Manhattan, New York – Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery

Restaurant: Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery
Cuisine: Bakery/Eastern European/Kosher
Last visited: September 12, 2011
Location: Manhattan, NY (Lower East Side)
Address: 137 E Houston St
Transit: 2 Av
Price Range: $10 or less

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 
Service: 4
Ambiance: 1.5
Overall: 4.5
Additional comments:

  • Since 1910
  • Family owned/operated
  • Local favourite
  • Famous for home made knish
  • Authentic knish recipe
  • Traditional & modern flavours
  • Limited menu
  • Hole in the wall
  • Quick bite
  • Kosher
  • Vegetarian friendly
  • Budget-friendly/Cheap eats
  • Very limited seats
  • Eat in/Take out
  • Catering available
  • Sun 9am-7pm
  • Mon-Thu 9am-7:30pm
  • Fri-Sat 9am-11pm

**Recommendations: Knish. Matzo ball soup and latkes are supposed to be good too, but I didn’t try it.

And this was the scene of the crime… well sort of. It was the potential scene of the crime. It was here that I forgot my camera and left it sitting on the communal counter right by the door of Yonah Shimmel Knish Bakery. Careless. So very careless. I didn’t even realize I had left it until half an hour later when I was walking by Insomnia Cookies (cookies by delivery until 3am) and wanted to take a picture of it. I reached into my purse and realized it was gone and went into major panic mode.

It was about 10 days in Follow Me Foodie to New York and I had dined at 48-58 restaurants (depending if you count food trucks, street food, small cafés and bakeries as restaurants), and I had taken photos of every single dish I had ordered and eaten at each place. All my delicious memories were on that camera.

Katz’s DeliEisenberg’s Sandwich ShopShake ShackCafé HabanaJean-GeorgesBREADEggTraifBlue HillDessert Club, ChikaLiciousAldeaPeasantBoqueria SohoManzo, Il Pesce, IppudoLaduréePruneBig Gay Ice Cream ShopThe Spotted PigRiviera Maya Mexican CuisineEataly (Gelateria/Gelato)Momofuku Noodle BarMomofuku Milk BarMá PêcheLombardi’s PizzaGrimaldi’s PizzeriaRuss & DaughtersRice to RichesThe Halal GuysVan Leeuwen Artisan Ice CreamBonChon ChickenThe Fat RadishMilk Street CafeApothékeIl Laboratorio Del GelatoSake Bar DecibelNew York Street FoodThe Best Chocolate Cake in the World and then still 15 or so I haven’t even written about yet were all documented on that camera.

Realizing I had left my camera at a little hole in the wall restaurant in the Lower East Side almost triggered immediate tears. I didn’t care about the camera, but it was the stuff on it. How was I going to blog and report back to you without any photos to show? I swear that was one of the first questions to pass through my mind. The fear was more intense than realizing you had lost your wallet (which I’ve done before) and I wanted to fire myself. What kind of food blogger leaves their camera?!

I didn’t even know if there was a point on going back to the restaurant. It was already half an hour later and I was sure it would be gone. It was worth a shot though and I started running all the way back with my fingers crossed while chanting “please don’t be gone”. In New York, a taxi would have taken longer during rush hour. The last time I ran this hard was in high school when gym was mandatory… and you are right to assume the shoes I was wearing were not flats. I was running so hard my Follow Me Foodie notebook even flew out of my purse, but luckily a girl picked it up and ran after me to give it back. New York. You have good people.

I swung open the door to Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery completely out of breathe and looked over at the counter where I had stood to eat my knish. And there it was. Sitting all alone on the counter was my camera. I lept for it.

Tears. Tears of joy… and sweat… were running down my face. I looked over at the small line up of tourists and all of them were giving me that “wow, you’re so lucky!” face. I knew I was! The food gods were definitely on my side that day.

I ended up popping into Whole Foods nearby and bought a homeless person lunch and then a tray of cupcakes for the Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery staff. They didn’t even know I had left it, but I’m a semi-believer in karma. I think bad and good things will happen to anyone regardless of how bad or good they are, but I was just so happy to have my camera back that I wanted to shower everyone with happiness… which is usually in the form of food to me.

So a big thank you to the people of New York for being so good as to not take my camera. You have no idea how appreciative I am. I actually got a bit emotional just rewriting that story.

Now back to Yonah. There are three places in the Lower East Side that are considered New York institutions and this is one of them. Katz’s Deli and Russ & Daughters are the other two, but all three represent New York in the early days when the Jewish immigrants settled in this area with their family owned and operated delis, appetizer shops, and bakeries. In fact, Katz’s Deli is the deli shop, Russ & Daughters is the appetizer shop and Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery is the bakery from back in the day that still remain standing.

They are classic establishments and located walking distance from each other, so I would definitely do a mini food tour and visit all three in one go. These are the long time players in New York let alone the Lower East Side, which has now changed and modernized from what it originally was.

I’ve actually never had a knish before, but I saw them a lot throughout New York. I knew what it was, but had never tried one. Being from Vancouver, BC I wasn’t familiar with them and my travels hadn’t introduced me to knishes yet. I was glad that my first knish was going to be at Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery.

