Tallinn’s Lucky Clover Cafe
When Ristikheina Kohvik (Clover Café) opened for business four years ago in neighboring Pelgulinn, it reminded me of Kalamaja’s Boheem back when it first got started. Tracing its roots to a Pelgulinna Days’ courtyard café, Ristikheina had instant street-cred, becoming the go-to place for neighborhood hipsters as well as locals of all ages. Keeping it “in clover,” this café has had two main things going for it. The first is a great building on the corner of Ristiku and Timuti – one of Tallinn’s lovely old wooden corner stores whose doors literally open on the corner to attract people approaching from both directions. And while some love Ristikheina for their breakfast and lunch offerings (including the possibility “to build your own”), this café’s true competitive advantage is its excellent in-house bakery.
This lucky clover café has also taken the right approach to expansion – focusing on improving access to its impressive baked goods. After experimenting with a kiosk in nearby Kolbe playground, Ristikheina opened its first real outlet on BJT’s Street Food row, thereby bringing its baked goods to Kalamaja and placing a winning bet on what would become Tallinn’s finest market. Recently, Ristikheina opened a second outlet on Tartu Road to reach out to the downtown crowd. Instead of trying to replicate the original café, these two outlets sell baked goods brought in from the mother ship – along with coffee. After all, where would Estonians be without their favorite elixir? This strategy allows Ristikheina to maintain maximum control over the quality of their baked goods.
While some go to Ristikheina for their lovely cakes – or their various pastries including Tallinn’s best-value-for-money cinnamon bun, Ristikheina’s bakers are at their best when they’re baking cookies. From their French macarons to their Estonian karamellipallid (caramel balls – a dollop of caramel sandwiched between two rounded butter cookies), each Ristikheina cookie has developed its own loyal following. And while both are quite nice, I’m a twin fan of their chocolate cookie and of their peanut butter cookie.
In all my years in Tallinn, I’ve yet to taste a truly excellent chocolate chip cookie which is anything like the original all-American version. While the recipe can be hacked, I love Ristikheina’s approach which was simply to reinvent the chocolate chip cookie and make it into something uniquely Estonian. By combining cacao with their extra egg whites and then adding in chocolate chips and hazelnuts, Ristikheina came up with a super crisp meringue-like version which succeeds entirely on its own merits. And to come up with their peanut butter sandwich cookie, Ristikheina’s bakers must have deconstructed a Nabisco Nutter Butter before building their own. Although I grew up on the traditional version where the peanut butter is folded right into the dough, Ristikheina’s peanut butter cookie hits the spot. And as someone who hunts for four-leaf clovers, I love that instead of making peanut-shaped treats, these bakers imprint their four-leaf clover logo right onto their round cookies. Now that’s what I call a lucky clover!
Image: My most recent four-leaf clover find from Hiiumaa.
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