“What is the quintessential American food?” I asked that question of friends and family at one point (to their annoyance). The usual suspects were meatloaf and hamburgers. I guess the USA loves chopped beef.
There are a number of sites dedicated to finding good burgers. New York, it seems, has undergone a burger Renaissance over the past decade. One of the most notable additions to the Manhattan landscape is Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack. Five Guys Burgers and Fries have migrated north to open locations in Manhattan, Queens, and Westchester. Midtown will soon have a Steak N’ Shake. However, in all the Big Apple’s Best Burger lists, there is an entry that keeps popping up, and it’s a Ukranian diner.
Veselka has been an East Village staple for years. Some menu favorites include borscht and stuffed cabbage, but the burger is what MG and I crave. It is an all chuck burger. There are cross char marks that indicate a nice stop on a griddle. Every burger is fresh and delicious. I read that Veselka gets their bread from Amy’s Bread. It is a brioche bun that absorbs all the delicious juice perfectly. The bun is seeded, airy, and substantial enough to hold the patty, condiments, cheese, and whatever toppings are nestled alongside your slice of red meat nirvana.
I got my burger with cheddar and bacon ($9 for plain burger; $1 for cheese; ??? for bacon). Veselka does not skimp on the bacon. It is thick cut, crisp, and they pile it high.
MG went with bacon, cheddar, and grilled onion. She declared, “These must be sweet Vidalia.” In her estimation, they made an excellent addition.
How do describe the taste of this burger? Imagine the best backyard barbeque burger you’ve ever had, make it thicker, cook it perfectly, and leave all the juices intact. It’s not complex. It’s just right. It’s not my favorite burger (I’ll review that later), but it is hard to go wrong with this little gem. My medium was pink the middle without being raw. MG’s “little past medium” was exactly so. I didn’t taste any complex seasonings, there are no beef blends to speak of, so the result is just a burger. Just a burger. Just a well-cooked, properly made, nicely seasoned (not overly seasoned) burger. I can’t imagine any burger lover hating this, unless they are in need of something more complex. At the least, I believe the Veselka burger sets an appropriate bar. Burgers should be at least as good as their offering.
Fries? We don’t need no stinking fries. This is where having a burger at a Ukranian diner comes in handy. What to have in place of deep fried potato sticks? How about deep fried potato perogies? Yeah… that’ll work.
MG and I got a large order of perogies ($10.95) in a combination of potato and sweet potato. Each order comes with applesauce, sour cream, and grilled onions. You could get your perogies boiled instead of fried, but if you’re having a burger, are you really going to start worrying about cholesterol and calories now? The potato perogies were awesome. I don’t know what seasoning they use, or if it’s just a result of deep frying, but they made me emit a groan of pleasure. MG was more fond of the sweet potato variety which I found nice, but not on the level of the plain potato. Other flavors include meat, spinach, cheese, and more.
Numerous reviews have describe Veselka’s service as brisk, bordering and sometimes crossing into rude. Our waitress could not have been nicer. She was attentive, pleasant, and prompt. When she brought the bill, she apologized for the establishments tip suggestions on the bottom of the bill. “They put it there, not me.”
Veselka is open 24 hours, so there is no excuse not to stop in when the urge for a burger strikes. They have opened a second location just a few blocks away.
144 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10003-8305