Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Moe's Meat Market Monday Morning in SOHO

April 27, 2014

Spent this warm mid spring Monday morning roaming the streets of SOHO in search of the past, trying to find myself and trying to find a good cup of coffee to wake me up after having gotten up extra early to help Jackie get a cab to LaGuardia to begin her extended Spanish holiday.  Couldn't get back to sleep, no reason why I even thought I could, so took the F train downtown and eventually ended up on Prince Street where I spent a lot of time a long time ago.  If I didn't know where I was, I wouldn't know where I was.  Things have changed, they don't look the same, but then again nothing has changed, just me.  At the corner of Prince and Elizabeth Streets there is still enough to anchor me to a life lived many lifetimes ago, and thanks to the Habana Coffee Shop/Cafe, at the corner of P&E, I was able to drag myself out of this depressing stupor.

Wasn't really in the mood to be taking pictures, just wanted to find a park bench  in the sun to drink my coffee with some other old guys.  This guy didn't seem like he'd mind or engage me in some mindless conversation which I was not feeling up to.....

but as I was walking up Elizabeth Street 4 or 5 storefronts north of Prince, I saw this sign for Moe's across the street from Albanese's which is still in operation.  Moe's is now an art gallery, although the interior is still the original 1920's butcher shop.  A must see, really.

By 11:30 I was getting hungry and had the good fortune to pass Prince Street Pizza at 27 Prince between Mott and Elizabeth in what was at one time the east end of Little Italy.  Unlike most pizza places in NYC and just about everywhere in the USA these days which seem to be run by people from the middle east who are often nice but just move here and drive a cab, or open a convenience store or a pizza place but have no real understanding of the concept of what pizza is, this place was owned and operated by real Italians who understand that the transcendent nature of good pizza is more than the sum of its parts.  Since it was still early, the pizza was fresh, hot, garlicky and great.  So great in fact, that I could taste it for the rest of the day.   



While I'm on the subject of drifting around SOHO on warm Sunday summer mornings in the 80's and 90's, here is a very interesting and foreboding photo I took on the corner of Prince and Mott in August of 1994, the beginning of the end of a golden age when lots of downtown NYC looked like this.

What was of particular interest here beside the image itself, is the outline of a body on the sidewalk under the poster advertising Jeff Buckley's first album Grace.  He died about 3 years later at age 30.  Am I making too much of this kind of coincidence?  Maybe.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Russ and Daughters...

Was walking by the little refrigerated kosher section in our supermarket the other day and noticed that the bulk of the items there were jars of various kinds of herring, horseradish, pickles, gefilte fish  and some hot dogs and cold cuts.  That might cause someone to wonder:  Is that what Jews eat?  Walking through Russ and Daughter's the other day, I sort of wondered the same thing.  All that lox and smoked fish, 8 kinds of cream cheese and six kinds of herring, schmaltz, chopped, matjes, in cream sauce, et al, and bagels and chopped liver.   Is that what Jews eat, and how did a small band of desert dwellers dispersed around the world end up becoming the people of the book, and the eaters of bagel and lox or a schmaltz herring maybe?  Well, we have certainly developed a most unique and exotic culinary palate, when you look at the extraordinary array of culinary delights attributed to us,  although these days, they are primarily seen and savored only on the holidays or on Sunday mornings.   Sunday mornings at Russ and Daughters looks nothing like this...

If the place looks quiet now,  that's because it is.  But on Sunday morning, in fact anytime on the weekend, its a madhouse, imagine hoards of fressers jamming into this very little store, elbowing each other to jockey for position,  milling around the counters, muttering under their breath or growling not so quietly, and crowding the sidewalk all the way down Houston Street to Orchard waiting for their number to be called.  And waiting and waiting and waiting.  They say when you are hungry time seems to slow down, but it is not just an illusion here, and the intoxicating perfume of all that smoked fish adds to the agony.  And since they have had to wait so long, each customer seems to take their sweet time in deciding and examining to see if the lox is sliced thin enough, the salmon is moist enough, the white fish is plump, always seeming to finish their order and then just needing one or two more things.  God bless the people who work behind the counter.  You could always go on Saturday to avoid the mob, but the bagels and bialys won't be fresh and if you are shomer shabbos...

