It’s three o’clock (where do we get the expression “o’clock” from, anyway?) in the morning, and we have to have pierogi. Not just any pierogi, but a fresh, hot fried dumpling with tender onions and butter on the side. A nutritional nightmare, without a doubt, but at three o’clock in the morning, who cares? Besides, we just want one apiece… We bundle ourselves in defiance of the elements and trudge our way up Second Avenue to Veselka.
We enter the brightly lit (perhaps too brightly lit…) coffee shop atmosphere and quickly wend our way past the lunch counter, past the kitchen where Polish and Ukranian specialties are sizzling and bubbling away, past the wait-station, and plunge into the back room. At times in the past, this haven of quiet was kept dimly lit, now it glows with the rainbow of colors from the neon “24-hours” sign on the window. We settle into our favorite corner and prepare to argue over the selection of meat, cheese, potato and cabbage-stuffed delicacies that are the object of our quest. Shortly, finding ourselves deadlocked, we agree to order a plate of each.
We barely glance at the menu, but of course, the potato pancakes catch our eyes. Mentally, we halve our order of pierogies and throw in some plump, crisp, golden brown latkes. A moment later, still not really looking, we remember how we all enjoy the soups. Besides, it’s cold outside – a bowl of vegetable, split pea, or mushroom barley wouldn’t hurt any of us. Our waitress has yet to arrive, so we decide to peruse the rest of the well-memorized menu. Just in case, you understand.
One of our number remembers fondly a recent devouring of the combination platter, laden with kielbasa, stuffed cabbage, a bit of this, a bit of that. Our vegetarian comrade counters with the vegetarian combination, a platter of much the same, though, somehow, meatless. Bigos, a rich hunter’s stew, is a special of the day and suddenly becomes tempting. My personal favorites, the stuffed cabbages, both meatless and meatful(?) are ordered on a mixed plate, much to our waitperson’s consternation. These are, you understand, just side dishes to our pierogi.
She returns soon, laden with plates bearing enough food to feed the populus of both Poland and the Ukraine for a week. Piling them atop our table, she announces she will return with our main courses shortly… We dig in, remembering, of course, to save room for dessert. As always, Veselka provides homestyle cooking at reasonable rates.
Midway through this orgy of degustation, we know that dessert is not a possibility. This is a shame, since we could have sampled a scrumptious carrot cake, chocolate pie, fruit pies and ice cream. Well, perhaps next time. We waddle our way back down Second Avenue, our pierogi urge completely satisfied.
Veselka, 144 Second Avenue (at 10th Street), 228-9682. Open 24 hours, 7 days a week. Cash only. Anywhere from $5 on up, depending on just exactly how may pierogi and “side dishes” you think you can eat.
CaB magazine was one of the first publications I ever wrote for. Published by my dear friend Andrew Martin, it covered the Cabaret, Theater, Music and Dining scene in New York City, long before slick publications like Time Out NY and Where NY became popular. We had great fun writing it, and some wonderful writers contributed to its pages. When the magazine folded in the mid-90s, Andrew disappeared from the scene, and rumors had it that he departed from this existence not long after. I was thrilled to find out in mid-October 2005, a decade later, that the rumors were just that. Andrew contacted me after finding my site via that omnipresent force, Google. He’s alive and well and a member of a comedy troupe called Meet the Mistake. Somehow quite fitting!