Bagels? Feh!

May 4th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Mark Bittman has a nice opinion piece in the New York Times about the perennial Holy Trio (pardon the sacrilege) of Jewish comfort food: Lox, Bagels, Cream Cheese. HG is a bit of a contrarian and curmudgeon on this subject. HG loathes bagels. HG shares this dislike with his late parents, both Jewish immigrants from Belorussia. Every Sunday morning throughout HG’s childhood, HG and his father would stroll to West Kingsbridge Road in The Bronx. They would separate. Father went to the “appetizing” store for Nova salmon, sable, sour pickles, black olives, cole slaw and potato salad. HG went to the bakery for bialys, onion rolls (pletzels) and sliced Jewish rye bread. (Mom had gone to Daitch Dairy the day before for cream cheese and baked farmer cheese). HG picked up the Sunday Times, Sunday News and the Yiddish-language Jewish Daily Forward. Home for the feast at a table with a steaming pot of coffee, a pitcher of freshly squeezed orange juice and a bottle of Hennessy Brandy. A morning of down home Jewish culinary delight. And, not a bagel in sight.

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Christmas Restaurant Nostalgia Part 4: Paramount Dairy

December 15th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

When HG/BSK lived (with famille) in their spacious rent controlled paradise on New York’s W. 79th Street, HG would escape from the Christmas holiday jingles and saccharine melodies by visiting a stronghold of traditional Jewishness: Paramount Dairy Restaurant on W. 72nd. The stroll on Broadway during the Upper West Side’s pre-gentrification days was always interesting. HG passed culinary landmarks like Daitch Dairy, Babka Bakery, Izmir Pizza, Gitlitz Delicatessen, Citarella Fish Monger. Fellow strollers included junkies, female sex workers, muggers, burglars, crazy ladies talking to themselves, sad eyed refugees from the Nazi terror; and, the usual crowd of West Side intellectuals, artists, writers and bohemians. On almost every block, HG would pause for a chat with a friend or acquaintance. Once in the Paramount, HG was seated at a table adorned with a huge bowl of breadstuffs — each the best of its kind: rye and pumpernickel bread, bialys, pletzels, challah. A dozen pats of unsalted butter. No Christmas decorations. No Chanukah decorations (not even a minor league menorah). Very refreshing. HG would order warm gefilte fish (a note to the uninitiated–this is a fresh water fish dumpling, a Jewish quenelle). This was served in a bowl of fish broth with a boiled potato and carrot. Accompanied by blazing horse radish. HG would dip thick slices of challah in the fish broth. Very comforting. This was followed by kasha varnishkes with mushroom gravy (HG recently wrote about this dish). Many cups of coffee and overindulgence in buttered bialys and pletzels. Refreshed and Judaized, HG was then ready for another onslaught of Bing Crosby and “Silent Night.”

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Philadelphia Cream Cheese

May 20th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Okay, Philadelphia Cream Cheese, available in every super market and grocery in the United States, is a dumb cheese. Thoroughly generic, absolutely processed and totally boring; however, HG admits, the cheese has its place. HG likes it with a chunk of guava jelly. Goya produces guava jelly in a big round, flat can. Very cheap. Very good. HG also likesĀ it spread on buttery Ritz crackers (yes, HG likes some proletarian treats) and topped with fiery jalapeno pepper jelly. The best cream cheese ever was produced by the Daitch Dairy stores in The Bronx and Manhattan. Today’s closest approximation can be obtained by mail order from Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Be forewarned. It’s not cheap.

Young New Yorkers Living in Expensive Closets: Read This And Weep.