But of course it is worth it, otherwise they wouldn't be there.  Finally my number is called. While I was waiting I heard two different discriminating older men order the Irish Lox... Irish!!!  They seemed to know what they were doing,  so I decided to give it a try.  Last time I tried to get fancy and went for the Scottish Lox I got burnt.  It had a distinctly fishy taste I didn't like, so I went back to the Nova and a good single malt.  Was it time to take a risk?   These guys looked like they knew something so I got 6 ounces of the Irish.  They were right!!!  It had a smooth, smokey, complex but mildly flavorful taste, absolutely perfect, kind of like the 12 year old single malt scotch of loxes.  Got some bagels and bialys, veggie cream cheese, kippered salmon and was on my way. 

My first memory of Russ and Daughters was 1968.  It was a rainy afternoon and me and Michael and Wizzy had just come from the Fillmore East after scoring some Moby Grape tickets and were hungry and a little broke.  We were wet and cold heading back to Michael's apt and stopped by R&D to get a chunk of pumpernickel from the huge loaves with the union labels on them that used to sit on the counter,  a container of veggie cream cheese, some herring, and headed home.  We were long haired and light hearted and would stop in for this or that now and then, enough so that be became kind of friendly with one of the daughters (looking at the photos, I think it was Anne), who used to tell us we were "such nice boys".   It was a different time then.  Russ and Daughters is frozen in time in my mind, too bad we couldn't have been too. 

If you want to know more about everything about Russ and Daughters, buy the book of the same name by Mark Russ Federman who is a grandson of Russ, who now seems to run the place.  This has just been an account from the other side of the counter.




Sunday, May 4, 2014

Yonah Shimmel Knish Bakery, NYC

Not much to say about Yonah Shimmel on Houston Street by the corner of Forsyth that hasn't been said before and can't be googled.  Ancient well worn warm familiar unhurried Tuli Kupferberg and Thelma Blitz ate there smells like bubba's kitchen on the holidays looks like someplace that people you are trying to  avoid would avoid and would never notice it let alone set foot inside.  Inside you are warm, safe, and home, eating knishes that are 95% delicious filling, 5% tender pastry covering,  the perfect ratio,  almost as big as your face,  a warm savory comfortable meal to linger over slowly on a cold wet day in March or to take with you on some lazy summertime soho afternoon stroll.  Presently wedged between a multi-plex on the left, and the Gem Hotel  which is not actually in soho but it always sounds so good to say you are, it is one of those little NYC miracles that it still exists.

Ignore the nay sayers like that  food snob from Chowhound who probably comes from Topeka Kansas or somewhere over the rainbow and lacks the visceral understanding of what a knish actually is in order to know what is good.  He was so preoccupied with mushroom knishes (here at least I can commiserate), that he missed the big picture.

Go to Yonah Shimmel, you won't be sorry.  Start with the potato knish, work your way up to the kasha, and after that you are on your own, those are the only two I ever eat, although the cabbage one tempts me.

Today I had the kasha knish.  Cut in half, a little salt and a bit more pepper.  No mustard.  Don't even know where the idea of mustard on knishes came from, probably from people who sell bad knishes, like those square ones with the thick leathery covers and the stale taste.   Washed it down with a Best Health Cream Soda and left happy.  Didn't know I was going to be writing this at the time or I would have taken a better knish photo.  Next time.  I often say that, but in this case I sure.

June 9, 2014

A warm and sunny late spring day, my favorite time to be downtown.  The street in front of Yonah Shimmel was full of people and road work crews tearing the place apart.  Was lucky to get that last rainy day exterior view when I did.  Had another kasha knish and vanilla soda today, still haven't gotten around to the cabbage.  One of these days.  As I got there, they were just putting a fresh tray of spinach potato knishes in the window.  They look good, but like everyone else, I have my favorites.



