Now, I’ve never had borscht, but I do like to say “borscht.” That’s about as intimate of a relationship I’ve ever had with borscht. I know next to nothing on the subject. Borscht is magenta. It’s a beet soup. It’s Ukranian. It’s served both hot and cold. And that’s about the extent of my knowledge. But when Ted Allen, Queer Eye staple and author of The Food You Want to Eat, says the best thing he’s ever eaten in a bowl is Veselka’s borscht, I haul ass to the East Village.
Ted Allen isn’t alone. New York Magazine declared Veselka’s beet soup the best borscht in the city, and Veselka already has a lot of recognition. Not only was it featured in Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, immortalized in the City of Fallen Angels, and memorialized in several songs, but Veselka also has a host of celebrity clientele singing its praises. Anyone from Justin Long, Jon Stewart, Julianne Moore to Debra Messing has considered Veselka a late-night main-stay. And of course, it really is an East Village staple. This 24-hour Ukrainian diner has been receiving regular praise since its founding in 1954. Not to mention, its cool factor shot up exponentially when The New York Dolls and The Ramones considered Veselka one of their regular haunts after their gigs in the 70s and 80s.
So, of course, I get to Veselka, and you know what? It’s just a diner. I’m from Jersey, okay? I, out of anyone, know diners, but Veselka’s menu has some hidden gems. Though I was there for the borscht, I can see how easy it would be to go on a carb-centric binge. Potato pierogies; potato pancakes; mashed potatoes. I had my blinders on though, and steered clear of the Ukranian classics like goulash, bigos, and stuffed cabbage. I was here for the borscht, and I ordered the borscht. I got the borscht, and I ate the borscht. Borscht. Borscht. Borscht. Borscht. Borscht. Say it five times fast; it’s my new favorite word.
And how about that borscht, huh? Deep magenta. Meaty. Rich. Piping hot. And perfect. At $5.95 for a large bowl, it’s a relative steal too. Veselka’s got borscht down to a formula. Making 5,000 gallons of the soup every week, it’s obviously a crowd favorite, but it’s more difficult than most believe to have such excellent quality control on a product so widely consumed. It’s fast becoming my own late-night staple, too—something hot, cheap, and meaty for those horrible, brown slushy-snow treks in Manhattan. Warms you inside and out. Magenta magic.
I’m not, however, a fan of Veselka’s cold borscht. Made with beets, buttermilk, dill, hardboiled eggs, and cucumbers, I was a little put off by the cloying sweetness of the beet/buttermilk combination. Still, no matter what I order, it comes with a never-ending cup of coffee and a healthy dose of people-watching. I always make sure to keep an eye on the door in case Jon Stewart decides to traipse in for some borscht.