Jewish Food Tour of New York: Katz's Deli, Russ & Daughters, Yonna Shimmel's Knish Bakery and bagels galore
It seemed fitting that our first meal in New York City was at Katz's Deli. Before we hit up Momofuku for fried chicken, before we joined the crazy 6.45am queue for Dominique Ansel's infamous cronut, before all of that, we made our way into one of the city's most iconic eateries, Katz's Deli.
Katz's Deli has long been a part of New York's history, established in 1888 and famous for its World War II campaign to "send a salami to your boy in the army". However it was the "I'll have what she's having" scene in the movie When Harry Met Sally that cemented Katz's Deli forever in public consciousness.
Katz's Deli dining room
The dining room is long and cavernous. We are lucky to find no queue at 9pm on a weeknight, but when walk past later on Friday night and throughout the weekend, the queue is regularly 30 people deep. The walls are covered with celebrity photo endorsements but it's the mix of people that's most inspiring, a haphazard crowd of families, tourist, couples and workmates all chowing down on sandwiches, deli meats and pickles.
The most important thing to remember at Katz's is to never lose your ticket. Each person is handed a white paper ticket for servers to record your order as you go. The total is then tallied up by the cashier by the exit. If you lose your ticket, you'll be charged US$50.
The army of servers at the counter are friendly but efficient, wearing a mix of white paper hats or baseball caps. If you order the corned beef or pastrami, they'll usually hand you a slice on a plate for you to snack on while your sandwich is prepped. Too much awesome.
Katz's Reuben US$17.45
And you have to order the corned beef while you're here. The chunky slices are the fattiest, softest and juiciest pleasures of corned beef you'll ever know. Get it on a Reuben sandwich and rejoice in the magical harmony of tender corned beef, salty sauerkraut, Russian dressing and the stretchy satisfaction of molten Swiss cheese.
Katz's tongue half sandwich with matzo ball soup US$14.85
Katz's serves up pastrami, roast beef, brisket and beef hot dogs, but don't forget their cold tongue, a specialty that's cured in-house.
Katz's tongue sandwich
You can specifically ask for the centre or tip of the tongue - it's all good. The tongue is sliced thinly, piled high between two slices of soft bread spread generously with mustard.
Matzo ball soup
And don't forget the matzo ball soup. The matzo ball is humungous, made from a mix of matzo meal, eggs, water and fat, and boiled until it becomes a large spongy dumpling. Biting into the fluffy matzo ball, plump with chicken soup, is enormously comforting. In a big city like New York, sometimes you need a little grandmotherly love.
Russ & Daughters
On the next block is Russ & Daughters. If you love smoked salmon, this shop has been sent from the gods. Established in 1914 by Joel Russ, an Eastern European immigrant to the US, Russ added the unusual "& Daughters" to the shop name when he made this three daughters partners in the business in 1933.
Whole smoked whitefish
There's a fantastic sense of old world charm about the place when you step in here, with goods piled high on every available shelf space, and black and white photographs displayed with pride. They've got every kind of pickled and smoked seafood you can think of in here: salmon, whitefish, sturgeon, mackerel, trout, sable and six kinds of caviar.
Russ & Daughters service counter
The staff are all dressed in crisp white coats, attending to customers as their ticket number comes up on the screen. Sometimes the shop gets so crowded you can barely see the counter.
Pickled lox, smoked herring fillets, Swedish matjes fillets, Schmaltz fillets and rollmops
We marvel at the pickled herrings, rollmops, chopped liver and tongue but the centrepiece of everything here has to be the smoked salmon.
Whole sides of smoked salmon glisten in a massive display in the middle. Gaspe Nova, Scottish, Irish, Norwegian, New Zealand King, Wild Western Nova, belly lox, gravlax, pastrami-cured, oak smoked and loin cut smoked salmons beckon. That's 11 kinds of salmon to drop your jaw over, as you start to notice the subtle differences in colour between them all, and the way the ribbons of fat swirl in mesmerising patterns.
Old-fashioned belly lox mini bagel with cream cheese and tomato US$7.75
You can order your salmon by the pound, but if it's lunchtime, you may as well get it on New York-style on a bagel. The salmon is all sliced carefully by hand, draped carefully into your bagel of choice and then combined with cream cheese and fresh tomato if you prefer.
Oak smoked salmon bagel with cream cheese and tomato US$12.25
Suze had the mini bagel with belly lox, distinctly salty and fatty on its own but less noticeable when eaten with the bagel and cream cheese. After sampling a couple of different salmon - the staff are happy to help you find your perfect smoked salmon - I settled on the oak smoked salmon, one of the stronger heavier smoked salmons available.
The salmon itself is wondrous, far removed from the cryovacced versions you find in the supermarket. The flesh is plump and fatty, silky in texture, firm to the bite and seductively smoky.
Oak smoked salmon
Yonah Shimmel Knish Bakery
Yonah Shimmel Knish Bakery
For a real step back in time, continue along East Houston Street to Yonah Shimmel Knish Bakery. The Lower East Side is filled with Jewish treasures, but this is one of the classics.
