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My Lower East Side VOICE Food Articles

Over the course of 1997-1998, I was commissioned to write feature stories about the various kosher food merchants on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

This area is rich in history and mystique - a blending of many ancient cultures on the shores of the greatest city on earth.

Read about its culinary offerings and write me back!

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Read my feature on singer/songwriter Dana Mase

What did I think of Mandy Patinkin's Mamaloshen?

Diaspora Yeshiva Band put out a new album - I have the scoop!

Here's a handy, clickable list of the restaurants reviewed below:

Fast Food on the LES ** Hester Street Treats ** Gertel's Bakery ** Kadouri & Son ** La Bagel ** Kossar's Bialys ** PICKLES!
Little Blurbs on Lower East Side Fast Food

Delicious Eats for the Kosher-Conscious

By Michael Steinhart

Our neighborhood offers a wide variety of fast-food eateries designed for maximum value, maximum taste, and minimum waiting time. These restaurants are all strictly kosher and located in the very heart of the Lower East Side shopping area. The convenience can't be beat, and the variety will satisfy any customer.

Shalom Chai Pizza Restaurant & Ice Cream, located at 357 Grand Street, is a spacious pizza shop with a wide variety of dairy favorites and a fully-stocked ice cream counter for dessert. The shop was formerly known as Magen Pizza, and is now under the supervision of Rabbi Pinchas Horwitz, the Chuster Rav. In addition to many varieties of pizza, Shalom Chai carries many different toppings, falafel, salads, pastas, calzones, soups and knishes. Their breakfast menu includes bagels, lox, egg omelets and more. Shalom Chai Pizza will deliver free with a minimum order and is shomer shabbat. Their number is 212-598-4178.

Hester Street Kosher Stuff and East Village Bagels

Hester Street Kosher Merchants

By Michael Steinhart

Gertel's Bakery

For 83 years, Gertel's Bakery has been a landmark on the Lower East Side. Locals, tourists, workers and residents alike frequent this neighborhood institution for the finest pastries and baked goods in the area.

Abe Stern, owner of Gertel's for the past 12 years, proudly pointed out that Gertel's offers over 300 bakery items every day, in addition to a fully-stocked dairy and appetizing counter for breakfast and lunch patrons.

"People can come in for coffee or a hot soup, desserts for any occasion, and the best rugelach in town," he said.

The bakery is located at 53 Hester Street, and it's been there since 1914. The room is still simply furnished, with the main feature being the dazzling display of pies, cakes, cookies, napoleons, turnovers, babkas, rolls, breads and challah.

Gertel's also delivers throughout the city, and in June, another branch of the historical bakery opened on the Upper East Side. Located at 1468 Second Avenue at 77th Street, the new Gertel's is carrying on the tradition and allowing connoisseurs to taste what they've been missing.

The bakery has been featured in numerous articles in the Daily News, New York Magazine, and other mass media. Find out why Gertel's Bakery is so well-known; stop in or call 212-982-3250 for the Hester Street store, or 212-734-3238 for the new store. ________________________________________________________

Kadouri & Sons, Inc.

Next door to Gertel's is a shop that offers every kind of spice, candy, dried fruit, seed, grain and nut you could possibly wish for: Kadouri & Sons.

Since 1972, Kadouri & Sons has been a local fixture, attracting shoppers from all over the country who want exotic spices, fruits and Israeli products. The store also carries over 40 different types of coffee beans, ground to order on the premises.

Gil Kadouri and his father greet every patron with a warm, friendly smile that's also reflected in their service and pricing. Customers can enter not even knowing the correct name for what they're looking for, and the Kadouris will know what it is and have it in stock, as if they were just waiting for you to come in.

Kadouri & Sons is the closest thing to an Israeli shuk you'll find in New York. All the colors and aromas associated with Mediterranean-style cuisine can be enjoyed at Kadouri's. From henna and za'atar, to khawayej and other impossible-to-spell condiments, the store has everything for the specialty-item shopper.

Israeli favorites like halva, coated peanuts, seeds and other imports are Kadouri & Sons' forte. They have an outstanding selection that truly defies all description. Located at 51 Hester Street, Kadouri & Sons accepts all major credit cards and is under kashruth supervision. The Kadouris can be reached at 212-677-5441. Stop in and sample the delicacies of Israel and the Mediterranean at this unique shop.

Michael Steinhart is a freelance writer and editor on assignment for the Lower East Side Voice.

