NYC Food Fight: American Jewish vs. Italian-American Cuisine

nycgo.com staff
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New York City brings together people from every culture and part of the world. One of the best things about the resulting diversity is you can find every kind of food here. Everyone has their favorite. So, between our versions of Italian and Jewish cuisine, which is best? Let’s find out in this, our inaugural Food Fight.

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Russ And Daughters Bagel with lox and cream cheese Bagel with lox and cream cheese, Russ and Daughters. Photo: Tagger Yancey IV

Breakfast

Bagel with lox and cream cheese (Russ & Daughters)
A dense boiled-and-baked bagel combined with belly lox (it’s fattier and saltier than the standard smoked nova) and cream cheese gets the Jewish team off to a good start. Salt is going to be a theme throughout the day. —Jonathan Zeller

Pane con Nutella and Latte from Eataly Pane con Nutella and a latte, Eataly. Photo: Tanya Maithai

Pane con Nutella and a latte (Eataly)
Eataly’s Nutella Bar serves your favorite hazelnut-chocolate spread on almost anything. For a light breakfast, try the Pane con Nutella—two slices of Eataly’s homemade rustic bread slathered with Nutella. Eataly’s Caffè Lavazza, an outpost of the Turin espresso giant, will provide the perfect morning pick-me-up. —Christina Parrella

We convened an internal panel of wise, objective food lovers to deliberate as to which dishes were best. The results, along with discussion excerpts, are listed after each pairing. One person asked, “Is it which one we think is better or which one we’d rather have?” Good question.

Advantage: Bagel. “I just prefer the idea of a bagel with lox. It’s New York,” says one panelist, filled with municipal pride.

Corned beef on rye from 2nd Ave Deli Corned beef on rye, 2nd Ave Deli. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Lunch

Corned beef on rye (Second Avenue Deli)
The Irish and Jewish people each produce a popular rendition of corned beef. The former—who alongside Jewish immigrants populated the Lower East Side in the late-1800s—boil theirs with potatoes and cabbage. At the Second Avenue Deli, corned beef comes in a sandwich tall enough to ride the Cyclone. It’s also got enough salt to preserve the meat in case the Jewish people need to wander the desert for another 40 years. —JZ

Emiglia-Romagna panini (Sergimmo Salumeria)
Named for different regions in Italy, Sergimmo’s sandwiches (or “panino”) are typical of the ones you might find in the old country, but with a lot more meat. This version features prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, lettuce, pesto, Sergimmo’s own extra-virgin olive oil and a drizzle of Crema di Balsamico on a fresh Italian baguette or ciabatta. —CP

Advantage: Panini. As one health-conscious panelist reasons: “It has a vegetable!”  

Breads Bakery interior Courtesy, Breads Bakery

Bread

Challah (Breads Bakery)
Our bread is made with eggs. It’s also braided, sweetened and huge. Get a whole loaf and share it by tearing pieces off. It’s a great bonding experience. —JZ

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Rosemary focaccia (Napoli Bakery)
The old-school Williamsburg bakery uses a wood-fired oven for its fresh focaccia—a flat, oil-slicked bread whose texture is similar to that of a pizza. Also, it’s delish. —CP

Advantage: Challah. “I’ve got good memories of having challah with soup at B&H Dairy,” says one nostalgic judge.

Knish from Yonah Schimmel Knish, Yonah Schimmel. Photo: Alexander Thompson

Snack

Knish (Yonah Schimmel)
Yonah Schimmel has been open on the Lower East Side for more than 100 years, and you could do worse than one of their weighty potato-stuffed dough rounds. (The microwave is just part of the charm.) —JZ

Pizza (Pizzeria Giove)
Sure, a knish is delicious, but NYC has some of the best pizza in the world. At Pizzeria Giove the delicious pies include the Variopinta, made with stracciatella (mozzarella with heavy cream), pancetta, zucchini, garlic and herb-infused cheese and extra-virgin olive oil. The pie won a competition against Bobby Flay. Just saying. —CP

Advantage: Pizza. “I mean, c’mon,” says one pizza fan, unwilling to even entertain the alternative.

Appetizer

Whitefish salad (Sadelle’s)
The salty, smoked glory of whitefish salad redefines the experience of eating a bagel. Or any breadstuff, for that matter. —JZ

Il Buco Alimentari Vineria Il Buco. Photo: Tagger Yancey IV

Fritto misto (Saraghina), bread and olive oil (Il Buco)
Saraghina, a homey Neapolitan spot, is known for its brick-oven pizzas, but its fritto misto—with calamari, shrimp, fresh fish and vegetables— is fried, salty perfection. Meanwhile, bread and olive oil are traditional pre-appetizers at most Italian restaurants, but Il Buco’s version is a cut above. The rustic country bread is crunchy and soft, complementing the nutty, green olive oil that’s flown in from Umbria. Don’t forget to sprinkle it with salt. —CP

Advantage: Fritto misto. Despite whitefish salad’s allure, this was a clean sweep.  