Knish and potato latke
First opening in 1910, the shopfront looks like it hasn't changed anything since then. The faded yellow sign above the door is half the charm. We walked past one day just as an elderly gentleman in his 80s stopped outside. He looked up, clasped his hands to his heart and said with disbelief "It's here! It's still here!" as a flood of childhood memories seems to prompt a huge smile across his wrinkled face.
Mushroom knish US$3.50
What's a knish? Imagine a hunk of mashed potato encased in a baked dough and you're halfway there. Brought to the US by Eastern European immigrants, it's a hearty snack or side dish, sometimes pepped up with onions, red cabbage, sauerkraut, mushrooms or ground meat.
Cherry cheese knish US$4
We had the plain knish and a potato latke too, a potato pancake made from grated potato, flour and egg. For dessert, it was onto the apple sweet knish, a parcel of ricotta and apple wrapped in a thin layer of pastry. Blueberries and cherries are available too.
Red cabbage knish US$3.50
And how can you celebrate the wonders of Jewish food in New York without partaking in a bagel? Or three? We wandered into Murray's Bagels on our way to the Union Square Greenmarket.
Murray's Bagels may have only started in 1996 but it's the start of a second life for owner Adam Pomerantz, who switched careers from vice president of Merril Lynch to apprentice bagel baker before building up the business to what it is today.
There are two Murray's Bagels outlets - one in Chelsea and one in the West Village. There are thirteen different bagels to choose from, each costing US$1.15 each or US$13.80 for a baker's dozen.
There are are all kinds of flavoured cream cheeses to choose from (sun-dried tomato and basil, maple raisin walnut, kalamata olive, jalapeno and strawberry to name a few) plus tofu cream cheese for all the vegans in your life.
Plain bagel with Hebrew National Salami and omelette US$5.25
Lex is all over the breakfast bagel, an omelette combo with slices of the intriguing Hebrew National Salami - a kosher salami made from beef that tastes more like ham than salami.
Plain bagel with tomato and scallion cream cheese US$5.15
I stick with the plain bagel with fresh tomato and scallion cream cheese. If there's one thing we notice about Americans and bagels, it's the generosity of cream cheese. They like to slather it on like nobody's business!
There's plenty of seating inside and the place almost has a Starbucks feel with patrons settled in with laptops on nearby tables. They also do sandwiches, salads, soups and pastries.
Plain bagel with tomato and scallion cream cheese
The Murray's Bagel was good but my favourite bagel was from Ess-a-Bagel. If you don't understand the joy of a New York bagel, Ess-a-Bagel will finally bring you enlightenment.
Ess-a-Bagel service counter
We visit the smaller Ess-a-Bagel outlet in Midtown on 2nd Avenue - there's a bigger one in the Gramercy district at 359 1st Avenue. It's a little intimidating at first - the place is busy, and staff expect you to rattle off your order immediately like a well-seasoned local.
Don't let that put you off though. Choose your bagel from the list of varieties taped to the glass partition looking into the bakery, and then select your preferred cream cheese, mixed spread or smoked fish to have on top.
Onion bagel with salmon salad spread US$7.95
Lex gets the onion bagel with salmon salad spread, a mixture of tinned salmon and cream cheese that's surprisingly fluffy.
Plain bagel with lox spread US$3.95
Suze orders the plain bagel with lox spread, a thick layer of cream cheese studded with chunks of smoked salmon. The plain bagel is mindblowingly good, exhibiting an audible crunch as you bite through the crisp outer crust; the inside is soft but slightly chewy.
Whole wheat everything bagel with lox and cream cheese US$10.75
I went for gold with the whole wheat everything bagel with lox and cream cheese. The wholewheat bagel is much chewier, and there's a bounty of onion, sesame seeds and poppy seeds plastered across the surface.
Bagels with black coffee for breakfast. Welcome to New York, New York!
Whole wheat everything bagel with lox and cream cheese
359 1st Avenue, New York City, New York, USA
Tel: +1 (212) 260 2252
Monday to Friday 6am - 9pm
Saturday and Sunday 6am - 5pm
205 East Houston Street, New York City, New York, USA
Tel: +1 (212) 254 2246
Monday to Wednesday 8am - 10.45pm
Thursday 8am - 2.45am
Friday 8am - Sun 10.45pm non-stop
500 6th Avenue, New York City, New York, USA
Tel: +1 (212) 462 2830
Monday to Friday 6am - 9pm
Saturday and Sunday 6am - 8pm
Russ & Daughters
179 East Houston Street, New York City, New York, USA
Tel: +1 (212) 475 4880
Monday to Friday 8am - 8pm
Saturday 8am - 7pm
Sunday 8am - 5.30pm
Yonah Shimmel Knish Bakery
137 East Houston Street, New York City, New York, USA
Tel: +1 (212) 477 2858
Sunday to Thursday 9am - 7pm
Friday and Saturday 9am - 9pm
>> Read the next USA 2013 post: Brussels sprout pizza + Big Gay Ice Cream
<< Read the first USA 2013 post: Cronuts at Dominique Ansel Bakery, NYC
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9/09/2013 12:39:00 a.m.