Years of Nights at Veselka

Finally a cookbook to help satisfy those late-night pierogi cravings.

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It wasn’t one of my finer moments: Falling asleep at a table in Veselka, that is. This was back when my then-boyfriend-now-husband played in a ska band called the New York Citizens; we spent weekend nights consuming unthinkable amounts of post-gig libations, and then attempting in vain to eat off the effects. There was Wo-Hop for greasy noodles, Rosario’s for decent pizza, a cruelly lit cuchifrito stand on lower Houston whose name I really can’t recall, and then there was Veselka. Of all the spots where we filled our gullets at 3 or 4 in the wicked morning, the storied Eastern- European-in-the-East-Village landmark was my favorite.

And unlike those other eateries, long-since avoided, I still go there, stone sober and in broad daylight, for bowls of Ukrainian borscht; blintzes filled with sweet, soft cheese; fat, rice-stuffed cabbage rolls; and thick, butter-slicked, lumpy house-made pierogi (3,000 are churned out daily by four dedicated women in the restaurant’s basement). All worth waiting in the line—ever-present after 2 a.m.—that snakes past the registers when the diner-like space is cluttered with drinkers.

Which is why I’m delighted owner Tom Brichard has just published a cookbook. Not just for the recipes, but for the encapsulation of a wedge of New York history—sidewalks, tables and all.

Back in 1954, when Brichard’s former father-in-law, Wolodymyr Darmochwal, opened it as a wee newsstand and candy shop, Veselka was one of many important spots for the East Village’s post-WWII Ukrainian community. It grew into a restaurant— the kind where coffee mugs and stainless steel spoons clatter and the plates are really platters—but remained on its corner, and while the surrounding neighborhood reinvented itself, the fare has changed little: potato pancakes and bigos and beef stroganoff and lentil soup and coffee and carrot cake.

Authentic recipe or no, I doubt my attempts to recreate the late-night pierogi experience at home will yield the doughy, savory, rib-sticking lumps of salvation I downed way back when, but it’s definitely worth a shot.

The Veselka Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from the Landmark Restaurant in New York’s East Village, $27.99, St. Martin’s Press. Available at Veselka, 144 Second Avenue, and St. Mark’s Bookshop, 31 Third Avenue. Photo courtesy of St. Martin’s Press. 

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Amy Zavatto is the daughter of an old school Italian butcher who used to sell bay scallops alongside steaks, and is also the former Deputy Editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She holds her Level III Certification in Wine and Spirits from the WSET, and contributes to Imbibe, Whisky Advocate, SOMMJournal, Liquor.com, and others. She is the author of Forager's Cocktails: Botanical Mixology with Fresh, Natural Ingredients and The Architecture of the Cocktail. She's stomped around vineyards from the Finger Lakes to the Loire Valley and toured distilleries everywhere from Kentucky to Jalisco to the Highlands of Scotland. When not doing all those other things, Amy is the Director of the Long Island Merlot Alliance.