Do you know how many songs there are about New York? Everybody from Frank Sinatra to Jay-Z has extolled the virtues and bemoaned the vices of the city but, no matter the song, the message seems to be that this tricky lady has stolen the hearts of many. This being my first trip to New York, the best thing to do would be to spend a day traipsing across town eating everything in sight. Bring on the heartburn (oy-vey).
First stop on this tour: Katz’s Deli, of When Harry Met Sally fame. The hustle and bustle of the deli means that you order fast, loudly and confidently or be passed over – don’t even think about not leaving a tip. My two tour guides, Ken, a Hong Kong transplant, the other, Jackie, Brooklyn born and bred, told me to hold our table and they would order for me – it was probably for the best. Our pastrami sandwich with half-sour and sour pickle, pickled green tomato and ‘egg cream’ – chocolate syrup, milk and soda – arrived, a huge affair and of course to be shared. No sooner had we licked up the last of the egg cream we were off to the gelateria next door, il Laborotoria del Gelato, where we sampled various bizarre and deliciously rich flavours for half an hour or so before heading off to the next eatery.
We passed by Kossar’s Bialys, the oldest bialy bakery in the city. Similar to bagels, bialys originate from Polish cuisine and differ only in that they are not boiled before baking. Already past midday, most of the bialys had disappeared by now but we were only here to look, so we moved up the block to Doughnut Plant for something a little sweeter, namely the crème brûlée and peanut butter doughnuts.
Both bigger than my hand and with a beautifully light dough, the former had a crispy crunchy sugary coating and creamy filling, much like the name would suggest, the latter a sweet-salty crunchy peanut butter outer and raspberry jam filling. I would’ve buried my face in the tray of doughnuts if I could, but we had to hurry on.
Streit’s, the oldest and only remaining manual matzo factory in New York, was next. Sheets popped into the workers’ hands where they separated it into smaller squares, then onto the trolley conveyor belt above their heads. The chap closest to the door looked up at us. “Our friend’s visiting from London,” Jackie announced, and the man smiled, stopping his work momentarily and handing us a sheet of matzo to sample, warm from the machine – nothing quite like it. It was time to move on to the Meatball Shop, which was calling my name with its meaty goodness.
Beef, spicy pork and buffalo chicken meatball sliders were ordered, along with a side of spaghetti sprinkled with parmesan, then roasted fennel, topped with flat-leaf parsley, sultanas and walnuts. The meatballs were delicious and moist, the beef my favourite, the spaghetti al dente and fennel sweet and tender. Second lunch over and food coma setting in, what I really needed now was a coffee. Luckily the next stop was the Roasting Plant, a coffee shop with a giant wall-mounted machine that selected beans and sucked them into the roaster to produce a delicious cup of joe. We sipped it down as fast as we could and headed out again – it was time for a lobster roll.
Luke’s Lobster serves lobster rolls that should be illegal, they’re so delicious. Beautiful buttery chunks of lobster are lovingly bedded with a little mayonnaise in a warm toasted bun, all topped with a sprinkling of their secret spices. We shared one but I could happily have eaten several – it was my favourite eat of the crawl. That should’ve been the end of it but on the way to the subway I spotted a shop called ‘Yonah Schimmel’s Knishery’. “What’s a knishery?” I asked Jackie. “You haven’t had a knish? Come on” – and she took me by the arm and led me into the knishery.
It turns out a knish is a thin dough stuffed with potato, meat or cheese, then baked or fried, a traditional Yiddish dish (as if you couldn’t tell from the name). I went for a classic knish and was presented with a ball of golden-brown goodness, stuffed with creamy potato and as big as my fist.
A plastic fork didn’t really cut the mustard (literally, it was on the side) but I couldn’t quite pick it up and shove it in my mouth, so I made a decent effort then tucked the rest away for later.
Finally finishing this eating extravaganza, I patted my belly, full of some of New York’s finest food. As my last stop in America it was a most excellent way to end this part of my food odyssey and in a few days I’d be jetting off again, this time home to London and then to Copenhagen. There was only one thing left to say: New York, I love you.
Katz’s Deli, 205 E Houston St., New York, NY 10002, USA.
Kossar’s Bialys, 367 Grand St., New York, NY 10002, USA.
Doughnut Plant, 379 Grand St., New York, NY 10002, USA.
Streit’s Matzo Factory, 148-154 Rivington St., New York, NY 10002, USA.
The Meatball Shop, 84 Stanton St., New York, NY 10002, USA.
Roasting Plant, 81 Orchard St., New York, NY 10002, USA.
Luke’s Lobster, 93 E 7th St., New York, NY 10002, USA.
Yonah Schimmel’s Knishery, 137 E Houston St., New York, NY 10002, USA.
All food and drink at each venue is around or under $10-15.