Unlikely Eastern European Dining at The Royal Eagle

By Ellie Katz

Nestled on a quiet block in metro Detroit, surrounded by midcentury houses and big oak trees, you’ll find The Royal Eagle. Part-Russian Orthodox Monastery, part-European fine dining, the Royal Eagle stands out for more than its bright blue onion domes. Head Chef Petr Balcarovsky describes it as “basically paradise,” complete with monastic gardens, a gilded, hand-painted chapel, and three-course meals made from scratch. 

But in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I asked Chef Petr about The Royal Eagle’s role in the Eastern European community both in Detroit and globally.

The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Ellie Katz (EK): How are you affected by the war in Ukraine, given your close connections to the Russian Orthodox Church and the Eastern European community?

Petr Balcarovsky (PB): The conflict in Ukraine is very unfortunate and it's extremely sad to see so many families and people suffer. And unfortunately, we live in an era where society needs to heal from a pandemic that is still kind of in the background. So we are all on the edge. Everyone is very anxious and there's a lot of stress and anxieties that come in. The crib of our [Slavic] civilization is actually in Ukraine. It's between those two rivers, the Dnieper and the Volga. That's where we all came from in the 600s before the first official state of the Slavic culture was established in Great Moravia, which is where I'm from. We are featuring Ukrainian dishes in solidarity with Ukraine. Monthly, we do these culinary journeys where the weekly specials are focused on different parts of the world or theme, and I have chosen Ukrainian cuisine to show solidarity and support.

EK: Can you tell me more about the Ukrainian dishes you’re featuring?

PB: We are going to be doing varenyky, which is their version of dumplings, and the Ukrainian version of borscht. There are some wonderful desserts. There's all sorts of other surprises coming for our guests to see. One thing I have to say is that it's very difficult to call a dish a certain cultural name. If you were to ask a Czech person, or Bohemian, or Austrian, or German who invented schnitzel, it gets very complicated. So that's why I focus on very regional cuisines. There's a lot of wholesome food waiting for people who will come. And I just felt that that was necessary to show my love for all of my friends who live in Ukraine.

EK: Speaking more broadly, can you tell me about who your customers usually are and how that determines what’s on your menu, if at all?

PB: Over the years, we have had so many people come and visit us, and a lot of the people say that it always reminds them of home. I would say it's people from Macedonia, people from Bulgaria, from Russia, Germany, Switzerland, mostly Europeans, who find it a very comforting, serene ambiance here at the monastery and also the Royal Eagle [restaurant]. We have historical pieces of furniture and decor, and also the food is all made from scratch. 

Of course, being a restaurant that features Eastern European cuisine, I definitely have to have borscht on the menu. Now, if you would like to start World War Three, you don't have to go far, just by saying: Who invented borscht? Where is it from? And which one is the best? So this is where you play with ideas, and I try to navigate through all of these different opinions and make just the best tasting borscht that I can. 

I'm not just tied to a certain region within Eastern Europe; we also offer dishes from the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine, Russia, and Hungary. Geographically, we have the same ingredients. You prepare the same things, but maybe with a different outlook, and that's what I love to see: the different angles. So I wouldn't say that our cuisine is tied to certain borders or cultures–it's more tied to the whole continent of central, eastern and southern Europe and utilizing the ingredients available to them.

Keep Learning:

Find out more about The Royal Eagle, St. Sabbas Monastery, Petr Balcarovsky, and his upcoming cookbook here.

Plus, continue your education on Ukrainian food and the effects of the conflict in these episodes:

Check out Meat and Three episode 148. The show dives into all aspects of food and the war in Ukraine, spanning from how refugees are getting food to how Ukrainians in New York are supporting their communities stateside.

On What Doesn’t Kill You and Mother Jones’ Tom Philpott do a deep dive into how the war is affecting our food systems and food security in episode 363. Why does regionalizing our food systems make more sense than ever?

Listen to HRN’s live conversation with Paola Velez, founder of Bakers Against Racism. Hear about how her organization has raised $2 million from bake sales across the globe and is supporting Afro-Ukrainians and African and Caribbean students fleeing the war.

Cutting the Curd checks in with Ukrainian cheesemakers about their plans, worries, and love for Ukrainian cheese.

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