August 30, 2014:

As promised I am back in the city on business, and today is the day I am going to break out of my 45 year rut and am going to go to Yonah Schimmel and eat a knish that is neither potato nor kasha.  Took the F train down to Houston street to shop, eat, and look around and consider my options.  Actually my options were few in as much as I had already decided that today I would try the cabbage knish, so as I made the left turn onto Houston.

When I got to Yonah Schimmel, and looked in the window, I saw some fresh knishes that looked like blueberry or something like that, which did not seem like such a good idea.

Went in, considered my options once more and mustered up the courage to say "one cabbage knish", at which point the guy grabbed one from the purple specimens in the above rack.  "Those are cabbage?"  I asked, "Purple cabbage", he said, I said I'll have one.  "Heated", "Of course" I said, and I grabbed a Good Health Black Cherry Soda and headed for a table already kind of regretting my decision.  Two minutes later, my purple knish was there.

As you can see, it was purple through and through.  I don't like to say anything bad about such an old friend like Yonah Schimmel, but in the future I think I'll just stick with the old standbys.


November 25, 2016

It's the day after Thanksgiving and I headed downtown to get away from the crowds but they seem to have migrated down as well.  There were hungry hoards in the hundreds lined up outside Katz's, couldn't even get near the front door at Russ and Daughters to get a ticket to wait for an hour, and even Yonah Schimmel had about 25 or 30 fressers from Jersey wallowing in the authenticity.  Had no trouble getting a kasha knish and a seat, but was a little spooked since I'm used to having the place to myself.  Something new in the window.  Not sure exactly what it was, looks like a hybrid knish wrapped cheese and berry strudel.  Tempting.  Maybe next time.  Jackie thought it looked great.  Maybe I'll let her get one and give it a try.


April 2, 2017

Today is my sister's Mady's birthday. Kind of sunny but cold down here.  She is now almost as old as I am, but has the energy of a 37 year old.  Still works, exercises like crazy and looks great.  Gave her a call.

Jackie and I are in the city for a few days for her to attend a Lafayette college reunion and I am there because there is an available bed.  Spent most of my time downtown, as usual, but there are increasingly slim pickings photographically, so I deal with the emptiness by eating more.  I am not much an eater generally, but when I am in the city there is a lot to keep me busy.  I seen to have reconciled with the 2nd Avenue Deli recently and when I got off at Penn Station, I made a beeline for there and the mushroom barley soup and 1/2 pastrami sandwich, like the old days.

Next stop, next day, caught the downtown train to SOHO, walked up Mercer and east on Prince Street stopping for a slice at Prince Street Pizza.  You can smell the garlic as you approach.  These guys are Italian and still understand the concept of a good pie.  The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  Best pizza by the slice in NYC.  

Next stop Yonah Schimmel.  Lately I seem to always get the kasha knish when I sit at a table, but buy 4 or 5 potato to take back to Albany for friends.  The kasha was fresh out of the oven and in the window so it was a no brainer...Not pure kasha, but mixed with potatoes.  Probably a good idea.

Today I had it with a vanilla cream soda.  Didn't see the black cherry, but it was all good.  The owner, Alex was kind of attentive to me today, probably because I complimented the good job his grandson was doing waiting the tables.  Don't know why, but I'm getting a little tired of kasha, which has been my go to knish.  Maybe we have been eating to many kasha varnishkas at home lately.  Next time I will linger over a potato.   
They seem to have finished the construction on Houston Street, at least for now, and cars are now parking, sometimes double parking up and down the block.  Still count myself lucky that the stars were aligned to get that great rainy day shot at the top of the blog.

Jackie loved the photo of the blueberry strudel in the last addendum, but HATES blueberry.  Luckily they had apple strudel and a quick call confirmed that this would be a good choice.  Brought it back, Jackie was thrilled and all was well with the world.  

Last stop, Penn Station.  Picked up a few black and white cookies at Zaro's and down the escalator for the train back home. Must be getting old, because I was glad to go.  Jackie likes to get us Red Caps so we were the first down the escalator to the platform for the train home.