroom, the sampler platter allows you to determine a favorite for your next visit. Boiled and served with spirguciai, sour cream and melted butter, several glazing combinations are possible enroute to creating your unique flavor and taste.
Crepes are another ambidextrous menu staple. Filled with meat as an entrée, cheese or fruit as a dessert, I chose the crepe filled with farmer’s cheese. The crepes were freshly made, and the heat created a creamy, cheesy inside. Sided by strawberry preserves and more sour cream, this dish is large enough for two to share.
Desserts are beautifully presented often with fruit, sauce and a powdered sugar garnish. The Napoleon alternates layers of puff pastry with a mix of butter and cranberry jam. Several other Lithuanian-style desserts also are available.
Adjacent to the main counter cold food case, a freezer displays several flavors of pre-packaged ice cream cones from Russian and Eastern European food distributor Bandi. Great for kids and just as good for adults, the vanilla wild berry was my favorite.
Truly a neighborhood gem, Ruta further serves its customer base, coordinating the shipment of packages every Wednesday via air (two weeks) or sea (four weeks) to Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. Special occasion menus can be created for private groups up to 40, often featuring a beautifully decorated cake. Extensive holiday catering menus for Thanksgiving and Christmas also are listed on Ruta’s Facebook page, just hit the translate button.
While Ruta is available for carryout, catering, shipping, baked goods and deli counter orders, it’s the full-service restaurant I encourage you to try. The setting is bright, cheery and friendly, and the menu offers enough hearty options to please most. Say hello to good food, friendly folks…and Andrea Bocelli, if he makes an appearance.
If you go
WHAT: Ruta Café & Restaurant
WHERE: 6551 S. Cass Ave., Westmont
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
DRESS CODE: Casual
INFO: 630-964-7882, rutacafeandrestaurant.com
NOISE FACTOR: Relaxing
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