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Soup

Matzo ball soup (Mile End)
Life without yeast can be tough, but one Passover-friendly dish that works year-round is this soup. Add some egg and oil—or, in the case of Mile End, schmaltz—to your matzo meal, roll it up into a ball and you’re in business. —JZ

Pasta e fagioli (Mike’s Deli)
This Bronx establishment serves the Neapolitan peasant dish of pasta and cannellini beans in a single-serving iron dish with crusty bread on the side. Soak up the cheesy, tomato-y broth and enjoy. —CP

Advantage: Matzo ball soup. “Matzo ball for sure. Pasta fagioli is overrated,” goes one panelist's unvarnished verdict for unleavened bread.

Dinner

Brisket (Liebman’s Delicatessan)
Usually the braised version of the popular beef cut (accompanied by a potato pancake and gravy) is something hosts will make for dinner guests—but if you’re going to have it at a restaurant, Bronx deli Liebman’s is a popular option. —JZ

Fusilli with Octopus and Bone Marrow from Marea Fusilli with octopus and bone marrow, Marea. Photo: Ted Axelrod

Fusilli with red-wine-braised octopus and bone marrow (Marea)
The sauce for this handmade pasta is made with baby octopus that simmers in tomatoes and Sangiovese wine. Marrow, taken from bones soaked in ice water and salt, is briefly sautéed and added, along with a touch of basil and seasoning, at the last minute. —CP

Advantage: Neither (tie). A reliable standby and a new kid on the block battle to a draw.

Side

Pickle (The Pickle Guys)
We can hear the snap and taste the salt now (we promised you a lot of salt earlier, and we’ve delivered). In our book, nothing beats a good half-sour. But others prefer the dill, and that’s why it’s a free country. —JZ

Rice ball (B&A Pork Store)
A Sicilian street food, arancini di riso are stuffed balls of rice that are coated with bread crumbs and then deep-fried. This bite-size version, sold at the Dyker Heights’ specialty market B&A, is packed with a mixture of salami and ham, fresh mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, parsley, black pepper and rice. It’s no pickle. It’s better. —CP

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Advantage: Neither (tie). Says a panelist gripped by just how much can be crammed into one bite: “The rice ball could also be the dinner option!”

All-Ages Beverage

Egg Cream (Gem Spa)
This egg-and-cream-free beverage is an effervescent trip back to simpler times. The three ingredients: milk, seltzer and Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup. —JZ

San Pellegrino Aranciata Rossa (Eataly)
Eataly has an entire section dedicated to fizzy Italian beverages, the most popular of which—by San Pellegrino—are flavored with real fruit. Our personal favorite? Aranciata Rossa (aka blood orange). —CP

Advantage: Neither (tie). “People come here for egg creams,” says one tourism-minded judge.

Adult Beverage

Cel-Ray (Ben’s Kosher Deli)
There’s a law to stop underage folks from drinking alcohol, but no such measure is necessary for Cel-Ray—a beverage that answers the question, “What flavor could we make soda if we wanted to ensure no child would ever drink it?” Still, the celery soda remains a hit with the old guard. —JZ

Wine (Babbo)
You can find good Italian wine almost anywhere, but Mario Batali’s Babbo restaurant takes vino especially seriously. There are over 2,000 different types of wine to choose from here, including a selection of rare blends and vintages from different regions in Italy. If we could choose, a 1999 Giacomo Conterno Barolo would be nice. —CP

Advantage: Wine. One panelist lodges a complaint about taxonomy: “Hmm. Shouldn’t there just a be a flavored soda category?”   

Dessert

Rugelach (Moishe’s Bake Shop)
This pastry is usually made with cream cheese or sour cream and filled with the likes of chocolate, cinnamon, walnut or raisin. While few modern people speak Yiddish, from which the pastry gets its name (it means “little twists”), we all recognize the universal language of sugar and butter. —JZ

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Chocolate cannoli and espresso (Ferrara)
Little Italy bakery Ferrara is the place to go for dessert and espresso—which it has been serving up in the same location since 1892. The bakery claims to be the first espresso bar of its kind, so the beverage is a given. Try it with a cannoli hand-dipped in dark chocolate. —CP

Advantage: Cannoli. “Sorry, not sorry,” remarks one Italian-dessert lover, who contains multitudes. 


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