Tour of Jewish New York

picklebarrel.jpgIn honor of the impending Passover holiday, I decided to take a tour of my Jewish roots and make a trip down to the Lower East Side to enjoy the delicacies that my grandparents enjoyed so long ago. So, I made two stops on the corner of Essex and Grand Streets that really reminded me of how great SOME Jewish food can be…

First up was Kosar’s Bialys. My father is convinced that I must’ve had bialys before, but I honestly have no recollection. So, while I was in the neighborhood, I had to stop at this famous store. I enjoyed my bialy with a thin layer of scallion cream cheese, and I must say that it was absolutely delicious. For those of you who aren’t “in the know,” a bialy is similar to a bagel, but it doesn’t have sugar in the dough, so is therefore less sweet. It also has more yeast, so it is more chewy, and finally, it is only baked, whereas a bagel is boiled. So, you have that chewy sensation, but it is softer, and the outside doesn’t have that same sheen as a bagel. I must say it was quite a treat. My girlfriend and I were both impressed. Plus, we bought them just out of the oven, so they were still very warm, which made them even better!

Next up, we crossed over Grand and went to The Pickle Guys. This has been a monthly stop for me for a while now. They have a massive variety of pickles, peppers, and olives, among other things, and the upbeat staff is both helpful and friendly. Plus, they will let you try anything you would like. I got large tubs of my personal favorite items, hot sour pickles and pepperoncini. Plus, as a bonus, the store was freshly grinding horseradish for Passover, so I got a container of both red and white to bring to my parents house for the holiday next week. The guy who was grinding let me try some fresh, just ground white horseradish, and let me tell you that as spicy as bottled horseradish may be, the smallest drop of the fresh stuff will make you feel like your head is going to explode. Given that I love spicy foods, I was very content.

Growing up with items like Gefilte fish, Kiska, and Cel-Ray, it is easy to forget how great some Jewish foods can be! Between Bialys, Jewish pickles, Rugelach, and everybody’s favorite bready treat, the bagel, a trip to the old Jewish eateries in the Lower East Side makes you realize their contributions to New York culinary culture.

What’s your favorite Jewish delicacy? How about your favorite Jewish eating establishment?

[Photo courtesy of moonmilk]

7 Comments so far

  1. eric (unregistered) on March 26th, 2007 @ 12:53 pm

    I definitely prefer the bialy to the bagel and I have been to Kosar’s! So very good and now your post has reminded me I must return.


  2. Noah (unregistered) on March 26th, 2007 @ 12:56 pm

    Eric, get your shit together and get downtown!!! :)


  3. edi (unregistered) on March 26th, 2007 @ 10:19 pm

    Thanks for explaining the difference between bagels and bialys–I thought they were in the same family but couldn’t figure out what the deal was. Warm like that,they must have been a special treat, indeed. I think I’ll head down to Kosar’s tomorrow!


  4. Fern Ellen Cohen (unregistered) on March 26th, 2007 @ 10:30 pm

    I have a rather funny story around this. Sometime in the mid-90s I decided to take the annual Big Onion Walking Tours Christmas Day tour of the Jewish Lower East Side. I saw a listing in Time Out NY. So I get to the meeting place — the Olympic Diner on the corner of Delancey and Essex and wait with about 200 other participants while Big Onion rouses other Columbia University Graduate History students out of their beds to ofill the extra demand for tour guides– you see, the year before was the first time they ran this tour and 30 people showed up. So they were ill-prepared for this enthusiastic response, obviously underestimating the power of a listing in TONY. So we were all patiently waiting on the corner, when a van full of people comes off the W’burg bridge and were curious about the huge mob. The van driver pulls up to the curb and yells out “Hey, what’s goin’ on here?”
    Well a lady in the crowd yells back “Just a bunch of Jews with nothing to do on Christmas Day!” I would never forget that. I wonder if Big Onion still runs that tour.


  5. Fern Ellen Cohen (unregistered) on March 26th, 2007 @ 10:36 pm

    Katz’s deli still gets my vote. Ratner’s is out of business. And I remember a great candy shop there. Unfortunately, the yuppification of LES is making it a lot less Yiddish, but Kosar’s is still right, as is Russ and Daughters and Yonah Schimmel’s knishes (check out the tin ceiling tiles!)


  6. Noah (unregistered) on March 27th, 2007 @ 11:27 am

    Russ and Daughters is supposed to be great, but I don’t like fish, so that is a non-option for me since most of their stuff is fish-related.

    Katz’s is great. One place that is somewhat nearby that I never cared for was 2nd Ave Deli, so I was not upset when they closed up shop last year.


  7. Chris Trent (unregistered) on March 28th, 2007 @ 9:52 am

    is any tour of jewish new york complete without a jaunt to the upper west side? barney greengrass, zabars, enough kosher markets and takeout joints to keep you busy for days… hey, and crumbs is selling passover cupcakes! :)

    i’m not even jewish, but i think i probably could be.



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