“The latkes aren’t on the menu, but you want them.” Our waiter, Joey, didn’t have time for small talk. We got the picture and quickly ordered the eggs and lox and a pastrami sandwich to go along with his recommendation.
It was my first trip to New York that didn’t involve work commitments and only Teddy’s second that wasn’t all about trailing down Fifth Avenue loaded with shopping bags.
Between us and together, we’d hit the tourist highlights before. This visit, we wanted to spend time in a neighborhood. I’d found a hotel amongst the apartment houses on the Upper West Side. The lodging was meh, but it was an easy walk down from the subway station at 72nd and Broadway and down to Riverside Drive. On a sunny Saturday, we treated ourselves to watching families at little league games and basked in the sparkle off the Hudson.
Barney Greengrass has been at Amsterdam Avenue and 87th Street since 1929, having relocated in 1908 from its original spot on the corner of West 113th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue at a time when Harlem was still a largely Jewish part of the city.
“Grab a copy of the Sunday Times and the New York Post and sit down for some eggs scrambled in some brown onion and lox. Be sure to get a basket of toasted bialeys and maybe a heap of nova and sturgeon. On your way out the door, get some of their chopped liver to go. It’s the best in New York.”
The neighborhood fixture is now run by Gary Greengrass, grandson of the founder. He still works the cash and is warm and kind to regulars and first-time diners alike. Those queuing up outside can consider yellowed news clips posted in the front window. Clearly by intention, the storied institution has changed little in 90 years.
We were led past the main room–containing a short stretch of white porcelain counter with a few small stools, along with an enormous set of display cases and a handful of tables–to the side room, already full at 9 on a Saturday morning but for our two seats.
The mood was relaxed, happy and familiar. Grandparents nuzzled the babies and caught up with their own kids. Couples settled in, most not glancing at the menu but requesting the usual from their favorites among the wait staff.
The food arrived in short order. After one bite, I immediately hijacked half of Teddy’s pastrami. He was already sweet on my lox, so no matter. And the latkes, just crispy enough and properly warm, with applesauce and sour cream on the side, changed my life just a little bit. Joey was glad to hear it.
Barney Greengrass, 541 Amsterdam Ave. and 86th Street, 212.724.4707. barneygreengrass.com