I'd heard rumors of a "Russian deli" near Knoche's Meat Market on the west side. I almost passed by Intermarket, at 5317 Old Middleton Rd., nearly signless and hiding under a spacious awning. Turns out it's not a deli; it's an import specialty grocery featuring mostly packaged foods from Eastern Europe and Russia, with plenty of material to experiment with.
The small shop has been open for four months and is right now stocked up with Russian cookies and candies for the holidays. The tradition in Russia is for parents to put a box of goodies under the tree for the New Year. The containers might be in a variety of whimsical shapes, like a castle, or a clock, or a sleigh and reindeer. These are in stock, along with treats to fill them with, like honey cakes, tea cookies, chocolate-covered wafer cookies, Sooshka cookies (they look like a bagel-pretzel hybrid and would please teething babies), and an aisle full of hard and chewy candies with beautifully artful wrappers. One of my favorites was a waffle sandwich cookie with a cream-and-raisin filling.
Non-Russian speakers will discover that Cyrillic characters make it difficult to determine what foods are inside opaque packaging. You can guess, with the help of photos, but mysteries remain. This is candy, but is it peppermint, butterscotch, chocolate or licorice? A bag of candies I chose for its wrapper showing a beautiful little peasant girl turned out to be something akin to vanilla-flavored saltwater taffy.
Away from the sweets, there are fruit preserves, from Poland and Russia, made with real fruits and sugar. Squat jars of pickled tomatoes, marinated mushrooms and cans of squash spread are typical Russian finds in the vegetable aisle. And smoked fish, cured meats and a yogurt drink, among other items, are in a small refrigerator case. Salmon caviar is hiding out there, too.
The store carries dried fish (a popular snack with beer) and the fermented malt beverage called kvas. It's only slightly alcoholic, but it is fermented. Kvas was traditionally made from rye bread and flavored with fruit or birch bark, but the modern variety is closer to malt-flavored soda. Kvas is sometimes called the "Russian Coca-Cola," and the bottle I tried tasted like Coke mixed with a watered-down dark beer.