Scouting: Barney Greengrass

Barney Greengrass  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Barney Greengrass | Image: Laura Messersmith

One of my favorite things about New York is the sense of energy, of change. It’s exciting to live in a city that’s constantly evolving – shedding old layers and taking on new ones. The flipside of all that change is a sneaking anxiety that the history and charm of the city’s sometimes gritty past will be wiped away. Even as a new arrival to the city I worry that the “authentic” places will disappear and be replaced by some slick storefront devoid of personality.

Some of the old spots – places recognizable to even the most old-school New Yorker like Barney Greengrass – survive in our neighborhood and I admit that I get a thrill of satisfaction from visiting them. I like knowing that I stand where decades of other people have stood and taking my small place in the parade of humanity that has crossed the threshold since the business (established in 1908) opened it’s doors on Amsterdam Ave.

Barney Greengrass   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Barney Greengrass | Image: Laura Messersmith

I know almost nothing about traditional Jewish deli & appetizing food. I definitely wanted salmon, but beyond that ...well, just imagine crickets chirping. I was a little nervous when I first arrived and braced myself, expecting exasperation, but thankfully I needn’t have worried.

The gentlemen behind the counter listened patiently as I described my intended recipe (stay tuned for the results…) and since the shortest distance between two points is a taste-test they offered samples to help me make a selection.

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Friends, I think I picked the right place to try smoked/cured fish for the first time. The texture of Barney’s hand-cut slices is beautifully delicate and thanks to my guides I left with new insight into why there are such strong opinions on which preparation is best - smoked eastern nova tastes really different from say, house-cured gravlox.

There’s a reason that places survive for more than 100 years and it’s not just nostalgia keeping them viable. Those years come from the Greengrass family; owners that value tradition, treat their customers warmly and provide a high-quality product. I’m excited to continue my education on the wide world of smoked fish and with any luck Barney Greengrass will be around to serve as my classroom.

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