This is the oldest knish bakery and one of the very first in New York. It has been open since 1910 and apparently nothing has changed; not the recipe or the ambiance and it still remains family owned and operated with no expansion.

To be honest, this wasn’t on my itinerary. I didn’t know about its history, but I just wanted to try a knish before leaving New York and I happened to walk by this one. There was no line up and it didn’t even look touristy, but it looked legit. I could smell potatoes as soon as I walked in and that was convincing enough.

A knish is a Jewish American food made famous in New York. It was brought in the 1900′s by the Jewish and Eastern European immigrants. The recipe and word was adapted by the Ukrainians who made knysh which means “a kind of bun”. They used to sell them from carts before they had enough to open bakeries and restaurants.

It’s a baked, grilled or deep fried bun filled with a potato stuffing and wrapped in a flaky pastry dough. It reminded me of a Polish Kolache meets a pierogi, or an Eastern European version of an empanada. It’s interesting how all cultures just borrow from each other and I’m sure if I did more research on it, the origins of knish would be arguable.

It is nothing fancy and it is an affordable and quick snack, but it actually feels like a meal and is substantial enough for lunch. They are very heavy and dense and the size of a giant softball and I could take a nap after one. They come in savoury and sweet flavours and although they’re offered at delis around New York, I would say this is a good benchmark fro them.

Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery is popular to locals, still frequented by the Jewish community and apparently make “the best knish in New York”. As a tourist trying them for the first time I can’t form much of an opinion and perhaps they could get better, but this set a high standard and it is part of New York food history and culture.

On the table:

**Mushroom Knish5/6 (Excellent)

  • $3.50
  • Savoury knishes: potato, kasha (buckwheat groats), mushrom, vegetables, spinach, cabbage, sweet potato and broccoli. $3.50
  • Sweet knishes with cheese: apple, cherry, blueberry, chocolate, apple strudel or plain. $4
  • This was my first time trying a knish, but Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery is the said benchmark for them in New York.
  • I ordered mushroom based on recommendation and it was served piping hot. The stuffing is so dense it retains so much heat.
  • I think they reheat them upon order, but they’re made fresh daily.
  • You’re supposed to eat them with yellow mustard.
  • It’s a baked, grilled or deep fried bun filled with a potato stuffing and wrapped in a flaky pastry dough.
  • They are very heavy and dense and the size of a giant softball and it could easily be lunch even though it is considered a snack.
  • It reminded me of a Polish Kolache meets a pierogi, or an Eastern European version of an empanada.

  • It was a barely there ultra thin pastry dough, so it wasn’t particularly flaky and I’m not sure how it is authentically supposed to be.
  • The dough was soft instead of crispy so I think they are baked instead of grilled or deep fried and then just reheated upon order.
  • It was stuffed with a creamy moist mashed potato with tangy mushrooms.
  • I actually wasn’t keen on the mushrooms because they tasted canned even if they were fresh.
  • The smooth potato stuffing just melted in your mouth and it was super soft and not starchy. It was almost like polenta.
  • There were still little chunks of potato and it was a bit lemony, but not as buttery as expected.
  • It was buttery in texture more so than flavour and it was simply seasoned with salt and pepper.
  • For what it was, it was likely an excellent knish, but I would be curious to try other flavours and other knishes, or I might not appreciate how good this one was.
  • I would recommend it as a “should try” instead of a “must try”, unless you’re seeking “cheap eats” or “best knish” in New York.
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7 Comments

  • Linda says:

    i really like this place and it actually ended up on my itinerary when i was in NYC – the only problem was that we went here right after hitting up katz since it was only a block away and we were already stuffed! my bf and i ordered the spinach one and couldn’t even finish it! did you end up eating yours with mustard? we tried it with and without it and we preferred without :)

  • john pak says:

    It’s like reading a fictional story. Marvellous.

  • KimHo says:

    This is a case where the preamble beats the story… Indeed, it was karma! :)

  • Bow says:

    What a nice story, a happy ending ! Knishes are definitely comfort food. I like to poke a hole in the middle and put in hot mustard(eating a potato knish)…heavy, but helps hangovers and winter cold. Only had local ones but they were enjoyable.

  • Mijune says:

    @Linda – To be honest I didn’t know I was supposed to eat it with mustard! I didn’t learn that until after!! So cool that you two went here Linda! I’m curious where else you guys went! Yeah these things are filling!! Definitely a meal… so starchy and heavy… I could go to bed after!

    @john pak – lol thanks!!!!

    @KimHo – lol thanks kim! Big word there.

    @Bow – bow! You’ve had local ones!? From where?! I’ve never even seen them in Vancouver yet! thanks for commenting! Glad you enjoyed the story!

  • Isabel says:

    You should actually try the knishes at Solly’s bagels. They’re great! Very very delicious.

  • Mijune says:

    @Isabel – I didn’t even know Solly’s made them! Will do! Thank you for the tip!

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