I have many fond memories of partying in the Lower East Side back in 1991. My best friend Luke and I had a fabulous time with the drag queens at the underground dance club Save The Robots. Lets just say they epitomised what it means to be hospitable to strangers! The glowing blood red ambiance of the Sapphire Lounge on Eldridge Street was also later a big influence on us in our careers as party promoters. Both places are now sadly closed.
Some legends still live on though, albeit of the culinary variety…
Russ & Daughters (Advanced A-), 179 E Houston St, www.russanddaughters.com, just along the road from Katz’s below
A venerable deli specialising in fish products. They are particularly famous for the NYC classic cream cheese and lox (salmon) beigel, a traditional food brought over by German Jews.
Eight kinds of cured salmon were available, including Norwegian, Scottish, Irish, gravelaks and Gaspé Nova.
Gaspé Nova is the classic NYC cure. The name dates from a time when much of the salmon in New York City came from Nova Scotia, specifically the town of Gaspé. Nowadays it refers to a milder brining and the fish can come from elsewhere, including fish farms. It tends to be milder in flavour, fattier and less smoky.
Western Wild Nova, as the name implies, the fish isn’t farmed and it comes from the Pacific. It’s wood smoked for a rich flavour..
Scottish-style salmon is cured using a brine mixture of salt and possibly sugars, spices, and other flavorings. This is put directly on the fish and then rinsed off, and the fish is cold-smoked.
Nordic-style smoked salmon is salt-cured and cold-smoked.
Gravlax, or gravad lax, is another traditional Nordic means of preparing salmon. The cure usually includes dill, sugars, salt, and spices like juniper berries. It’s often served with a sweet mustard-dill sauce.
I’m always up for trying the local delicacies, so I went for the Gaspé Nova. The choice of cream cheeses was too bewildering for me so I played safe with plain cream cheese.
It was really good but a bit too heavy on the cheese for my liking as I felt it detracted from the flavour of the fish (A-). I’ll ask for less next time I go, or maybe extra salmon…
Other delicacies available here include various kinds of caviar, pickled herrings and chocolate.
Katz’s (Advanced A-), 205 E Houston St, www.katzsdelicatessen.com, just along the road from the above
Founded in 1888, this quintessential Jewish Deli is a New York institution. So much has been written about this place that it’s probably best left to others to describe. Here’s Bourdain waxing lyrical.
Katz’s is most famous for its Pastami & Rye sandwich (B+), to which some would add chicken livers for extra flavour. As ever in this city, the sandwich is enough for two people. The hot dogs are famous too, and a bit more manageable. It’s reckoned Katz’s sell 6,800kg of pastrami and 4,000 hot dogs every week!
The etymology of Pastrami is quite interesting. The spelling hints at it being Italian but in fact the it’s a corruption of ‘Pastrama’, a Romanian word. That’s because this technique for preserving beef was brought to New York by Romanian Jews in the 1870s.