Some people are afraid of Eastern European food. At first glance, it may look like a plate of mush, or it might just seem a little lumpy and odd, or it could be a color that you’ve never put in your mouth before. But please, I beg you, don’t be one of those people who shies away from a dish just because it might look a little different. Take one bite. At least one bite, and then you can have an opinion on the food. But not until then!
Veselka is one of those places that feels very authentic. When you walk in, you can hear the staff speaking Ukranian, and you just know you’re about to have the real deal. I went with two friends who were perfect for this food “adventure.” Why you ask? One grew up in Europe and the other has never said no to any suggestion I’ve brought up. As per my intro paragraph, it takes someone a little more open-minded to venture to Veselka (although I wish it didn’t!), so going with these guys was a safe bet.
There were two things I knew I had to get, the pierogies and the borscht soup. Pierogies I was already familiar with and loved from my Polish background, so I couldn’t wait to get some great ones here. Borscht soup, on the other hand, I had never eaten or even heard of (yeah, I Googled it before going!). We got the large platter of pierogies to share, which comes with 7 of your choice either boiled or fried. Luckily, they let you mix and match so we got to try one of each flavor (potato, cheese, meat, spinach and cream cheese, sauerkraut and mushroom, and arugula and goat cheese) and we got them boiled, since we thought it was “the thing” to do. All were fantastic and very flavorful even though it was all packed into a little dumpling. Next time, I think I’ll go with the fried option instead though, because really, if you have the choice of fried or not, why would you ever go with the latter?
Now…the borscht soup. Borscht soup is a beetroot soup, hence the incredibly bright, and maybe off-putting to some, color. This is what I meant earlier when I said “it could be a color that you’ve never put in your mouth before.” The waiter asked if I wanted meat in it, and when he saw my confused face he quickly told me that that’s normally how peopled order it, so I was like sure! Whatever is normal! It’s definitely unlike any other soup I’ve had. The broth is more liquidy rather than thick, with pieces of beets and beef in it. What makes it such a unique soup (besides the red-purple color) is the underlying tang. I ended up sopping up every last drop with the slices of bread they give you with a soup order, so in other words, I loved it.
For my entree, I wanted to keep with the trend of trying new food, so I ordered the veal goulash (I’ve had goulash before, but never with veal). It comes with a side of mashed potatoes and then your choice of another side. Is it weird that I ordered more potatoes and got a potato pancake? Whatever! The potato pancakes just seemed like another one of those signature items of the cuisine that I had to try here. The goulash was tender, and it was a pretty big serving. I liked how the mashed potatoes were in the same dish, so that I was able scoop up some of the sauce with each bite of potatoes. And the potato pancake was crispy and made even better by the applesauce they give you with it. (As you can see in the goulash picture, I was in the process of killing that soup before finishing the pierogies and even starting on my main dish).
Last but definitely not least, we split kutya for dessert. Originally, I wanted to order a black and white cookie, but they were out so the waiter suggested this more traditional dessert instead. I’m so glad they did! On their website, kutya is described as a “traditional sweet Ukranian pudding of wheat berries, raisins, walnuts, poppy seeds and honey.” Normally, I don’t favor predominately fruit/nut desserts, but this was amazing. The wheat berries had this nut/noodle taste which went wonderfully with the sweet honey and raisins. After the pierogies, this was my favorite part of the meal. It gave me my sweet fix, but didn’t make me feel weighed down like other desserts can.
Now, food that’s unlike anything you’ve ever had and that isn’t something a majority of people are familiar with can be hard to describe, but I really tried my best selling it to you. Even if you read this post and see the pictures and think the food sounds/looks a little weird, I really hope you’ll give it a chance. ‘Cause I’m telling you man…I could kill for some kutya right now.
Potato, cheese, meat, spinach & cream cheese, sauerkraut & mushroom, arugula & goat cheese pierogies; borscht soup; potato pancake; veal goulash; kutya
144 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10003