April 11, 2008
Josh “Mr. Cutlets” Ozersky, co-creator of NY Magazine’s Grub Street, and author of “Hamburger: A History”, recently proclaimed his love for the bacon cheeseburger ($10.50 deluxe) at Veselka, a 24-hour Ukrainian diner in the East Village. I’ve had this joint on my to do list for a long time but it was Mr. Ozersky’s claim that lit the burner on this mission. Could it really be the best burger in the city?
I’ll give it to you straight. No. It’s not the best burger in the city.
Not in NYC Food Guy’s humble opinion. It was flame broiled and damn tasty, but we have to remember, Veselka is merely a diner, and they delivered on just that, a standard yet delicious diner burger. If I had to eat one last burger in Manhattan, I’d still go with Brooklyn Diner.
Now that you’ve heard the final word, let’s breakdown this burger and see what makes it good and where the experience fell short.
The Burger: Standard, pre-frozen, unspiced patty. Slapped on the fire grill, this puppy came cooked to order and was still pretty greasy, a sign that it wasn’t smushed by the spatula. The overall flavor was fire, backyard grill style, which when you’re looking for something simple and delicious, is great. I’m not going to run for this burger, but if I happen to be in the neighborhood, and I want something quick, this is a definite go to spot. Juice dripped onto the hearty bottom bun, which brings us to the next point of contention.
The Bun: Standard white, seeded bun with some Kaiser like quality that delivered some heft to support the juicy patty. Despite the heartiness of the bun, it remained light and easily compressible, never upstaging the burger, melted American cheese, and bacon. I love a good segway.
The Bacon & the cheese: The bacon was thick, crispy, and fresh. Cooked to order. Great crunch and flavor, perfectly held to the burger by the thick layer of melted American cheese.
The fries: Pretty weak. I ordered them well done and they arrived looking like they were part of an order that was hanging out for a little bit. I spied someone else’s fries a few minutes later and they were golden brown and glistening. Disappointing. That being said, even if they were well done, they’d still be pretty standard.
Service: I usually make a mention of service only if it’s very good or very bad and unfortunately over the course of the meal, service descended in the latter direction. When we arrived the restaurant had a few empty tables but as the lunch rush commenced, the food took a hit. My friend’s cheeseburger came without cheese, my vanilla egg cream was awful, all seltzer, no vanilla. And then when all was said and done, the bill was wrong. The egg cream was still on there and my friend was charged 50 cents more than I was for cheese. I know, it’s just 50 cents, but it’s the principle of it. The waitress actually put 50 cents of her own money in the checkbook and gave us a little attitude for even mentioning the mistakes and we laughed and left her silver on the table.
Veselka is a 24-hour diner which ups its stock by sticking to its Ukrainian roots. Their pierogies are legendary. I’ve had the fried potato variety once before, and they were very tasty, lightly fried pockets of oniony/potatoey deliciousness, especially when dipped in sour cream. The cheese blintzes were also quite tasty, slightly crisp on the edges, soft and sweet in the middle.
But as far as burger talk goes, if you’re in the East Village, you always have the option of dropping into Veselka, they’re open all night. They win major points right there. If that’s not enough, it’s nicer than a regular diner: spacious, clean, and hip. And on the newsfront, Grub Street’s reporting that a second Veselka location is set to open on 1st street between 2nd Ave and Bowery.
I strongly recommend you stop in for a burger one day if you want to get back to a time when burgers were simple. Flame broiled beef, a white bun, cheese, and crispy bacon. Maybe Mr. Ozersky was right, greatness in simplicity.