All hail the mighty potato! I honestly can’t imagine my life of food without the humble family of root vegetables we know as potatoes. I eat them in so many different ways: baked, stir-fried, mashed…not to mention all the potato chips and French fries I eat on a regular basis. Not having the potato in my diet would make me so sad! 😦 Colloquial history may have us think that the potato plant was first cultivated as a food in Ireland, but it’s got a much older and storied history than that: genetic historians believe that the first cultivated version of the modern potato came from Peru and Bolivia, about 7,000 years ago. That’s a lot of years of tubers! Today, the potato is a vegetable crop that thrives all over the world, and plays a part in the culinary history of nearly every culture on Earth. It’s believed that the average human in the 21st century eats over 70 pounds of potatoes per year! So, I guess the question begs to be asked: have you had your fill of potatoes for today?
We tend to think of the potato as just that Idaho wonder, the spud with brown, flaky skin and fluffy white insides that works best when holes are poked in it and it’s thrown in the microwave. But there are over 5,000 potato varieties worldwide, ranging in shape, size, color, and flavor. (None of which are the “sweet” potato, which is a different kind of tuber entirely!) You can find a great number of potato varieties at the local Greenmarkets and grocery stores; try out some new kinds and see how different and interesting the potato can really be!
There have been quite a few national food holidays celebrating the different and well-loved foods you can make with potatoes, like Potato Chip Day, French Fries Day and Julienned Fries Day. Because of this, I stayed away from the typical junk-food functions of the great and noble potato, and tried to find potato-based foods that reflected both the international melting-pot cuisine and the local flavor of New York City. Trust me, it was tough to narrow it down to what I found!
There’s something so homey and comorting about mashed potatoes. Is it the mild, warm taste of potatoes ground into a fluffy paste with butter and milk to make it creamy as a cloud? Is it the striking consistency of baby food that brings us back to our infancy? Whatever it is, people love it; the lure of the potato strikes again. My dad always makes homemade mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving (even though we have sweet potato pie and stuffing and about a million other starches on the table lol) by putting the boiled potatoes through a crank sifter, making them pillowy soft and smooth. But he never made them like St. Anselm makes them–pan-fried! Taking the easily home-made potato treat and treating it the way Americans love their potatoes best–fried–St. Anselm makes a splash with a side dish you would normally never call exceptional. But these mashed potatoes are so inventive and great, they’ve been not only noticed, but lauded by the likes of New York Magazine and GQ. Made with a flourish of truffle oil in the pan, these mashed potatoes are crispy and smooth at the same time, with all the wonderful flavors of both mashed and fried potatoes–two of the absolute favorite ways to eat these little tubers. Order it as an inexpensive side dish or as the accompaniment to your steak, but beware of the humble potato overshadowing a gorgeous hunk of beef on your plate.
355 Metropolitan Ave (between 4th St & Havemeyer St), Williamsburg
“I crave steak pretty often, but I never crave a steak house that feels like the preamble to a bad bachelor party. Brooklyn’s St. Anselm is tiny and mostly wood, and the grill is right beside the bar. Watch them sear your flawless $15 butcher’s steak while you drink wine from kegs—fresh, flavorful whites and reds from New York wineries, served in scientific beakers instead of mouth-blown crystal. A bacon-laden iceberg wedge is $8; crispy panfried mashed potatoes go for $5, which, if you’re lucky, will get you a tablespoon of béarnaise at some glorified Las Vegas mall.”–GQ
“You will require a side or two, naturally. Of these, the pan-fried mashed potatoes boast a golden crust and a whiff of truffle oil, and the spinach gratin hews much closer to its original leafy-green state than your average creamed spinach.”–New York Magazine
“This could be the best potato dish that exists in NYC. Holy sh*t, this is nuts. The mashed potatoes are cooked with truffle oil and pan fried, resulting in a crispy outer layer, but deliciously mushy and moist in the middle. A win in both the texture and taste departments.”–Immaculate Infatuation
“Grilled skirt steak came dressed with garlic butter. It was juicy and delicious, and I loved it! A side of pan-fried mashed potatoes with truffle oil was fabulous. Seems truffle oil makes everything taste a tad better. I loved the pan-frying technique on these potatoes too. Order them!”–NYC Foodie
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“as if we didn’t have enough in front of us, we decided an order of the pan fried truffle mashed potatoes would be nice. wow, were they! crispy outside with a velvety smooth mash in the middle, ohh, do yourself a favor and give them a try.”–Kate V.
