For my birthday, we took the whole family out to eat at Olga's, a family-owned restaurant that serves authentic Russian cuisine. Located in a small strip next to a scrapbook store, we'd heard that it's elegant with dim lighting, candles, a piano player and less than a dozen tables were one of the best kept secrets in the Metro. Olga, the owner, is the cook at one of the large country clubs that Jack's investor frequents. Olga always speaks highly of Jack and his publication, so we'd been meaning to stop in for some time.
We'd never been, and I'd never had Russian food, so I ordered the three-course Russian meal. The first course was a crab meat salad, the second was borsch, and the third was my entree (a filet with a Russian flair). I discovered that I actually like cabbage, I love beets, and I only thought I'd had a great filet before I tasted Yuriy's (Olga's husband is the cook). It was divine, perfectly seasoned and cooked to specification: between medium and medium rare. Everything was so fresh and felt so light (even after an appetizer, bread, three courses and dessert, I was pleasantly full...not miserable). Just simply wonderful. It is my new favorite place.
While we were there, the International Space Station was expected to pass right over Jackson. Another group just a few tables from us informed their waitress (bless 'er heart) that they'd be getting up to go outside to see the ISS pass overhead and joked that they didn't want her to think they were skipping out. We announced that we'd be following them (it's a small restaurant, so the word "announce" implies that we were speaking loudly or eavesdropping. Of course, we did nothing of the sort. Hrmph.). The waitress headed back to the counter to inform the owner that some satellite was passing over the restaurant and that everyone would be leaving afterwards, which brought a curious and anxious Olga out to mingle after having just mingled moments before.
At around 5:42 pm, there was a mass exodus outside as we all--waitstaff included-- gathered in the parking lot looking skyward. Upon locating Venus, our reference point, the waitress said, "That's a planet? I always thought they were BIG like THIS" (hands cupped and held apart as if describing the size of a basketball). Suddenly, there it was--a small, shiny disk gliding across the dark blue background of space. It was awe-inspiring. The girls thought it was neat. Jack smiled contently, no doubt thinking of the incredible minds (past and present) that contributed to such a technological feat. I was struck by the thought that I was in a Russian restaurant standing next to and laughing with its Russian owner in Flowood, Mississippi looking up at a space craft that was home-away-from-home to both Russian and American astronauts. If I'd been drinking, I'm sure I would have thought of something profound to say here. Unfortunately, Rankin is a dry county.
After reseating ourselves and finishing our meal between warm chats with the owner, the piano player stops mid-song and does this flourishing cadence up the keyboard and ends in a rolling chord...yes, it was time for the Birthday Song. I usually hate this part, but I have to tell you, it was touching. There was no hokey version or obnoxious clapping rhythm; just the traditional Happy Birthday accompanied by a piano. It was like having family gathered around singing. After the English verse, Olga sang to me in Russian while holding my candle-lit cheese blintz. It was beautiful. And delicious.
As we left, Katie told Olga how much she loved hearing her sing in Russian. Dagny hugged her and said she loved hearing Olga sing in Spanish (because--thanks to Dora--if it's not English, it must be Spanish). And we vowed to come back soon and often.
I smile every time I drive past it.
[Click here for Olga and Yuriy's story. This article is over two years old. They no longer serve lunch, and their menu is dominated by Russian fare. But I think it captures an essence of who they are. Maybe I'll write one soon!]