As the debate in this nation over immigration drags on, just as it has for over 200 years, it is incredible to me how quick we are to forget that “American culture” doesn’t even exist without the contributions of immigrants to our beloved country. Consider all of the things that we think of as American, and you’ll see that they really only have one thing in common, they were brought here by an immigrant group or an individual from another land. Pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, apple pie, beer, atomic bombs, and pretty much every edible that you can stick in your mouth can trace its genesis to someplace else. The only question an immigrant to our country should be required to answer when they seek to enter our country is, “What do you got to eat?”
Where can one go to find all that they can “knish” for? Well, the best and closest place to the Capital Region is the one and only Yonah Schimmel, the “Knishery” located down in the Bowery in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Walking into Yonah Schimmel is like stepping back in time. The place first opened back in 1910. Think of it, the Titanic hadn’t even been launched, William Howard Taft had barely had his special bathtub built in the White House so he and his 350 lb frame could bathe in comfort, the Romanov’s looked like they might rule Russia forever, and Babe Ruth was still just another orphan. All of those items have come and gone, and still, Yonah Schimmel keeps baking their special brand of knish from the heart of what was once the epicenter of Jewish culture in New York City.
Yonah Schimmel calls itself a “Knish Bakery,” and baking is what they do. Unlike the more familiar and pedestrian square potato knish, available in many places all over these United States, (Well, at least in some metropolitan areas.) Yonah Schimmel only bakes the round kind, with the very light and delicate shell. The inside is filled to the brim with potato or whatever stuffing one desires, as long as it’s one of the kind that they make. (In other words, don’t ask for a sausage and cheese knish when you walk in.)
While everybody is familiar with the concept of the potato knish, round or square, many non-Jews, as well as those who dwell north of Rockland County, are far less accustomed to biting into a round knish heavily laden with a substance known as kasha. Kasha for those of you who are not in the know, is a barley/wheat type of grain, that is neither for the genteel, or for that matter, quite possibly, the gentile. Kasha contains a certain heft to it that has been known to weigh one down, and bring many an alleged hearty partaker to their knees. Both potato and kasha knishes can be eaten with mustard, but only good Jewish deli mustard. Take that French’s yellow stuff, and save it for the ballpark.
- Broccoli Knish – My concern here is that they are trying to make some sort of healthy eating statement, and that’s not who they should be catering to. Nobody was eating broccoli in the shtetl.
- Spinach Knish – Spinach for some reason, while equally healthy in comparing it to broccoli, seems to work better in the knish. Spinach is one of those vegetables that works well in a lot of ethnic foods, so if Popeye was Jewish, I think he’d be fine with a spinach knish.
- Red Cabbage Knish – I don’t like cabbage perogies, and I certain don’t want it, red or otherwise in my knish.
- Sweet Potato Knish – This is crazy. I’m pretty sure this is how Communism starts. I could see eating a sweet potato pierogi, but not in a knish.
- Mixed Vegetable Knish – This is garbage, save it for the gluten free knish eaters.
- Mushroom Knish – I acknowledge how much flavor mushrooms bring to the foods they are mixed with, but I hate the texture, and the thought of biting into a knish with a stack of ‘shrooms seems like the type of things horror movies are made of.
- Apple Cheese – Imagine a danish, but in a knish
- Cherry Cheese – How good are these sweet knishes? My father used to double-park on Houston Street down on the Bowery when it was at its most “bummiest,” leave my mother and his children in the car to fend for themselves, while he went in and got himself a supply of these delicacies. He would always eat one piping hot, and burn his mouth on the cherries, but he didn’t care.
- Blueberry Cheese – I’ve never tried this one, but I’m imagining it’s like the cherry cheese one, but blueberry, and how bad can that be?
- Chocolate Cheese – This might be too delightful as my nephew would say. It just may not be necessary.
- Plain Cheese – For those who don’t like to mix fruit with their cheese.
You may be wondering what kind of cheese they use at Yonah Schimmel to make their dessert knishes. Well, if I were to give an educated guess, it would be farmer cheese, which comes from pressed cottage cheese, and is often found in pierogies and blintzes. If you’re not feeling “knishy,” you can instead imbibe in a potato latke, (Pancake) noodle kugel, or even borscht, beet soup for you novices. As for what you can drink to wash down your knish experience, while you can order up a cherry-lime rickey, the drink of the stars is the original New York City drink, better known as the egg cream. The black and white as it is also sometimes referred to is literally the taste of the city, and Yonah Schimmel makes it as good as anybody.
I’m certainly not holding my breath in anticipation of the Capital Region opening a knishery any time soon. We don’t even have a kosher deli. We have a “kosher-style” deli in Schenectady called Gershon’s, which does serve up Jewish style deli food, and mimics some of the more gluttonous attributes of the Jewish deli, and the food is good, but it doesn’t quite capture the essence of the kosher deli. It’s almost as if one were to go to let’s say Testo’s in Troy, and while enjoying and observing all of the delectable old school Italian food, noticed that on the menu they offered up pasta with ketchup. Yes I know you don’t have to order it, and it doesn’t mean the other food isn’t legitimately good, but it strikes at the experience in a way that would cause the whole thing to feel delegitimized.