La Bagel - International Ambiance and Commitment to Quality

By Michael Steinhart

There are very few places in the East Village where a person can find a good, kosher breakfast. In fact, there aren't all that many eateries offering light lunches or dinners in that area, either. That's why La Bagel is such a pleasant surprise; it features an incredibly full selection of baked goods and dairy dishes, while maintaining the highest standards of kashrut, freshness and quality.

Located at 263 First Avenue, La Bagel blends fine food, exciting decor and friendly service into a thoroughly enjoyable feast for the senses.

The fun begins as soon as one enters the spacious shop. The counter, with its stunning display of delicacies, runs along the right-hand side. On the left are about a dozen tables, bedecked with red-checked tablecloths and cheerful colors. On the wall beyond the tables is a huge mural, stretching across the entire dining area, depicting a sunny, open-air scene of a French street. The tables in La Bagel match those of the sidewalk café in the mural, and a real white picket fence along the wall completes the picture.

Though the decor is indeed interesting and unusual, people don't come to La Bagel just to stare at the walls. One look at the dazzling selection of delicious dishes on display is explanation enough for the bustling group of loyal customers that fills the room.

"You name it, we have it," said manager and part-owner Nisim Elmashli. In the last four years, Nisim and his staff have worked hard to achieve La Bagel's crowd-pleasing status. Starting from scratch every morning, they produce a variety of bagels, rolls, challah, pastries, salads, pastas and fish dishes fit for a king.

La Bagel also features a separate pizza counter that offers freshly-baked Italian goodies like calzones, garlic knots and of course, pizza.

Nisim explained that in addition to making dozens of different baked goods and dishes daily, La Bagel also caters parties and business meetings, offering a list of over 400 specialty items that can be custom-made to fit any occasion.

"Our challah is very special," Nisim said. "People from Brooklyn and Queens come for our challah every week...And we don't advertise, it's all word-of-mouth."

Apparently, La Bagel's challah reputation is well deserved: Nisim reported that the store sells at least 50 challahs daily and over 600 each weekend.

Standing at the counter in La Bagel, the enticing racks of fresh-baked cookies, muffins and cakes seem to beckon even the most discriminating customers. For this reporter, the display of oversized black and white cookies was irresistible. As apple pie is to America, black and whites are to New York, and La Bagel's are reason enough to make the trip.

La Bagel presents a full menu of bagels, rolls and spreads, including pareve tofu spreads and exotic cream cheese flavors. Fresh breads, soups, salads, pasta dishes and fish round out a selection that offers something for everyone.

The store also stocks special holiday items like babkas, doughnuts and latkes, depending on the season. Classic pastries like rugelach and hamantashen are available all year round.

Not only does La Bagel have great food and great prices, but the service is fast and friendly. Nisim said the store is being further renovated to include easy-to-read menus and a larger pizza area.

This aim to please leads to another noteworthy aspect of the La Bagel story: Every night for the last four years, all the left over dishes, baked goods and salads are donated to the Educational Alliance Supportive Residence for Senior Citizens on East 12th Street. This kind of caring and devotion to a community is all-too rare nowadays.

Under the supervision of Rabbi Shmuel Fishelis, La Bagel offers free delivery with a minimum order, and accepts phone orders at 212-388-9292. Customers can also fax their orders to 212-260-5511.

For an outstanding selection of pareve and dairy baked goods, salads, pastas and fish, along with a hospitable and enjoyable eating experience, La Bagel is worth the trip from anywhere.

LES Restaurants and Food Stores

Kossar's Bakery Offers Born-Again Bialys

By Michael Steinhart

Kossar's Bakery, the renowned home of original, New York bialys, came under new ownership last month.

Two local entrepreneurs, Danny Cohen and Juda Englemayer, purchased the bakery in late February and converted it into a strictly kosher, Shabbat-observant place of business.

"Kossar's is an institution," Cohen said, "it tastes excellent. Now we're working on reorganizing."

The bakery on Grand Street has been around since 1936, when Morris

Kossar first opened the "Bialystoker Kuchen Bakery." The recipe and baking style have not changed in 62 years.

"It's a brick-lined oven, we use high-quality yeast. There's really no secret formula," Cohen said. "The equipment, like the mixers and other machines, have been here since the beginning. And some of it was bought used in 1936!"

Kossar's bialys, bulkas and onion boards are hand made every day. The bakers, who work in shifts all day and night, have been with the bakery for decades.

"Kossar's is the only well-known name in bialys," Cohen said. "They're not boiled, like bagels. They're just baked."

Morris Kossar passed the business on to his son-in-law, Daniel Scheinin. Scheinin was preparing to retire, and his children weren't interested in the baked-goods field, so he put the store up for sale, Cohen explained.

