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Lunch with Eyza at the ‘Ukie Nash’

UNH exterior4Gloria Chung The Ukrainian East Village Restaurant, 140 Second Avenue.

The Ukrainian East Village Restaurant at 140 Second Avenue between St. Marks Place and Ninth Street is quite possibly the least welcoming restaurant in the hyperbolically friendly Lower East Side. My office sits across the street, and I had been there a year before I made bold last week to open the outer doors under a canopy advertising “Ukrainian National Home,” which appears to be the name of the restaurant, though it is not; pass through an empty lobby into the interior of the building; round a corner, and open a second set of doors. It was lunch time, and the restaurant looked like the grill room of a public golf course in February — low ceiling, blonde wood paneling, too-bright lighting, oilcloth-covered tables with glass tops and, of course, scarcely any customers.

Unlike the Chinese-Mingrelian tapioca bars and whatnot which dot the Lower East Side, the Ukrainian East Village Restaurant does not need to impress. It has always been there, and probably always will be. My lunchtime companion, Eyza Kurowyckyj — think of “quart of whiskey,” she says helpfully — was born on Sixth Street between First and Second Avenues in 1957, long before the first cut-rate Bengali place had arrived. Eyza says that she never knew a time when Ukie Nash, as she and the entire neighborhood called it after the name on the canopy, didn’t sit there at the end of its blank hallway, and when her friends and family members didn’t go to the giant catering hall upstairs for weddings and galas and balls. But Eyza hadn’t eaten there recently — possibly for fear that the cholesterol would kill her.
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