622 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn
JULY 10, 2013



The knish feels like a weird relic of New York, although unlike most relics, you can eat it with mustard. It’s most frequently sold by outdoor hotdog vendors all over Manhattan, but most famously from Yonah Schimmel, who first brought New York the knish in 1890, now conveniently across the street from the Film Anthology Archive, which I mention because it’s hard to find something to eat during intermissions.

I will confess that I have been dreading the reinvention of the knish for some time because it will be another moment where I will feel older than I really am. My first knish was bought after a job interview for a magazine about how to buy and do man-things, presumably for men.

I was standing in Times Square, which then was mostly peep shows, upstairs from one of which was a magazine office, wondering what I was going to do if I didn’t get that job, and hoping that my roommate would pick up the phone if it rang because our answering machine was really more of a stage prop.

As it happened, he did not pick up the phone because he was helping his girlfriend paint our apartment purple. Not a cheerful purple. A bruised purple. A dark night of the soul purple.

And as I bit into the knish, I thought to myself, “This isn’t so bad. I could probably live off these for the next two weeks if I don't get a job.” Which is insane, because those knishes are the most bland, machined foodstuff ever to roll off the assembly line, a potato robbed of all its interesting qualities and then served over hot coals to a public who is barely aware of its existence. One would be better off eating just plain, warmed potatoes. But at seventy-five cents, they seemed like a select menu item.

Thankfully, I did not get that job, but also avoided eating knishes for a living. Instead I worked for an internet startup company that helped people finish their crossword puzzles over AOL instant messenger, from my plum-noir aparment in the East Village.

But let us return to the non-past world. I am standing at Local Shepherd, talking about cheeses and tasting them, because that is what we do in our present time, when the subject of knishes comes up. “You should try the ones at Potatobird” the counter person tells me, “The one with bacon and maple syrup is sooo good. . . ”

Of course it is, because nothing is sacred.

Potatobird reminds me of the East Village addiction Caracas except it sells knishes in lieu of arepas, and it has a mascot called the Potatobird. I dearly wish they had chosen a less Portalandia-ish animal, like a rhino or a snake, but birds seem to have a lock on the Brooklyn psyche. Also, going to a Potatosnake sounds dangerous.

“Knish” is absent from the moniker because these are decidedly non-kosher knishes. The maple and bacon syrup knish is a rich, heart-stopping experience that is a bit like attending the Bacondance but is over a lot faster and is possibly less shame-inducing.

The wasabi knish is tantalizing salty; a knish with a bit of nori with the smokey tang of soy sauce and a pinch of wasab. It’s not as essential as the maple syrup and bacon, but on a summer day it goes well with the select microbrews on tap, such as the Gaspernash Howling Hornet weissbrau—a name which is impossible to say after you drink your first glass. Maybe switch to the Dornhaus Humble amber.

There’s the Pulled Pork BBQ Knish, the Hushpuppy Knish, (a strange compromise between the two fried forms), the Aloo Gobi Knish (cauliflower and peas with indian spices) and most confusing of all, the french fry knish, a knish built out of french fries and held together with the soft potato inside.

I feel confident in saying that there is little we can learn from the French Fry Knish, although it has an iconic appearance, like a litte french fry zigarrat, or maybe an Ancient Aliens -style spacecraft (Did ancient aliens eat strange zigarrat-snaped knishes while looking for work? Ancient Alien Theorists say “yes.’’).

These are all the vision of Katherine Bernof, who like myself, remembers eating knishes in a time of financial need and also wondering, “If there was a way to make them more exciting. You could argue that a properly-made knish doesn't need to be exciting, but I like the idea of the knish going glam for a day. It’s like dressing up your grandmother in your leather jacket and adding some sparkly sunglasses.”

And then eating them, of course. At six dollars a potatobird, my former self would have died of a heart attack or gone broke after two weeks by eating my knishes at Potatobird, but I surely would have died happily. I think there is no finer tribute to New York, old or reinvented, than that.

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