"Kossar's has been the standard-bearer for years. It's a good business, and almost as a joke, we said, 'Let's see what he wants.' It (the asking price) didn't sound unattainable, so we did it," Englemayer said.

The pair found out about the bakery being for sale in October. After lengthy negotiations and "lots of hurdles," Kossar's became theirs on Monday, Feb. 23.

The business comprises two parts, Cohen said. The retail section sells Kossar's goods to walk-in customers at the store. The wholesale segment sends fresh bialys by the dozen to restaurants and groceries across the city. The challenge in closing Saturdays, Cohen said, is telling dozens of customers that there won't be any more Saturday deliveries.

"It was never a question that we'd close on Shabbat," Cohen said, and Friday, Feb. 27 marked the first Shomer-Shabbat closing of the bakery. "Our only fear was if we'd be able to make it up."

To that end, Englemayer has been actively seeking new clients for Kossar's bakery goods, and so far, things seem to be working. "We're hoping to grow the business and make it profitable," Cohen said. "It's the same recipe and the same product line, and we'd like to expand our distribution to the kosher consumers."

Kossar's produces thousands of bialys each day, and their age-old recipe, simple ingredients and traditional baking style prove that they can make 'em like they used to.

Englemayer has several years' experience in the food business. He managed Nosh a Bagel and Mezonos Maven in South Fallsburg for two years, then worked as a manager for G&M Caterers for five years. He has since worked with the Anti-Defamation League and Controller McCall's office.

Cohen earned an M.B.A degree at New York University and married a Lower East Sider nearly 10 years ago. Coincidentally, that's when he moved to the neighborhood as well.

"I had always dreamed of owning my own business," he said.

Englemayer was born and raised here. He is a member of the Seward Park and community boards and vice president of the Young Israel.

The partners chose Kof-K as the kashruth supervision for the store. "We needed a well-known, well-established organization," Englemayer said. "We have lots of sales outside the neighborhood and we needed a universally recognized name."

The new Kossar's features all the delicious products that have made the bakery famous for six decades. With its new kashruth supervision and Shomer-Shabbat status, Kossar's can now be enjoyed by even the most strictly observant.

For a taste of authentic Bialystoker baking, the only place to go is 367 Grand Street, to the new Kossar's. Visit them on the Web at KossarsBialys.com.

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Pick a Peck of Pickled Produce at Popular Place

By Michael Steinhart

[[The review below is not updated -- Guss' Pickles is no longer on the Lower East Side. In its place, The Pickle Guys is open for business. Check them out. -- MJS 5/6/03]] Walking up Essex Street, it's easy to spot the world-famous Guss' Pickles stand well before you actually get there. The aroma of barrels upon barrels of savory pickles reaches you at least a block away. On a windy day, everyone in a five-block radius knows that the 87-year-old landmark is alive and well.

"We have the highest quality pickles in the city," boasted Tim Baker, manager of Guss' Pickles. He explained that the company purchases only top-grade produce to make their pickles, and the long lines of customers each Sunday and holiday season are proof that the tradition is a success.

Guss' Pickles offers a surprisingly wide variety of pickled items, including cucumbers, tomatoes, sauerkraut, olives, cabbage, watermelon, mushrooms, cauliflower and more. They also carry mustard, horseradish and other spices and flavorings.

"We ship all over," Baker said, "we also sell wholesale and supply some restaurants and specialty stores." Mail-order customers can actually send genuine, New York pickles to anyone in the world, he said.

The mystique of Lower East Side pickles is such a fundamental part of New York vogue that Guss' Pickles has appeared prominently in many magazines, films and television programs. "Crossing Delancey," "Enemies: A Love Story," and "Reading Rainbow" are just a few of the productions that featured kosher pickles as a crucial element in New York history.

In the latest Zagat restaurant survey, Guss' Pickles earned incredibly high ratings in all categories, ranking it among the top-rated eateries in the entire city. "We're aiming for a really good product," Baker said, "we're not a big company, so we have to be very good at what we do."

Guss' Pickles is located at 35 Essex Street and can be reached at 212-254-4477. They are under the kashruth supervision of Rabbi S. Fishelis. Tim Baker and his staff look forward to greeting everyone who's ready for a real taste of old New York.

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[[This review is not up-to-date. Ratner's is no longer under reliable kosher supervision.--MJS 5/6/03]]

Ratner's: Where Tradition and Innovation Meet

By Michael Steinhart

Coming off the Williamsburg Bridge into the Lower East Side, the first sight that greets the seasoned observer is a bright neon beacon, proclaiming the proud institution that has represented the finest kosher dairy dining in this century: Ratner's.

