my week in NYC: lower east side

I’ll be posting more aggressively the next week to get through my 7-days of eating in New York City. There is a lot to cover so I’ll start with our first food tour which was focused on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

It probably wasn’t the smartest thing going a couple of days before Yom Kippur, the Jewish New Year, but since my group and I weren’t in the know, we obliviously took the subway downtown and started our day at Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery to get a taste of what my friend Robin tells me is the quintessential Jewish breakfast item.

Robin was specific, telling me to order the potato knish AND the varnishkes knish (or kasha). We got both and asked the guy behind the counter to warm them up for us. Essentially, they were pies — potato and buckwheat. Both were good with a squeeze of spicy deli mustard, but not mind-blowing. I enjoyed them, but more than that, I reveled in the history of the 102 year old place we were sitting in.

Next stop was Russ and Daughters, another Lower East Side institution, having been around almost 100 years. Everyone was out shopping for Yom Kippur and when we got there, we pulled a number — 47 and they were just serving number three. We took in the hustle and bustle of everyone shopping, took into account what was being ordered and marveled at the array of smoked fish on display.

As we waited, we struck conversations with people around us who had suggestions on what we should buy. An hour later, we had just moved about 15 numbers so we decided to hit Katz’s Delicatessen a few doors down to grab a bite and return back to Russ and Daughters. Katz’s has been around since 1888 and there’s a reason why this place has been around for almost 125 years!

It was just the start of lunch so Katz’s wasn’t too busy yet. We ordered the pastrami sandwich — THE best I’d ever had. The meat was moist, succulent and beautifully seasoned and melted in your mouth. I’d never encountered pastrami that was this tender with a good amount of fat throughout.

The matzoh ball soup is also a must. The broth is rich without being greasy and the texture of the matzoh ball was not dense, just the way I like it. I don’t usually like matzoh balls because they tend to be too hard, but then again, I guess I’ve never had a well-made one before this. An absolute must visit for those who want to truly experience a real Jewish deli.

When we returned to Russ and Daughters, they were just getting to number 29, so we continued to wait, although now, the crowd had gotten bigger and the numbers moved slower. After two and a half hours, it was finally our turn.

Remember, they are happy to give you a sample, but we wanted to get our fish and we had a lot we wanted to try so we got right down to it.

A few slices of everything suggested to us and more, including cream cheeses and spreads, salmon of many varieties, a bagel and a bialy and we were on our way to Kossar’s Bialys.

This little bakery was hot like an oven when we entered and there were trays and trays of bialys cooling, ready to be eaten.

After purchasing our plain and garlic bialys, we walked around the corner and found some benches to lay our loot on. Niki, one of the owners of Russ and Daughters — and Russ’ great grand daughter — served us and she made sure we had enough utensils and wax paper to set up a little picnic.

Niki gave us a little background of the appetizing store and its role in making history by being the first business in the area with women owners when Russ added his three daughters to the store’s name. Our time at Russ and Daughters — all two and a half hours of it — was worth every minute. The experience of seeing everyone preparing for the new year and the warmness of the community embracing us was touching. 

I think I died and went to heaven when it came time to eat. The smoked fish were all so oily and creamy in texture. My favorites were the Gaspe, sturgeon, sable, Scottish and pastrami cured. The whitefish spread and caviar cream cheese were so decadent I could eat this a few times a week if it were possible to acquire such quality items here in Orange County.

Our stomachs were full after that, but nothing could stop us from making our way to Doughnut Plant for these incredible doughnuts — I can’t believe I’m saying this, but these were THE BEST doughnuts I’ve ever eaten. They were light as air and not too sweet. We sampled the pistachio, regular with cream inside, and the raspberry.

It was already afternoon when we finished, but our last Lower East Side stop was The Pickle Guys.

The sour pickles were a great way to end our eating debauchery, cleansing our palates (but very strong so I suggest getting the half sour instead of the full sour) and settling our stomachs as we hopped into a cab to catch our next food destination before they closed for the day, but you’ll have to wait for the next post!

Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery
137 E Houston Street
New York, NY 10002
Tel: 212-477-2858

Yonah Schimmel's Knish Bakery on Urbanspoon

Russ and Daughters
179 E Houston Street
New York, NY 10002
Tel: 212-475-4880

Russ & Daughters on Urbanspoon

Katz’s Delicatessen
205 E Houston Street
New York, NY 10002
Tel: 212-254-2246

Katz's Deli on Urbanspoon

Doughnut Plant
379 Grand Street
New York, NY 10002
Tel: 212-505-3700

Doughnut Plant on Urbanspoon

The Pickle Guys
49 Essex Street
New York, NY 10002
Tel: 888-474-2553

The Pickle Guys on Urbanspoon

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