“I was in for a treat. Mashed potatoes are a necessity in life, but I have an aversion to any menu that offers truffle oil anything. Most of the time it’s a “hey, look at us using our fancy expensive oil” unnecessary addition that is used in overkill and spoils the taste. Truffle oil is powerful stuff and overwhelming when used in excess. These potatoes were the first time I’ve ever had truffle oil ANYTHING and enjoyed it. They used just the right amount to just enhance the flavor without spoiling the taste of the dish. Well done, St. Anselm. I would order these potatoes again and again and a third time around maybe just to use as a luxurious face wash.”–Tanya T.
It wasn’t until I moved to New Jersey that I fully realized how amazing Indian food can be. I mean sure, I had the lunch specials in Curry Hill along with the rest of the crowd, reveling in chana masala and chicken biryani and thinking I was so metropolitan for my lunch choice. But when I came to New Jersey and moved to a large Indian community, I discovered a whole bunch of different Indian ingredients and flavors that weren’t tampered with to fit American palates. (Most of these flavors, however, burned the bejeezus out of my American palate.) The cash & carry grocery store near me introduced me to vegetables left on the fringes of American cuisine but are considered Indian mainstays. And I also discovered that the more things change, the more they stay the same: namely, that everyone loves potatoes. Called “aloo,” potatoes are an essential part of many Indian dishes, and can be boiled, fried, and stewed. Or, as the Kati Roll Company in Greenwich Village has shown, aloo can be spiced with masala sauce and rolled into a kati! Likened to a Mexican burrito, kati rolls are made with paratha (Indian flat bread) and filled with any number of yummy fillings, from vegetable curry to barbecue lamb and even scrambled eggs. The Kati Roll Company brings these fast-food phenoms to New York, with a variety of fillings made fresh every day. Try out their aloo masala rolls–spicy potato for the non-Hindi speaking crowd–for an interesting and filling new lunch option that includes absolutely no meat. It’s definitely a tasty alternative to the typical meat and potatoes for National Potato Day!
Kati Roll Company
99 MacDougal St
“Kati rolls are one of my favorite forms of street food. They’re like burritos, but are often much better. For starters, wan flour tortillas are replaced by thick, buttery parathas, a superb South Asian flatbread. The meaty stuffings are comparable to well-made burrito fodder, but if you’re looking for a meat-free wrap, parathas win hands-down. Rice and beans don’t hold a candle to potatoes and other common Indian vegetables, which come well-spiced and cradled in thick sauces.”–Serious Eats
“You can order one roll for $3 to $6 (depending on the filling), or two for slightly less (they give you a discount when you order two of the same roll). I’ve had the Chicken Tikka which is fantastic. The chicken is really good, and covered in red onions with a slight lemon flavor. Really, really good. I’ve also had the spicy potato- which is really spicy… but also delicious, if you like potatoes. Very similar flavor to a samosa, just without the fried stuff around the outside. The paratha is grilled fresh on a gigantic skillet in the back, so it is really really good (albeit pretty greasy).”–Midtown Lunch
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“I had the Aloo roll which was potato and curry and all kinds of great spices inside a wrap – it was fireworks in my mouth. I tasted my friend’s chicken tikka roll and that was good, but I was in love with mine. The wrap is great soft to taste yet firm enough to hold its ingredients. It works for when you need a standing pit stop while bar or event hopping, a stop where you don’t need a big plate of rice and meat, without the overgreasiness of pizza, the pussiness of a dessert, the messiness of wings, the overstuffedness of a burrito and the wait time of a sit down restaurant.”–Kara C.
