First Park Develops a Taste for Ukraine

By Anne Johnson

NEW YORK CITY – On a bright, summer Sunday afternoon, young hipsters flock to First Park to grab breakfast from the Little Veselka. Emerging from their holes in the East Village and the Lower East Side, they gather at the café for iced coffee and raspberry blintzes and listen to local musicians set up nearby.

One of the best aspects of this little establishment: it’s location. Little Veselka is situated in the middle of First Park on the corner of 1st Avenue and 1st Street, right in front of the 2nd Avenue subway station. During the workweek, the kiosk acts as a quick stop for on the go commuters.

Little Veselka in First Park

Little Veselka in First Park

According to employee Greg Rozum, most customers during the week grab coffee and a muffin to go. For less than $4, this combo offers a New York City staple at a not-so New York City price. “It’s a really great value,” says customer Jeanine Hart, who frequents the original Veselka, but is a first timer to First Park.

The curious guest can try out the traditional Ukrainian dishes on the menu such as the pierogies, borscht, and kielbasas. Vegetarians can find meatless versions of these classic recipes along with a variety of salads and soups. The extensive menu also includes delicious pastries made by pastry chef, Lisa Straub. “I’ll get a croissant as light as a feather and as big as my hand,” says one commenter on yelp.com.

The creative sandwich menu offers are a big draw for tourists. Each dish is named after a famous Ukrainian such as the Madame Alexander – a savory turkey, cheddar, and cranberry chutney concoction named after the famous doll. For around $8 you can get a hearty sandwich, chips and coleslaw. As Hart says, it’s definitely a great value. At the very least, the sandwiches make for some interesting conversation.

Apart from it’s location and the reasonable prices consumers on zagat.com rave about the quality of dishes as well. “Their coffee is strong, sandwiches delicious, and friendly staff,” reads one review.

The booth, whose name actually means “little rainbow” in Ukrainian, was established in 2006 as an extension of its mother restaurant, Veselka. Wolodymyr Darmochwal opened Veselka in 1954 in order to offer a home base for the growing Ukrainian immigrant community in the East Village at the time. After many renovations, the last of which took place in 1996, Veselka is still in the family and still a hub for the local community.

The café not only appeals to the 55,000 New Yorkers with Ukrainian ancestors, but also to the larger public. The menu offers a savory combination of American comfort food and Ukrainian favorites. Not to mention the prices are easy on the pocketbook for penny-pinching college students. Apart from the combination platters, nothing on the menu tops $10.

Stop by on the weekend or whenever you’ve got some time to grab a more substantial meal and relax in the café seating located next to the kiosk in the park. During the day, pop-up live music often accompanies the meal. At night, strands of large holiday lights give a wonderful ambience to the seating, brightening up the whole park. “There’s always something happening around here,” says Rozum.

Open 24 hours, the kiosk is perfect for late night munching. Caffeine and pastries available at 3 a.m.? Perfect for finals week, the end of a good date (or a bad one), or just because. But remember: cash only.

Little Veselka, 75 East 1st Street, (212) 228-9682, http://www.veselka.com

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