Culinary delights of the Lower East Side: Yonah Shimmel’s

October 26, 2010 • 5:25 am

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.

17 thoughts on “Culinary delights of the Lower East Side: Yonah Shimmel’s

  1. …& I just had an Eccles cake! Plus I have some Welsh cakes for later (a bit like Scotch pancakes only sweet… now you are confused!)

    You see, sharing is fun.

  2. My wife and I discovered the Yonah Schimmel knishery a few years back and have made it a regular stop since then on our NY visits.

    I love that the building seems about to topple.

  3. OK, I’d be up for the knish, but I’ll pass on the cold borscht. I ate enough borsch in Russia to last me a long, long time.

    Or maybe the Yiddish version is better?

  4. Early 20th c. Lower East Side Knishes, courtesy of Sergio Leone. I love the part where to film this masterpiece, Leone had to hire Puerto Rican teenagers to protect their Hasidic set from the unapproving Williamsburg Hasids, who thought that films were dirty. In this case, the Hasids were right, though not for this scene with Jennifer Connelly.

  5. In my family, we never ate any of that for breakfast. Knishes, kasha and borscht were all side dishes for either lunch or dinner. My grandparents, the Greenbaums from Rumania then Brooklyn and the Turucks (before name change) from Russia then Newark did spend a lot of time on Houston Street and the garment district further uptown.

    My father ate cold borscht for dinner often, putting big dollops of horseradish sauce in for more flavor. I watched him swirl the white horseradish into the red broth.

  6. Now there’s a coincidence. My Grandpa was from the Ukraine and Grandma (who died as a result of complications from childbirth when my dad was young) was from Poland….

    Then there’s my mom’s side, who traces their roots to one of the ships that landed in the next wave after the Mayflower….



  7. Living in LA, naturally half the people I know are from New York. In any gathering of more than five people, chances are that two of them will eventually start rhapsodizing about Yonah Shimmel’s knishes.

    1. Nice to have you back, Sean. (In general, excellent to see you [back?] here) Maybe you could do some food (or kitteh [preferable]) coverage over at Discover?

  8. Never had a knish but certainly would jump at the chance to try one. Looks like a nice smoked whitefish would go well with one. Where’s Mordecai?

    1. Now this is getting weird. We’re all Russian / Polish Jewish atheists here?

      Sounds like we need to all have our genomes sequenced so we can find that elusive godless gene after all….



        1. In Brisbane Oz, we don’t have such a deli, however, I found the description rich enough to think about flying. I’m pure Celt, love all foods and any romance that accompanies them.

  9. That borch looks really weird. Typically, it should not be cold or look like a pink strawberry milk shake. It’s also (at least in my family)served at launch or dinner in a bowl with a spoon…

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