The echte traditional Yonah Shimmel's Knish bakery, for example, is now serving mainly the bloated veggie burgers that pass as knish in Israel and its outlying orthodox neighborhoods such as ... Teaneck New Jersey. A knish is square, ugly, and brown. It should not look healthy. It is not merely a bit of dough warpped around some broccoli. It... is knishness... It should not look like the knish pictured below... an abomination to the greasy, salty, brown potato stuffed memory of the Ukraine and Moldova we know as... knish. (Go to Katz's if you want a real knish.)
Ladies and Mentschen... this is not a knish. If you want to find the good old time deli stuff, you have to trek out a bit. Aron and I took the Bx 7 bus from 181st street in Manhatten to the Riverdale / Knightsbridge area of the Bronx to try out Liebman's Deli, one of the last of the old classic delis left in the Bronx. We were not disappointed. Head off to 552 West 235th St. in Riverdale. Now!Liebman's is one of the last delis that cures and smokes its own corned beef and pastrami. This is no small task. The owner/manager is the son of the last owner, a real deli master, and he has managed to keep the tradition of the small deli alive through a high family standard of quality control. We were there on a weekday night, and it was hardly packed... neighborhood regulars mostly... The meat isn't thick cut like Katz's. It's machine sliced and rolled into a delicate meatwad in the style of the classic NY deli of forty years ago. Most NY delis used to serve their pastrami thin sliced back in the day. Liebman's seems to be stuck in a time warp, but in fact it rides the line between retro chic and downhome neighborhood eatery. Most patrons I saw there were actually eating their salads and roast chicken, not the classic leadbelly Jewish sandwiches. A lot of single New Yorkers eat out almost every night, and lots of extremely non-exotic, home style restaurants exist to serve them. If I lived in the area and didn't want second rate Thai food or sushi, I would eat at Liebman's regularly as well...
This is actually what most of us from the Bronx remember as the "real" pastrami. Katz's was, essentially, an anachronistic specialty that you got on those rare trips to the once dangerous and decrepit Lower East Side. Liebman's, however, is still a functioning neighborhood deli: no lines of tourists crowding to get in, and prices are fully half that of Katz's (pastrami for $9 instead of $15.) the bucket of pickles is on the table, the mustard is there, the drinks are Dr. Brown's cream soda... we are home.
A special treat we tried at Liebman's was mini kosher beef cocktail franks baked in knish dough. These are probably an invention of the owner, and if there were still dozens of other delis in the Bronx, as there were fifty years ago, they would probably all copy his idea. As it was, these were excellent substitute for any side dish like french fries. Don't visit Liebman's without ordering these. They make my mouth happy. The Bronx never appears in the pages of any New York City tourist guide - I know, because I always look. If you are in Manhatten and want to visit Liebman's, rest assured it is in one of the Bronx' most easy going neighborhoods - and in general, the Bronx is a pretty nice place to live these days. Take it from me, a native born Bronx boy. From Manhatten take the Bx7 bus from either 168th st. or 181st to 236th street in the Bronx - just tell the driver to call out your stop. (While living in exile in New York City during the 1940s, the great composer Bela Bartok lived around the corner, at 236th st and Cambridge Ave.) Or take the #1 subway to 231st or 238th and walk a few blocks. We ended our night at the An Beal Bocht, an Irish pub that features live music and good Irish food, while our friends from the Bosco Stompers played their annual get together Cajun Dance hall dance concert.This is a real find: the best Guinness Stout on tap in the city of New York, and Irish wait staff, and a diverse local clientele. The site of many of NY's finest traditional Irish music sessions, and only a few minutes north of Manhatten. Count me in.