The latest from Timothy T Brock, right here!
During the late 19th and early 20th century, groups of Eastern European immigrants came to New York City, settling in what is now the East Village. While the demographic of the East Village has since changed (it’s now known as a center for New York’s youth culture), many old Eastern European restaurants remain in the area, delicious reminders of a bygone past. I recently came across an article listing some of the best restaurants this neighborhood has to offer, and thought that I would try some. So far, I’ve been to three of them: Kafana, Little Poland and Ukrainian East Village.
Kafana is a charming little Serbian cafe on Avenue C, which serves as a base for the area’s Serbian community; at any given time, it’s likely that you’ll be the only person there speaking English. They have an impressive and diverse list of delicious Balkan wine and beer. Upon entering the restaurant, a heavily-accented waitress brought over a bread bowl along with “ajvar”, a delicious Serbian vegetable spread made from eggplants and red peppers, and then explained the specials. I ended up having cepavi, a traditional Serbian hamburger, served inside a tasty flatbread, creamy cheese spread and diced onions. My friend had a delicious stew, made up of lamb and spinach. Both dishes were phenomenal, and reasonably priced (at least by New York’s standards), although the restaurant only accepts cash, so if you choose to visit the restaurant (which I recommend without hesitation), plan accordingly.
Little Poland, as the name implies, serves traditional Polish food in a setting reminiscent of a 1970s-era diner. Visiting Little Poland, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to eat, so I ordered a “Polish platter”, which is made up of kielbasa, bigos (a tasty stew made up of cabbage and pork), stuffed cabbage and pierogis (they let you choose what fillings you want; I got potato and sweet cheese), all with a generous helping of sour cream. All of it was delicious, particularly the bigos, although I left feeling uncomfortably full.
Ukrainian East Village is a restaurant located inside the Ukrainian East Village Home, a cultural center for the area’s historic Ukrainian community; the block where the restaurant/center is located is dotted with Ukrainian businesses and signs in Cyrillic. The interior restaurant feels like an old, Soviet-bloc summer camp, with a brown wood wall and floor and paintings of rural Slavic life. I ordered the “Ukrainian platter” at the restaurant, which had much in common with the “Polish platter” from Little Poland (the only real difference was the first word). Ultimately, however, I would have to say that the Polish platter was much better, although that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the Ukrainian restaurant. I also heard that you can order vareniki (the Ukrainian equivalent of pierogi) from the adjoining bar.
There are plenty of other restaurants in this article that I have yet to visit, although I plan to soon. One that I’m actually very keen on trying is the Georgian restaurant; Georgian food is widely hailed across the former Soviet Union for being some of the most delicious in the world.