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A Shout Out for Old Timer Ukrainian East Village Restaurant

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To get everyone through the dog days of summer, we've asked our readers to tell us about a favorite, somewhat oddball restaurant, bar, or place of note that perhaps exists mostly off the radar. Today's pick comes from Kim Davis, a.k.a. the Pink Pig. Please send in further recs to tips@eater.com.

2010_08_ukrainian-east-village.jpgTwenty years ago it was jellied pig’s foot on the menu. Of this I am sure. I first found my way to the secluded forty year-old dining room in the Ukrainian National Home on Second Avenue on one of my first trips to the city, before I moved here to stay. Who knows how I found it? It’s at the end of a long corridor, invisible from the street (although a sidewalk blackboard boosts the day’s specials). There was no online food chat back then, only guide books, but I would have been looking for something cheap and unusual. Jellied pig’s foot somehow pulled me in, and the wood-paneled calm and somber charm kept me.

Not to mention the tripe soup. Available by cup or bowl, the mouth-filling herby warmth of the broth and trembling tenderness of the tripe strips has long made this my favorite tripe dish in New York. The possible exception, I admit, was the tripe cooked in Armagnac at the old Le Cirque at something like eight times the price. It’s the first dilemma: jellied pork or tripe soup? It’s not pig’s foot any more, but the puck of moist pork inside firm dome of savory meat jelly is worth digging for.

You can eat big doorsteps of challah or dark bread while you make a decision. The servers are patient in everything, including delivering the food and processing the check and explaining what they don’t have. “The Georgian wine? No, not for a long time. There was something wrong in the bottle.” I’ve never tried to find out if they really have a cocktail called a Golden Cadillac, but I did successfully order a Pink Lady once. Not for myself, of course. House red is likely to be Argentinian or Chilean, or drink bottled Russian beer, or pints from the tap carried solemnly through from the Sly Fox bar next door – that exotic retreat of Russian men with thought-provoking tattoos and the tall blond girls who love them.

I have worked my way up and down the lists of specialties and entrées, and it gets no easier. I am weaned from the fat kovbasa sausages, which also feature in a belt-straining combo plate with the stuffed cabbage and pierogis. I am over the halusky noodles and the kasha with delicious if poorly named “beef chunks.” But letcho or segedin goulash? Letcho is a pepper stew with hunks of pork, but more importantly it’s served over huge potato pancakes, fluffy inside and crunchy around the perimeter. Segedin goulash features pork again, this time with sour cream-packed sauerkraut. Your problem is solved if roast duck with red cabbage ever appears as a special. Get it.

You will need to digest, and the room, rarely more than half full, is encouragingly tranquil. Contemplate the relics of national costume in glass cases or the folkloric tableware on the dresser in the corner. Next door is a different story, a community hall hosting everything from weddings to tango lessons. You can stuff yourself here for fifteen bucks or less, and if you spend more than $30 a head you have probably been at the Golden Cadillacs. A quiet, calorific jewel. Unchanging too, except for the pig’s foot.
—Kim Davis

Ukrainian East Village Restaurant

140 2nd Ave., New York, NY

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