Sunday, November 20, 2011


A while back I noted there was not much available in Tallinn’s Old Town in the way of food after eleven at night. There are a couple mystery meat kiosks, and also this place called Taco Express. It’s nasty. I’ve talked about it before. A friend suggested I check out a place called VS. The sign outside calls it “Kohvik VS” but all its menus, indoor signs and webpages call it “Café VS”. So café vs. kohvik. “Mingus, café is kohvik in Estonian.” Thank you, Anonymous.

I was in Tallinn for two nights, staying at a friend’s. It was the night of the big game—one of the Irelands vs. Estonia. Around four in the morning, the doorbell on the intercom rang.

“I’m staying at my friend’s place, in apartment three, but I don’t have the key. Can you let me in?” the slurred Irish speech was heard on the speaker.
—This is apartment three, you idiot. My host was visibly annoyed.
“Oh. Um, then my friend is in apartment four.”
—Nice try.

When we left the next morning, the Irish guy was asleep on the stairs inside the door. Asleep in a pool of his own vomit. Someone in the building had fallen for the trick, and the guy had fallen on the floor. My friend nudged him awake by gently tapping on the clean part of his back with his shoe and told him to leave. When we returned later, one of the other tenants had left a nice little sign on my friend’s door. There was no evidence of any stranger having created this work of modern art, and so we took the blame. The Irish guy just needed a place to sleep and splatter. It was a huge, organic mess.

Reinu Pizza has a museum in Tallinn, but it goes by its Estonian acronym—GAG. Pass this place if you’re coming from the train station, turn left at the Savisaar sign, go past the warning sign, go through the bar district and continue out of the Old Town for another ten minutes to get to VS, on Pärnu Road. It’s open late. Real late.

I went with some friends after going to the movies. The menu is long, the prices are acceptable, the portions are big, and the kitchen is visible. I had never been able to watch chefs at work, and now there were two such restaurants in Tallinn alone—VS and Vapiano. Apparently hygiene is a problem in the food industry, so these venues seek to reassure customers. If only they could do something about cashiers in supermarkets. So many times I’ve seen them wipe their noses and then weigh my vegetables.

One of my friends ordered some pasta dish. She said it was a bit bland. Another friend ordered a wrap. I don’t understand wraps. Vräppid in Estonian. The first time I’d had one was here, in fact. I thought it was an improperly made burrito, so I avoided them for years. I didn’t know they had become an international phenomenon during my time here. They’re pretty good usually.

I decided on the English breakfast. As it was English, it was nothing spectacular. A fried egg, fried tomato, sausage, bacon, beans…English vs. American breakfasts are interesting. The latter usually sports a stack of pancakes and something called a breakfast sausage. I love those. The closest thing to a breakfast sausage in Estonia is the grilled sausage in lamb intestines. It’s very close, in fact—the main difference is that with lamb entrails vs. breakfast sausage, you at least know what you’re eating. The American breakfast sausage might not even be made of material that was once alive. But it tastes good.

My host jokingly said, “I bet they have twenty kilos of bacon in the refrigerator here.”
—Yeah, you could probably just walk right in there and take it, I responded in jest. We’d had a couple beers. We were being silly.
“And do what with it?”
—Cover the walls, floor, ceiling, tables and chairs and the bar with bacon. A bacon bar.
“You probably shouldn’t do that,” Krista the waitress had meanwhile arrived to take our orders, overhearing our conversation and responding in English.
—Of course not, I reassured her.
“Seriously, don’t take the bacon,” she insisted.
“Don’t put bacon all over the place.”
—We were joking.
“I would have to be the one to clean it up,” she was getting more and more irritated.
—I’d like the English Breakfast, please, I tried to change the subject.
“OK. And anything else?” Krista asked.
—Extra bacon please. I couldn’t resist saying it.
She just stared at me, wondering if she could trust me to not line the windows with salty pig flesh.
“I’m sorry, I can’t give you extra bacon,” she finally decided.

It was me vs. the waitress. She won, because I simply didn’t feel like explaining that it was just a joke. My friends have since been back to VS. Each time, they ask for extra bacon, while looking at the ceiling. They ask where the bacon is stored. They ask how much it costs, and who does the cleaning. Krista still doesn’t get the joke. I’ve been telling everyone I know that if they happen to go to VS, ask about the bacon.

In hindsight, I remembered there had been two tables of Irish football hooligans. They’d been causing problems for Krista, and she apparently hadn’t been able to differentiate between our accents. She thought I, too, was from one of the Irelands. That explains why she just couldn’t take a joke, even though it wasn’t directed at her. But when it comes to Tartu vs. Tallinn and waitstaff understanding the often patronizing behavior of patrons, the result is a tie. I am beginning to understand why no waitress in Tallinn or Tartu has ever asked, “How are you today?” It’s not because she doesn’t care. It’s because she doesn’t want to know.


Anonymous said...

Mingus, café is kohvik in Estonian.

Mingus said...

Thank you, Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

having a Rnglish Breakfast in Vs .... When ever you get ther try theyr beaf salad , or Chiken tikka Wrap whid a glass of beer

Anonymous said...

I've eaten at VS a few times, and the curries are excellent. Tasty, fresh, and not at all the generic "Asian" food which seems to be all that's available outside Tallinn Old Town.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Mingus!

Just curious, did your friend clean up the vomit? It's kind of a catch twenty-two situation: clean up the vomit and he looks guilty; leave it where it is and people still think he's guilty, plus they think he's an arsehole for not cleaning it up. What a heinous crime!

Anonymous said...

You went to Cafe VS and didn't order Indian food? I think the "European" menu is on there just to satisfy unadventurous Estonians, and it's mostly an after-though. Their best food there is Indian. It's gone down a bit since they opened 10 years ago, but still decent and reliable. I used to get take-out from there all the time.

Mingus said...

Anonymous 4, I don't know who cleaned up the mess.

Anonymous 5, thanks for the tip! I'll be eating there again, and will try it. I remembered after I posted this that I had actually been there in July, 2000. They were out of beer. I had a rum and Coke.