Eastern Time

Pierogi, schnitzel and other Mittel-European favorites

Polish dumplings. Austrian schnitzel. Russian beer. Café Europa takes its name seriously.

The eclecticism arises organically from the staff itself. Owner Alex (he won't give his last name) is Belarusian, while his chef comes from Poland and his first mate from Lithuania. Moody photographs of Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea bordered by two of those countries, decorate Alex's seven-week-old bistro in the Inner Richmond.

Its menu is made up of dishes as straightforward and homey as the décor. There are potato-and-cabbage-filled pierogi ($9), of course, but also mushroom-filled crêpes ($9), the square packets browned in butter and served with a creamy mushroom sauce. Cabbage rolls ($15), stuffed with a sweetly spiced mix of ground pork, beef and rice, are anointed with a chunky tomato sauce: a true grandma dish.

The clear-toned flavor of Café Europa's wonderful cucumber-dill soup ($6) is anchored by the earthiness of potatoes and onions. On the side comes a slice of caraway-redolent rye bread imported from Lithuania. (Why Lithuanian bread? We asked Alex. "Because it's the tastiest," he said.)

Since Alex used to work at Bistro Gambrinus, which boasts a veritable library of Eastern European beers, it's not surprising that at Café Europa you can order Polish porter (Zywiec) and Lithuanian lager (Svyturys Ekstra), as well as more familiar German and Belgian names.

Café Europa, 4318 California St. (at Fifth Ave.); 415-386-1000 or EuropaSF.com