February 9 – Bagels and Lox Day
Now we get to the real competitive foods in New York City. February 9th is home to not ONE, but TWO national food days that gets underneath the skin of every New Yorker around. You ask ten people where the best place to get a good bagel and lox–or, depending on what neighborhood you’re in, a good schmear–and you’ll get twelve different answers. And don’t even think about asking for butter on your bagel instead of cream cheese!
Bagels are considered a Jewish American staple, particularly in New York City, where any New Yorker will tell you, the water is the key to a perfectly baked bagel. (Anyone who has tried so-called “New York bagels” in other states can recount how they were sorely disappointed. Every time I see one of those stores I want to burst in there and tell them they are wrong! haha.) Bagels were brought over to the United States by Polish Jewish immigrants in the nineteenth century, and what was best known as a Sabbath-breaking dish in Europe became the Sunday-morning treat. Placing lox–smoked salmon, sliced delectably thin–on top of a sliced bagel, along with cream cheese, became a national delicacy in the 1950s, and now can be enjoyed virtually everywhere in the country.
But we New Yorkers know there’s nowhere else in the world that makes Bagels and Lox like we do. 😉
As I said, everyone’s got their own favorite stop in the city to get their bagel and schmear (real lox slices sitting atop a thick layer of cream cheese; not salmon mixed into the cream cheese! That’s cheating!) When I was a kid, my neighborhood bagel shop was Bagel Boy, still around and kicking with daily freshly baked bagels and tons of gourmet cream cheese flavors. It’s certainly not the “best” in New York by any means, but it still holds a big chunk of nostalgia for me when I order an everything with cream cheese when I visit my parents. (Let me tell you, I tried to find a decent bagel and lox in New Jersey. I had to go to Wegmans, buy all the ingredients separately, and make the thing myself. No respect around here.)
But far from the outer reaches of Sheepshead Bay, you can find more celebrated schmears–where else–in the Lower East Side. Russ and Daughters is the premier stop for bagels and lox, having been in the business of marrying the two together perfectly since 1914. Still a family-owned institution, the original pickled herring and Polish mushrooms may no longer be on the menu, but smoked salmon and hand-rolled bagels are ubiquitous. There’s almost nothing more to say about their schmear than a satisfied pinching of the fingers, right next to one’s cream cheese-stained lips: mwa!
Russ & Daughters
179 E Houston St (between East Houston St & 2nd Ave)
“To understand how a slab of smoked salmon lying across a bagel became the symbol for an entire city, you have to come to Russ & Daughters. This immaculate boutique has served lox, herring and caviar from the same landmark Lower East Side location since 1914. Although the rich and famous clamor for the caviar, all New Yorkers can renew their faith in the city with one of the hand-rolled bagels topped with whipped cream cheese and a pile of Wild Western Nova, a lean, lightly salted wild salmon cured with wood smoke.”–New York Magazine
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“The salmon is SO good and fresh, I would eat a pound of it alone. The store itself is an experience brimming with local flavor. Grab a ticket, wait until they call your number, and if it’s your first time, get the classic lox sandwich. If you have any questions, ask! They may even bring you some samples. The people who work there are so knowledgeable and helpful.”–Valerie L.
“After getting the sandwich, I believe the claim. The bagels are more delicious in NY! They are chewy and the perfect texture. The scallion cream cheese had so much flavor. And the LOX. My God, I’ve never had such delicious, fresh lox in my life. They were nice, thick slices so you could really taste the fish. The pastrami lox that my husband got was really interesting, too. It tasted like salmon, but had a distinct pastrami flavor also…which enhanced it, not overpowered it.”–Alexis K.