Tag: Yonah Schimmel

Essential New York Dishes (and Where to Get Them)

Essential New York Dishes (and Where to Get Them) by Ari KellenHot dogs.  Pizza.  Bagels.  Such dishes are as New York as the Statue of Liberty.  Yet New Yorkers know that there are plenty of other great, iconic New York dishes.  A city of 8 million people will offer 8 million different opinions on what a “quintessential” New York meal is, but I’ve chosen ten highlights, and more importantly where you should get them:

Hot dog and papaya juice (Papaya King): Most people wouldn’t consider a hot dog and papaya juice a good combo, but New Yorkers know otherwise.  While there are several establishments around Gotham who offer this combo, the original is Papaya King, located in the Upper East Side and St. Marks.  Gray’s Papaya on the Upper West Side gets honorable mention as well.

Ramen (Hide Chan Ramen): In recent years, Americans from every city have gotten onto the ramen train, including New York.  There are many places around the city who offer stellar ramen (many sing the praises of Ippudo), but my personal favorite is Hide Chan in Midtown East.

Pizza (Joe’s Pizza): “New York Pizza” is a phrase for a reason.  There are plenty of excellent pizza spots around the city (Paulie Gee’s and Vinnie’s nearly made the list), but for a traditional, no-frills New York slice, visit Joe’s Pizza.  They’ve luckily got several locations in New York, so they aren’t too hard to find.  

Knish (Yonah Schimmel’s): Few people outside of New York are familiar with the “knish”.  Even fewer are familiar with the traditional round, baked knish (most know of the square fried knish).  You can get the traditional knish at various Jewish delis and bagel spots across the city, but the undisputed king is Yonah Schimmel’s in the Lower East Side.  They’ve been slinging knishes since 1910.  My personal favorite is the sweet potato knish with a bit of hot mustard.  

Pastrami sandwich (David’s Brisket House): Pastrami as we know it was first developed in New York City by Romanian Jewish immigrants, who based it off a traditional recipe for goose.  Many say that Katz’s does the best pastrami (and it’s certainly very good), but they aren’t the only ones out there.  For a true New York pastrami sandwich off the beaten path, go to Bedford-Stuyvesant for David’s Brisket House, which makes the hands-down best pastrami in Brooklyn.  A Jewish deli run by Yemeni Muslims, it’s a true New York experience whose very existence celebrates this city’s diversity.

Lechon and rice & peas (Lechonera la Piraña): Every weekend on the corner of 152nd and Wales in the Bronx, Angel Jimenez, also known as “Piraña” and “Papi Chulo”, serves traditional Puerto Rican-style roast pork out of a food truck.  On Saturdays and Sundays, he wakes up at 4 in the morning to put a pig in a smoker, and then slow-cook it for eight hours before it’s ready.  For less than $10, a cheerful Piraña will serve you a giant plate of his lechon and a generous helping of rice and peas.  It’s the best Puerto Rican food you’ll get outside of Puerto Rico, and well worth the journey up to Mott Haven.

Chicken, mozzarella & pesto sandwich (Faicco’s): As one of the oldest Italian delis in the city (it’s been open since 1905), Faicco’s has had plenty of time to perfect its art.  Their sandwiches are as delicious as they are gargantuan, and while every variety is worth writing home about and then some, my personal favorite is their chicken, mozzarella and pesto.  Some close seconds include their classic Italian and meatball grinder.

Bagel & Lox (Barney Greengrass): Many consider Russ & Daughters to be the best bagel & lox in the city, but as an Upper West Sider, my loyalty lies with Barney Greengrass.  Once you have lox from the “Sturgeon King”, you’ll never want it from anywhere else.  

Soup dumplings (Joe’s Shanghai): No, it isn’t dumpling soup, the soup is inside the dumpling.  Hard to make, even harder to perfect, these can be found throughout both Manhattan’s and Queens’ Chinatowns.  Arguably the best comes from Joe’s Shanghai, which has outposts in Chinatown, Flushing and Midtown.  Get an order of soup dumplings with peanut noodles and scallion pancakes, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.  

