The breakfast stop on the Lower East Side Food Tour is always Yonah Shimmel’s, another classic Houston Street institution (note that it celebrates its 100th birthday this year):
You go to Yonah’s for one thing: knishes, those stodgy lumps of potato-filled dough that somehow hit the spot early in the morning—especially on a chilly day. You’ll need plenty of coffee to wash them down. If you eschew the venerable potato knish, there’s also kasha (filled with buckwheat groats), and, for the thoroughly yuppified—i.e., those who like large fluffy bagels—there are even mushroom, cherry, and spinach knishes.
But let’s stick with the basics. Breakfast with nephew Steven:
Coffee with real cream, a belly-busting potato knish and—the kicker—a glass of cold borscht with sour cream. Oh! Wilderness were Paradise enow!
Yes, there are better knishes elsewhere in the city, and yes, the hands that make them are now more likely to be Hispanic than Jewish, but as a slice of Jewish history Yonah’s cannot be beat. When I eat there, I always think about my maternal grandparents, David Frank from Russia and Salie Mermelstein from Poland, who both (and independently) started their new lives in the lower East Side after the long boat trip from Europe. Perhaps they too ate at Yonah’s!
See a short video of the food of Houston Street (pronounced “HOW-stun”) by Joshua Russ Tupper, whose family owns an upcoming joint: Russ and Daughters, the Mecca for smoked-fish lovers. The bit about Yonah’s starts at 1:50.