Veselka: All American with an Ukranian FlairNovember 17, 2012
Al fresco - the New York way...
It’s 11:47AM and you finally rouse from sleep, feeling the remnants of fatigue from the past work week and exhilaration from partying the night before. Your hair is a mess and you desperately need to brush your teeth. But before you even make it out of bed, your phone buzzes. One word flies across the screen: “Brunch?”
You feel an unexpected pang of hunger and mentally list your options. Café Orlin? Clinton Street Baking Co.? No – dainty and delightful is out of the question when you look like a raccoon that just came back from dumpster diving. Endless Drunch at the Sunburnt Cow? Double no – you can’t stomach even the thought of alcohol right now. Then, it hits you. You’re going to Veselka.
Veselka, practically an institution in the East Village, is a 24-hour diner that specializes in breakfast and Ukrainian cuisine. Although these two food groups make a weird combination, the menu at Veselka is a warm hodgepodge of comforting dishes that can get you through the coldest days and the roughest nights.
If you like old school, sit at this counter and get yourself a breakfast special.On this particular occasion, A. and I indulged ourselves in some marvelously cooked eggs and a plate of sweet plum varenyky (handmade Ukrainian-style perogis).
A healthy breakfast to start the day right.My order consisted of an egg-white omelette with spinach and mushrooms, fresh tomato and challah toast. I love the way Veselka makes its omelettes. Instead of folding the ingredients inside like a sideways taco, the line cooks mix them into the eggs. This preparation definitely lent my healthy but plain egg-whites some much needed veggie flavor. Personally, I like to eat mine with Grey Poupon mustard, which can be brought to the table upon request.
The challah toast is also a treat. Not too eggy with just a hint of sweetness, it makes a perfect complement to my favorite preserves.
Egg scramble with a meaty underbelly.
A.’s eggs with corned beef hash were very tasty as well. The smoky beef and potatoes were cooked to gooey perfection – unlike corned beef hash I’ve had in the past. I was especially pleased to taste fresh potatoes, since it meant that the hash was assembled in-house instead of scooped ungraciously out of a can. Overall, there was a fragrant and smooth quality that I did not expect from such a stereotypically unrefined plate. If you’re visiting Veselka after a night of heavy drinking, this dish just might be the groovy pick-me-up you need.
Plump pierogi-esque dumplings with plum filling. Notice the unassuming but incredibly delicious lemon sweet-cream.
Finally, we dug into our varenyky for dessert. The dough was pleasantly toothsome and the plum filling was tangy and silky. Combined with the heavenly lemon sweet-cream that accompanied it, these fruity dumplings were positively addictive.
Veselka is not without weaknesses, however. First up is its big menu. While this isn’t a problem in and of itself, it does lead to poor quality in its less popular food items. Whenever I’ve had off-the-beaten-path items like cabbage soup, the meatball sandwich or banana cream pie, I’ve received food that was overcooked, oversalted or stale. In my opinion, it’s better to stick with specials and popular recommendations.
The other problem is the wildly inconsistent service. While most of the wait staff is friendly, there were several occasions where I encountered careless or even downright rude servers. At the beginning of this meal, for example, we actually ordered a single blueberry pancake instead of the plum varenyky. The waitress somehow misinterpreted our order. Luckily for us, we received something delicious – this time.
Clearly a popular destination of the East Village.
Despite its faults, Veselka is a great place for a hearty, diner-style breakfast or brunch. Its no-muss no-fuss atmosphere and filling plates make it an ideal location for catching up with old friends and having a relaxing time.
The trademark mural outside of the shop.
144 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10003