Halal (Mamoun’s): Halal trucks sell gyro sandwiches on pretty much every street corner in Manhattan.  But the original, and arguably the best, is Mamoun’s in the Village.  This tiny hole-in-the-wall doles out the best falafel and shawarma in a no-frills atmosphere that attracts hundreds of visitors every day.  

Jewish Institutions of the Lower East Side

Jewish institutions of the lower east side by Ari KellenAs one of the oldest neighborhoods in New York City, the Lower East Side has a long and varied history.  Starting out as a farm, it’s since been the home to all sorts of immigrant groups: Germans, Puerto Ricans, hipsters, but perhaps most famously it once served as the cultural center of New York’s Jewish community.  As much of New York’s Jewish community left the Lower East Side for the Upper West Side and the suburbs, much of that has changed.  Nonetheless, there are still some institutions in the neighborhood that remain standing, serving as a testament to the neighborhood’s Jewish heritage.  Here are a few of them:

Katz’s Deli: In 1930, New York City alone was home to over 1,500 Jewish delis.  That number has shrunk to below 50, so whoever is still standing needs to be very good at what they do.  And Katz’s, open since 1888, is very good at what they do.  As far as Jewish delis go, it’s pretty touristy, but that’s only because it’s hands-down the best pastrami in Manhattan (sorry, Fine & Schapiro).

Russ & Daughters: Over 100 years old, this is a true New York City institution, and serves what is universally considered one of New York’s best bagels and lox.  It’s been owned by the descendants of Joel Russ since it was first opened, who have stuck to the family recipe.  Here, the main focus is fish, whether that’s sturgeon, whitefish, herring and of course lox.   

Lower East Side Tenement Museum: A former brick tenement house, from 1863 to 1935 this building housed over 7,000 people from 20 different countries.  Boarded up for over 50 years, it served as a time capsule to immigrant life in the early 20th century, and has served as a museum since the late 80s.  The museum features a gift shop with an impressive book selection, and offers various special tours that reflect the experiences of various tenants.

Eldridge Street Synagogue: In operation since 1887 (even longer than Katz’s), this is one of the oldest Jewish congregations in New York City.  In addition to serving as a synagogue, it’s since become a museum that offers tours related to the history of Jews in America.  

Kehila Kedosha Janina: Most Jews who came to the Lower East Side were Ashkenazim; a smaller number were Sephardim, and an even smaller number were Romaniote, a unique sect of Judaism that originated in Greece.  Much of the already-small Romaniote community was wiped out in the Holocaust, and this is the only Romaniote synagogue in the Western Hemisphere.  Every year they host the “Greek Jewish Festival”, celebrating their unique heritage through song, dance and food.

Yonah Schimmel: The potato knish is a traditional type of dumpling, consisting of a filling (most frequently potato) covered with dough.  While they’re often deep-fried and square, they’re traditionally baked and round.  And the best place to enjoy them in their original form is at Yonah Schimmel, the knish bakery that’s been open in the same location since 1910.  In addition to various knish flavors (my favorite is sweet potato), Yonah Schimmel serves some of the best latkes in the city.  Once you’ve had your fill, you can catch a movie next door at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema, or maybe pick up a beer at Fool’s Gold.  

Sammy’s Roumanian: Located in an underground store front on Christie Street, Sammy’s is a true experience.  A delicious Jewish steakhouse, Sammy’s also serves traditional Jewish dishes like kasha varnishkes and kishka, as well chilled vodka.  To top the whole thing off is Dani Luv, a borscht belt-style entertainer who cracks jokes and plays live music six nights a week.  The overall experience feels like a time portal back to a 1940s Bar Mitzvah.

Kossar’s: The bialy is like a bagel, except with a different texture and an onion filling in the middle instead of a hole.  While it’s not as famous as its hole-y cousin, the bialy has an extremely loyal cult following among New Yorkers.  One of the oldest bialy spots in New York City is Kossar’s, who slings them by the oven-load every day.  In addition to bialys, Kossar’s makes one of the Lower East Side’s best bagels.