When you ask a New Yorker where the best place to grab a bite on the Lower East Side is, most will tell you in 2 seconds flat to go to Katz’s. I have no doubt that Katz is great. In truth, I still haven’t been; as a food person, I know that’s a tragedy that I will have to remedy before my last 2.5 weeks of NYC peter out. The thing is, I’m not sure I’m ready to walk into the chaos that is one’s first Katz experience. The ticket/slip process is intimidating, and the food itself is ginormous. Undoubtedly, the pastrami there is worth the calorie count and potential coronary, but I haven’t been able to schlep myself over to Katz’s just yet. It takes some psychological readying. I think it would help if I had a seasoned Katz-er with me to help me buy and eat my sandwich.
The Lower East Side is home to New York’s Chinatown and Little Italy, but it is also known for its extensive and historic relationship with the Jewish community. Of course, Katz is part of that history. But, I recently discovered, so is little Yonah Schimmel’s. If it weren’t for the store banner waving in the wind, and if I weren’t seeking YS out, I would have passed it without thinking. The old place sort of melts into the dingy bricks of East Houston street. It’s no surprise that YS, which proclaims that it started selling “The World’s Best Knishes” since 1910, both confidently and inconspicuously sits on the block like a storied old-timer. It is.
Before I went to YS, I did what any foodie would do: I googled it, yelped it, and chowhounded it. Dozens of reviews proclaimed it the best knish in the city while another board was composed of knish-eaters who swore by Knish Nosh and complained that YS made a dry spinach knish. That’s where I come in.
Chinese cuisine almost never fails to serve a combination of vegetables, protein, and starches at every meal. My table at home, at least, never fails to do so. I’ve never been comfortable eating a meal that only features one of them, and avoid it when I can help it. I was dutifully warned by those who went to YS before me that these knishes are no snack joke. At roughly 1/2 a pound (this turned out to be true), these bombs are meals unto themselves, for someone my size, anyway. So I did the somewhat sacrilegious thing and went for a spinach knish instead of the kasha or plain potato one.
I warmed it up in my oven at home, and cut into it, not knowing what to expect. As I started to slice it into quarters, I knew that those who complained about a dry YS spinach knish either had no idea what they were talking about or went on a bad day.
This knish was as velvety as your creamiest picnic mashed potatoes. As an added bonus, apparently they’re butter, egg, and dairy free, which makes me curious as to how YS’s knishes have such a fluffy texture. They’re also baked, not fried, in case you were wondering. The potato puck is encased in a thin, light dough, which only adds to the oniony, fluffy goodness.
While the spinach doesn’t do much to add flavor, I wasn’t too concerned; the only reason I wanted the spinach was to get some greens into my diet anyway. All in all, I was really happy with my first knish. For $3.50, I got more than my money’s worth–I saved a quarter of it and ate it for a snack the next day.
Make the schlep to Yonah Shimmel’s. It’s totally worth it.
Now I have a question for everyone out there…does anyone have a knish recipe???