Founded in 1905, New York's oldest family-run restaurant was originally located in a small premises on Pitt Street, and then moved to its present location on Delancey in 1918. Since its humble beginnings, Ratner's has always offered home-style fish and dairy dishes that have since earned rave reviews the world over.

Over the years, celebrities, world leaders and generations of families have made Ratner's the place for special events, holiday gatherings, and memorable occasions.

Robert Harmatz, who runs the restaurant with his brother, Fred, represents the third generation of Ratner restaurateurs. "My grandfather (Harmatz) and his brother-in-law (Ratner) started the restaurant, and they flipped a coin. His brother-in-law won, so the place was named Ratner's."

Presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy would stop by Ratner's before elections, as did Nelson Rockefeller and Mayor Giuliani. "It's a good place to get the Jewish vote," Harmatz said.

It's easy to ascribe political motivations to these visits, but after sampling the goods at Ratner's, it's clear that even the most powerful men in the country found the delicious dishes irresistible.

"We're famous for our onion rolls," Harmatz said, "and our customers are famous for stealing them! Our broiled fish and blintzes are also well-known throughout the community."

Ratner's has changed with the times, Harmatz said, and expanded to include several new ventures. Their line of frozen foods is distributed across the country, and manufactured right on Delancey Street upstairs from the restaurant.

A fleet of soup carts sell Ratner's famous broths at different locations throughout the city, and in April, the Harmatzes opened a new restaurant / night club called the Lansky Lounge. Named after infamous gangster Meyer Lansky, who was a regular customer at Ratner's, the lounge offers a similar dairy / fish menu, a bar, and nostalgic art and music.

Pictures and posters depicting underworld personalities of years past adorn the walls of the lounge. "With the music, and the lighting, it's very romantic," Harmatz said. "When you enter from the alley (behind Ratner's), it's like you're going into an old-time speakeasy."

The Lansky Lounge opens each evening at 8 p.m., and so far the response has been very positive. "On Saturday nights, we're packed," he added.

Ratner's is celebrating its ninety-second anniversary this year and, as always, its spectacular array of soups, salads, fish dishes, omelets, kreplach and blintzes keep hordes of customers happy and coming back for more. Their breads, cakes, cookies and desserts are all baked fresh on premises and available for take-out customers and diners alike.

This historical landmark is located at 138 Delancey Street and is under Chof-K kashruth supervision. Ratners' phone number is 212-677-5588. Bring the family and taste the tradition that generations have enjoyed.

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[[This review is not up-to-date. The Grand Deli no longer exists. Noah's Ark is going to re-open the restaurant under the name Noah's Ark Original Deli some time in the summer of 2003. --MJS 5/6/03]]

The Grand Deli: 'If You Want Something Done Right, Do It Yourself'

By Michael Steinhart

The tradition of old-New York cuisine makes its home at the Grand Deli. Considered 'the place' for any serious delicatessen diner, the Grand Deli is a proud jewel, in a cold-cut kind of way, that sets the standard in kosher excellence.

Partners Jack Shelby and Chaim Richter opened the deli in June of 1994. Both men are veterans of the original Bernstein's on Essex Street restaurant, and their menu reflects the Chinese / American mix and dedication to excellence that made Bernstein's a household name.

"We have the original Bernstein's chefs and waiters," Shelby said, "and we pickle our own pastrami and corned beef, and smoke our own turkey right here. No other (kosher) deli in New York does that."

Specialties like spare ribs, Roumanian pastrami, hero sandwiches and Chinese delicacies grace the menu at the Grand Deli. Their prices are surprisingly reasonable considering the amount of painstaking work that goes into every cut of meat they sell.

The Grand Deli's spacious dining room accommodates parties of all kinds, and the eatery also provides exquisite catering platters for every type of occasion. Shelby and Richter have catered functions for President Clinton, Vice President Gore, Governor Pataki and former Governor Cuomo, pictures of whom adorn the walls at the Grand Deli.

Notables such as New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver are regulars at the restaurant, Shelby said.

Paintings by noted artist Morris Katz complete the warm décor, and the overall feeling at the Grand Deli is that you're among friends, eating the kind of food that generations of New Yorkers have enjoyed.

The Grand Deli is located at 399 Grand Street, and orders, deliveries or party bookings can be phoned in to 212-477-5200. Their foods are glatt kosher, supervised by the Orthodox Union.