Veselka in the East Village is a New York institution; NYU students stumble in there late at night to sober up. During the day, it’s an eclectic mix of East Village hipsters and older Eastern Europeans. I first went with my graduate class at NYU and stuck to standard diner fare–a burger, a salad, something eggy, a waffle. Only recently, though, did I consume the fare that Veselka is known for: “Ukranian soul food” (and that’s according to their website.)
The star attraction, especially right now while it’s hot and muggy, is their summer borscht. It even comes with its own graphic:
Isn’t that charming?
The borscht–which you can also get hot, but then it’s not summer borscht–is, essentially, cold beet soup. It has all the tartness and earthiness of beets but is somehow lightened with broth (I’d guess vegetable) and chunks of crunchy things–maybe apples? Onions? It was hard to tell.
But the color (fluorescent pink), the temperature (cold), and the portion-size (one small bowlful) were a perfect foil for a hot summer day. In fact, this might be my official soup of summer, even though summer’s almost over. So if you live in New York and you want to drink the official soup of summer, head to Veselka and order their summer borscht. It comes free when you order their vegetarian platter (which is what I ordered for dinner) and that, too, is noteworthy. It comes with vegetarian perogies (with sour cream and sauteed onions for dipping) and a stuffed cabbage:
Next time my grandparents come to New York, I want to take them here. This is their kind of food–though they’re not Ukranian, they are Jews from New York. But mainly Russian Jews and this kind of food is familiar food to them: especially the stuffed cabbage. And borscht too, probably.
But even if you don’t have Jewish grandparents (and who does these days?), Veselka is a place worth visiting. Don’t expect gourmet finery; just good old-fashioned Ukranian soul food. Order a bowl of cold borscht and feed your summer soul.