ALAMEDA -- Walk into the restaurant at 1241 Park St. and you will feel like you are in Europe.
Chances are, the air will be filled with the scent of potato dishes cooking or honey cake being baked in the oven.
Welcome to Mama Papa Lithuania Restaurant and Tea House, the only restaurant of its kind in Alameda and west of Chicago serving Lithuanian cuisine, said owner Vaidas Sukys.
Though many cities have Lithuanian communities, many chefs don't have the ingredients to make the unique dishes of his native county, Sukys said, or just don't know how.
The dining area definitely has an old world look with a painting of a castle in the nation's capital, Vilnius on one wall, a wagon wheel symbolizing the country's rural nature and dark angular wooden tables and chairs made of reclaimed wood. A brick wall was added to impart more of a European flavor, Sukys said.
On a recent visit, Lithuanian music was playing in the dining area, though Sukys plays jazz at night, he said.
The chef is Sukys' mother, Danute Sukiene, who has more than 30 years experience as a chef and baker in her native country and elsewhere.
Baltic tribes inhabited the area that would later form the nation. In the 14th century, the land became part of the Grand Dutchy of Lithuania, which stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
The nation declared its independence in 1918, was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940 and later by Nazi Germany. The Soviets returned to reoccupy the land after World War II, but the nation regained its independence when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990.
Sukys' family comes from the central Lithuanian city of Panevezys, about an hour or so from the capital.
Danute worked in food service during the Soviet years and opened a bakery in the town after independence. The townspeople were so poor that pastries cost the American equivalent of two cents and when she raised the price to three cents nobody could afford the goods, Sukys said.
Danute then went to Iceland where she helped start a Lithuanian restaurant and worked in London before returning to her native country and later immigrated to the United States at her son's invitation.
Sukys is a graduate of San Francisco State University and studied business management in the Philippines. He worked in global shipping for years but decided to leave the profession and return to Alameda where he had lived previously and begin a new career.
"Something in my head told me that I needed to return to Alameda and start a restaurant," he said.
Lithuanian cooking draws on the traditions of the Baltic tribes who lived on mushrooms, honey, berries and fish. Meat, greens and potatoes became part of the native diet as the tribes converted from Paganism to Christianity and the Soviets left their influence on the area, Sukys said.