“A friend once called it a ‘sub’ .. Only if subs were this yummy! It has both vegetarian as non-veggie options. I love the aloo roll. Ask them to make it spicy and they will add extra ‘chutni’ and it makes it ‘blows smoke out of your ears’ hot! They also have the chana roll and the paneer roll. The paneer is ultra fresh and almost melts in your mouth.”–Snehal W.
But I’ve got to come to one of my favorite potato foods that has a great history in New York City: the knish. The humble knish–a baked or fried dough filled with potatoes–came to the United States via Eastern European Jewish immigrants in the early 20th century, and because they were inexpensive to make, easy to eat, and reminiscent of home, they became a Jewish-American staple food. And you can’t think of Eastern European Jewish immigration in the early 20th century without thinking of New York City. You may think you’ve had a knish before at, like, one of those Sabrett hot dog carts, but that is so god-awful it doesn’t even deserve to be called a knish. No, if you want to have the cream of the knish crop–the round, authentic knishes with just a little bit of potato peeking out the top–you’ve got to get your tucchus to Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery on the Lower East Side. A neighborhood institution, the knish bakery has been around since 1890, when Yonah Schimmel, a Romanian immigrant, sold freshly-baked knishes around Houston Street in a pushcart. The bakery is still family-owned and retains the same knish recipes that Yonah brought from Romania over a century ago. Eating a Schimmel knish is better than a Katz’s pastrami sandwich, deeper in the rich Jewish-New Yorker history than the 2nd Avenue Deli could ever muster. Schimmel’s potato-filled knishes aren’t just the best knish in town; they’re the original knish in town, and that definitely warrants a visit to the old bakery for a nosh.
Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery
137 E Houston St (between 2nd Ave & Chrystie St)
“A knish is loosely defined as a thin dough shell filled with potato or buckwheat groats (kasha) and finely chopped onion, but the ingredients run the gamut from spinach ($3.50) to blueberry cheese ($4). While Mrs. Anistratov recently invented a red cabbage variety, she remains a traditionalist. “You can make what you want and call it whatever you want, but it doesn’t make it the real thing,” she said. “I don’t mean to insult anyone else, but a knish is round, baked and made of potato or mixed with potato. It’s not square. It’s not fried.””–The New York Times
“During its 100-year existence, the store has been passed down through family members. Today, it remains virtually unchanged, with the original tables and display case, as well as the dumb waiter that brings the knishes from the kitchen downstairs to the shop above.”–Forward
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Located in the LES on Houston near Forsyth the Kinishery is very easy to find- they’ve been in the same building for an incredible 102 years. The store is medium size, nothing fancy in decor with plenty of seating to dine in with your family or a group of friends. They make a variety of knishes including kasha, sweet potato, spinach, mushroom, jalapeno and many other specialty flavors. Being a creature of habit I ordered the plain potato. This baked goodness was smooth, creamy yet dense and flavorful. You can taste the onions and settle spices that became extra delicious with spicy brown mustard (that’s the only way to eat a knish). I was very pleased and ordered 3 more to bring back to my Pops who loves knishes; and eclairs, a true New Yorker he is. I cannot wait to go back for more.”–Rochelle P.
“You don’t come to Yonah Schimmel’s for friendly service or a clean looking eating area. You come here for good freakin’ knishes. This mom and pop style place has an awesome selection of knishes for your enjoyment. I like to judge a place on their simplest, most basic item, so I went for the plain potato one. How can I say perfect? A generous amount of potato wrapped in carb-wrap. Really really smooth, and when served warm it really can’t get much better. If you’re in the area and love starch, this is the place to go.”–Daphne M.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!