Can a well-loved East Village diner reinvent itself as a hip, date-worthy restaurant on the Lower East Side? That is the gamble that Veselka, the 24-hour spot best known for its gigantic burgers and Eastern European comfort food, is taking.
Veselka Bowery is a swift departure from its schlubby older sister. This sleek, modern restaurant, with floor to ceiling windows and concrete floors, is sophisticated and looks fit for date night or a business lunch.
The menu has many of the original restaurant’s greatest hits but is more streamlined and includes sophisticated takes on classic dishes. Starting with the cocktail list, the Bowery Beet is an ingenious concoction made with vodka, applejack brandy, homemade beet syrup, fresh lemon juice, and dill. The drink is balanced with the jammy brandy and sharp vodka, and the sweetness in the brandy is echoed by the magenta beet syrup. The dill is an herbal, grassy touch that brightens the drink.
Start with an order of the famous pierogies, holdovers from the original menu. These potato-filled parcels are given upgrades here, stuffed with everything from creamy goat cheese to tangy sauerkraut to tender short ribs. Pan-fried, they are crispy, chewy, soft, and delicious dunked in sour cream or chunky applesauce.
Move on to the Kielbasa burger made with a blend of kielbasa and ground chuck and topped with thinly sliced kielbasa and horseradish mustard. The burger is served no less than medium-well, thanks to the pork in the patty, but it is flavorful and juicy nonetheless. The garlicky, peppery kielbasa matched with the naturally robust beef makes for a patty that is delicious enough on its own. Add the nasal-clearing horseradish mustard, and it is a powerhouse. The fries are crispy, well-salted, and a welcome accompaniment to the sizeable burger.
Veselka may have done the impossible—it has made Ukrainian diner food cool, trendy, and even sexy. The prices are reasonable, the service is efficient, and the taste is excellent. It all seems to be a pretty winning bet.
9 E 1st St
New York, NY 10003