October 10th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Some 48 years ago (seems like yesterday). HG, BSK, their two adorable children, their live-in mother’s helper and their poorly trained but decorative standard poodle, lived in a 12th floor Upper West Side apartment with dramatic views of the Hudson River and the New Jersey Palisades. A very spacious residence. Big living room. Big, separate dining room. Nice windowed kitchen and pantry. Four bedrooms and three baths (one en suite). The rent: $274 a month (later raised to $292 and a similar apartment in the same building now rents for $15,000 a month). Ah, rent control, you lovely bit of legislation (of course, obtaining this rent controlled paradise involved some bribery, chicanery and corruption). This did not shock HG, a born and bred New Yorker. In those days the Upper West Side was affordable and diverse. There was still a heavy Jewish influence. Big time theater and entertainment folks (Abe Burrows, Leonard Bernstein, Isaac Stern and many more) lived on Central Park West alongside many affluent professionals and business persons. Side streets from Central Park West to Broadway were gritty (except for W. 67th Street, site of the Des Artistes apartment house and many studios of painters and musicians). Riverside Drive and the Avenues and cross streets west of Broadway were filled with intellectuals and creative types who had more brains and talent than money. Forget Greenwich Village. The Upper West Side was the home of professors, critics, novelists, dancers, journalists, composers, actors, musicians and school teachers. Lots of European intellectuals who had fled Hitler and many Holocaust survivors (the little, pale, Nobel Prize winning writer, Isaac Baashevis Singer, who lived on W. 86th Street, often wrote about them). The Heresford (West Side apartment houses often had British names, a touch of Anglophile class) where HG and BSK lived, had much artistic ferment. Among its residents were Peter Boyle (before Hollywood and TV fame); film composer Michael Small, the critic and editor Ted Solotaroff; Gary Null, the health and sex writer, guru and radio personality. There were also some Broadway dancers, the cantor of a major synagogue and lesser artistic lights. The Upper West Side was filled with movie theaters showing art films (the New Yorker, Thalia and Symphony) and plus the first run houses (Loew’s 83rd, the Beacon,etc.). Food was a neighborhood obsession. Zabar’s, of course, but also Murray’s (preferred by some smoked fish aficionados) and Barney Greengrass (unsurpassed sturgeon). Middle European restaurants like Eclair and dairy restaurants like Steinberg’s and Paramount. Gitlitz’ Delicatessen on Broadway and 78th ( much superior in HG’s informed opinion, to Katz’s, Carnegie or 2nd Avenue Deli). The jewel of the West Side was the Tip Toe Inn (on Broadway near 86th Street). A huge place with a huge menu. Everything was delicious and inexpensive (the New York Public Library has a nice collection of old menus….Here’s a link to Tip Toe’s 1954 menu. Be astonished). There was a rotisserie in the Bretton Woods Hotel (86th and Broadway) that barbecued ducks and chickens. Sunday dinners for HG and BSK often featured one of those juicy, crisp skinned ducks and an avocado-sweet onion-sliced orange salad. Chinese restaurants were clustered around Broadway and 96th and they were very good (the first Szechuan restaurant in New York was on Broadway and 95th). There were also some Cuban/Chinese places where you could get good shrimp dishes plus Moros y Cristianos (black beans and rice) Fairway didn’t exist but for those who liked to eat at home there were butchers like Endicottt Meats and Nevada Market (where you could get some exotic stuff including bear, in season). Good bakeries. Mom and Pop greengrocers. Citarella’s for fish. Broadway Nut Shop for sweets. Daitch Dairy (79th and Broadway) for tub butter and cheese. Bretton Wood Rotisserie for barbecued ducks. HG and BSK were not plutocrats but could afford all of these good things. Yes, the Upper West Side had lots of junkies, hookers, muggers and burglars. Their presence made West Siders feel superior to residents of the antiseptic Upper East Side. Now, let HG make you young folks really jealous. HG, BSK and family spent all summer plus spring and fall weekends at their Fire Island home. Built atop a dune it had panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and Great South Bay sunsets. The family bought it for $40.000. HG’s first Fire Island house (in 1959) cost $4,000 ($1,000 for land and $3,000 for two bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, living room and deck). In 1960, HG added two more bedrooms, another bathroom and additional decking. Cost: $2,000. That’s right. The numbers for these Fire Island properties are correct. Read and weep.

The Golden Age of Food On The Upper West Side.

December 21st, 2011 § 101 comments § permalink

It was 1963. HG and BSK were beginning their marriage in an artist’s studio apartment on West 67th Street just off Central Park West. Huge high ceilinged living room with north facing floor to ceiling window, small kitchen, small bedroom ( former model’s changing room), big bathroom with enormous tub. Very romantic. The rent: $140 per month.

This was The Golden Age Of Food On The Upper West Side. Gentrification and escalating real estate prices removed the gritty, funky luster. The neighborhood had junkies, muggers, burglars, hookers and bag ladies. It also had tons of artists, writers, academics and free ranging intellectuals lured by big apartments and cheap rents.

Here’s a smattering of the food and drinks establishments that delighted the newlyweds: 67th St. Wines (67th and Columbus): Splits of good champagne for a dollar. Volk’s German Restaurant (78th and Columbus): Bratwurst heaven. Fleur de Lis French Restaurant (65th off Broadway?): Escargots. Sole. Steak frites. C & L Restaurant (70th and Broadway?): Huge, Exceptional apple pancakes. Vast menu. Tip Toe Inn (86th and Broadway). A sister restaurant to C & L with a great delicatessen. Also, notable chicken in the pot. Recently the Tip Toe Inn was featured on the show Mad Men and they were quite true to most of the original details. Zabar’s (81st and Broadway): Need HG say more? Now a New York landmark.

Zabar's Fish Counter

Barney Greengrass (87th and Amsterdam): Sturgeon and eggs with crisp fried onions. Daitch Dairy (79th and Broadway): The best cream cheese. Gitlitz (78th and Broadway): The unsurpassed Jewish delicatessen. A chopped liver and pastrami sandwich for the gods. Nevada Market (80th and Broadway): Steaks. Chops. Chicken. Citarella’s (74th and Broadway): Everything fresh from the sea. Paramount Famous Jewish Dairy Restaurant (72nd west of Broadway): Blintzes. Gefilte fish. Kasha varneshkes. Steinberg’s (84th and Broadway): Same cuisine as Paramount but classier. Very good herring. Great Shanghai (98th and Broadway) Chinese lobster and shrimp dishes. Dumplings. Szechuan (95th and Broadway) Fire on a plate. New York’s first and best Szechuan restaurant. Broadway Nut Shop. (East side of Broadway and 81st): Encyclopedic array of fresh roasted nuts, dried fruits and candy treats from across the globe. Eclair Bakery and Restaurant (72nd Street): Vienna, Berlin, Budapest and Warsaw transplanted in New York. Senate Cafeteria (96th and Broadway): Where I.B. Singer ate his tunafish salad in the company of tea sipping, Yiddish speaking European survivors.

As HG remarked, this is just a smattering. There was much more. Sadly, only Zabar’s, Greengrass and Citarella’s remain. On the bright side: The West Side has added Fairway.

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