Russian food sometimes gets a bad rap in pop culture. Bland, gassy, colorless. The stuff of Siberian prisons. Takeout at Kalinka isn't anything like that. Located in the middle of Little Russia (actually the far end of a Sunny Isles Beach strip mall), the deli-market-cafe does the homeland proud.
The heart of the place is a hot table brimming with the flavors of Eastern Europe. In bins, pans and plates, all behind a glass counter: beef stroganoff, goulash, chickens stuffed with mushrooms, stuffed cabbage, kasha, minced fish patties and ground chicken meatballs the size of tennis balls. On top of the counter: plates of peroshki, doughnut-like puffs stuffed with meat, cabbage or apples and cherries. The best part of taking out from Kalinka: mixing and matching. Hot food is one price per pound, so it's perfect for a family-style buffet at home. While the adults chowed down on savory pan-fried flounder and a-bit-too-fishy smelt, the kids enjoyed meatballs, hearty borscht with beef cubes and fresh, by-the-pound salads we'd selected from the adjacent cold case. (Choices included carrot shreds with a biting garlic sauce, smoky potato with peas and liquor-marinated shiitake mushrooms.)
Our only regret: not having some Russian pumpernickel to sop up the sauce. Kalinka can be whatever the customer wants it to be. For eating in, there are four tables and a small counter. For takeout, there are hot and cold counters and a bakery case. For the shopper, frozen cases brim with dumplings. Don't worry if you don't know your peroshki from your okroshka: The counter staff is patient in explaining what's what.