Thursday, March 8, 2012

Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery

"I've never had knish." - your writer
"What the f*ck?!" - Strathy
Yonah Schimmel
And so we were off to Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery in Manhattan. Having never had a knish, I wasn't entirely sure what I should expect. I knew that they were potato based and involved some sort of pastry wrapping. I also was accutely aware that that this was one of those things that you can't get everywhere and is deeply embedded in Jewish culture. Long story short, I was both intrigued and delighted at the opportunity to try this comfort food, and to try it in a place that lies in high esteem among Jews and those lucky enough to be friends with Jews.
The font counter
Founded in 1910 on East Houston Street in Manhattan, this is a really unpresuming little shop. It's simple and a little cluttered on the inside, with a single tiny counter, a handful of tables at the back, photos and newspaper articles hung with pride all over the wall space, and smells of baked potato heaven that linger out onto the street on a cold day. Patrons drift in and out of the shop to pick up their beloved knishes and are greeted by a hardworking gentleman in a cap and apron that is obviously very proud of his wares.
A few tables at the back
So we entered this little shop, stepped up to the counter to examine the menu, and almost immediately the man behind the counter recognized that we intended to eat here. He graciously brought us to one of the tables at the back, and set us up with a couple menus. To order, I went with a classic potato knish, and since I love all things beets, I also ordered a glass of their borscht. My compatriot who was so horrified that I was still a knish virgin ordered a vegetable knish and a potato latke with sour cream and apple sauce.
Potato knish
The knish: You all know by now that I have a soft spot for anything that tastes homemade and comforting. This could become a dangerous habit for me, only prevented by the fact that I live four and a half hours away. Think of mashed potatoes that border the line between fluffy and dense enough to be a wonderful meal. They're not creamy, but they are rich. The spice flavor is earthy and deep with butter. Each bite of filling flavor is broken up by a simple smear of spicy mustard. And then there is the delight of the pastry that contains all of that starch. It is a bit one note in flavor, but god damn, if you only have one flavor to enjoy, it really should be of filling, buttery, slightly zesty potatoes.
The borscht: I love the ruby red color of beets. It seems to go for miles when eating the root vegetable sliced, pickled, in a salad, or roasted with a touch of tangy goat cheese. Now imagine the color that is produced when smearing a tiny bit of that goat cheese over a wonderful nugget of roasted beat. It's vibrant pink, isn't it? And the flavor? Well, that's a touch vinegary and tangy, sweet as all hell from the sugary beet, and also met with the vegetable flavor that you get from such a fundamentally vitamin-rich veggie. These flavors combined and pureed were the flavors of the borscht. Honestly, it did my hangover good, and was quite delicious.
The latke: I've had latkes before, but not quite like this. Unfortunately, the texture of this one kind of felt like it may have been warmed up in the nuker, because it was a touch greasy and limp. But the flavor of the shredded potatoes that had been browned nicely was delicious. With a touch of cool sour cream and a little apple sauce, it hit all those right notes of sweet, savory, and deep with more starch richness. 
I loved my first knish experience at Yonah Schimmel. The knishes were unique and brilliant and brimming with the culture, something preserved and alive and well in Manhattan. I really wish I had one right now. Thanks, Strath... per usual for opening my eyes. 

Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery
137 East Houston Street 
New York, NY 10002

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