More soup, er, borscht, for you!
Legendary East Village diner Veselka, which has dished out Ukrainian comfort food like borscht and pierogies for nearly 70 years, is planning to open an outpost in Williamsburg and a kiosk at Grand Central Station, Side Dish has learned.
The expected expansion comes amid an outpouring of support for Veselka, which means “rainbow” in Ukrainian, as the brutal war instigated by Russia against its eastern European neighbor enters its second year.
The Second Avenue mainstay has been an unofficial meeting ground for organizing aid – including food, medical supplies and cash – to the war-torn country and providing sanctuary for refugees. Veselka has also donated 100% of sales of its famous borscht during the first year of the war to Ukraine – raising $300,000.
“I’m just hoping for the best, and know in my heart that I will continue to do what I can to help Ukrainians, my fellow brothers and sisters,” said Jason Birchard, Veselka’s owner and the son of Tom Birchard, who took over from his then-father-in-law Wolodymr Darmochwal. “My staff is very motivated. I couldn’t do this without their hard work. About 50% of them are Ukrainian.”
Birchard is in talks to open a 5,000 square-foot location in Williamsburg by the end of the year with a bigger commissary kitchen, he said. The current East Village location is 4,500 square feet, with 70 seats inside and around 50 seats outside, whether permitting.
“We needed a space that could be a hybrid kitchen and restaurant to deal with the pent-up demand of the last 12 months, which has shown that people love Veselka, and we are incredibly appreciative and want to meet the demand that is there,” said Justin Birchard, Jason’s cousin and Veselka’s director of development.
The Grand Central annex, also slated to open later this year, would be similar to Veselka’s Lower East Side kiosk at Essex Crossing, which launched in 2018.
Once the Williamsburg location launches, the East Village spot which opened in 1954 will close for some needed renovations, including expanding the kitchen.
“It’s time,” Justin Birchard said. “We haven’t renovated in 30 years. But we aren’t leaving. We’re staying as long as the landlord will have us.”
Another thing Veselka hopes to reestablish soon is 24/7 dining, which was discontinued during the pandemic.
“I used to love going there to eat late after a night out back in the day,” said Jason Lloyd, now a father of three and a broker at the firm Mona who is repping Veselka in negotiations for the Williamsburg space. “So many people have memories of late-night dining here.”
Veselka’s traditional menu that includes stuffed cabbage, veal goulash and beef stroganoff has recently earned it a nomination for the James Beard Award’s outstanding restaurant.
But it’s the business of comforting the Ukrainian community, which extends from the East Village to across the tri-state area and nationally, that has generated much of the good will.
The restaurant has sponsored work visas for Ukrainians who fled to New York, where many landed at Veselka to work alongside their relatives, said Jason Birchard. It also has teamed with the Ukrainian non-profit Razom for Ukraine, a human rights organization, and other groups.
As part of a new fund-raising drive, Veselka is partnering with Michael Dorf’s City Winery to donate sales of a $10 cabernet – on tap from a barrel painted the blue-and-yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag – via Chef José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen, said Jason Birchard.
“I want to raise $500,000 for Ukraine this year,” added Birchard, who serves on the advisory board of Ukrainian Habitat Funds. “As one of the oldest Ukrainian businesses in New York, we are blessed to have so much support, and to be able to support Ukraine as well.”
And there may be new neighborhoods to conquer in the future. The West Village may be next, Lloyd hinted.
“This is a well deserved expansion for Veselka. It’s a great New York brand. I hope Second Avenue (the original location) will be open 24/7 again and that aspect of New York dining comes back — when people leave the bar to go get food as the sun rises,” Lloyd said.
We hear…that the 25th Annual Sunday Supper — from Chef Daniel Boulud and Citymeals on Wheels — raised $1 million. Mayor Eric Adams and Citymeals on Wheels CEO Beth Shapiro attended.
Guest chefs included Aaron Bludorn (Bludorn in Houston), Esther Ha (Momofuku Ko in New York) and Travis Swikard (Callie in San Diego) — who all began their careers under Boulud’s mentorship. Joining them was French Chef Eric Canino (La Voile, Ramatuelle in Saint Tropez, France.)
We hear…that Cathédrale is partnering with the IFC Center and Janus Films to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Babette’s Feast, the Oscar-winning cult classic Danish foodie film, The IFC will show the film, hailed by the late Anthony Bourdain as one of the all-time food classics, from March 22=29.
On the final night, Cathédrale will offer a re-creation of the film’s famous feast: a four-course, candle-lit meal by Chef Jason Hall and directed by Tao Group Hospitality’s chief culinary officer Ralph Scamardella. The cost is $150 per person, plus wine and libations pairings.
The film culminates with a spectacular feast from a French refugee that includes turtle soup for two spinster daughters of a pastor in a pious, 19th century Danish town.
“It was crucial to remain faithful to the classics, and not veer off into reinventing or adding personal touches,” said Hall, adding that the turtle soup was sourced from Philadelphia’s Samuels Seafood Company, with farm raised, freshwater, soft-shell turtles and that a faux turtle soup will also be served.
“By offering guests the opportunity to experience classics from a different era, the restaurant aims to evoke a sense of nostalgia and appreciation for the traditional French cuisine that is served in Babette’s Feast,” Hall said.
The other dishes include blinis with caviar and sour cream, quail in puff pastry with foie gras and black truffle sauce, and rum sponge cake with figs and candied cherries.
Matt Strauss, senior vice president of corporate development for Tao Group Hospitality, said the idea for the dinner came during the pandemic as he texted back and forth with Chef Hall.
“I loved the film when it came out and it hits differently wherever you are in your life,” Strauss said. “A great meal brings everyone together.”
He added that he sourced some of the wines at auction, and that “authenticity” for the entire experience is key.
As the late Bourdain once said about the film, “You want to eat that food. It captures the real pleasures of sitting at a table, a little bit drunk on good wine, eating incredible food. They just got it right.”
Leave a Reply