Goldberg's Is a Champ
On our yearly trip to the Big Apple, our family liked to have Sunday breakfast at Rattner's, on the Lower East Side. My sister and I got a quarter each to spend at the penny-candy shop next door while our parents and grandmother waited for a table. A few minutes later, laden with a month's supply of licorice whips, fake-watermelon slices, and candy dots, we joined our elders for the complimentary pre-breakfast spread: sour and half-sour dill pickles, pickled tomatoes, sauerkraut, bagels, bialies, pumpernickel bread, and sweet butter. That was breakfast enough for Bubbie and us kids; I never understood how my parents could manage to eat lox and eggs after all that.
The Rattner's reminiscence is as good an introduction as any to this week's ethnic walk on the wild side, Goldberg's Kosher New York Bagels. Go early for breakfast, or do as we did: Grab an early lunch, before the tiny storefront gets crowded with a Pikesville cross section: men with beards, yarmulkes, and curling sideburns; many young children; middle-aged gals in jogging suits; business types; kibitzing retired guys; and the usual mix of blue-hairs.
Everyone who works here--from the order-taker at the counter to the man who clears the tables--sings out, "Have a good lunch!" The order-taker, while furiously scribbling my order, even asked my name.
"Susan," I said.
Her pencil stopped. She looked at me for the first time. Her face softened. "That's a beautiful name," she said.
"Thank you," I said.
"You know why it's beautiful? It's my name too."
The young man standing beside her, emptying coleslaw into a bin, spoke up. "I have a beautiful name too."
"You're also a Susan?" I asked.
"No. Adam," he said. "If you don't believe me, ask my mother. She's sitting right behind you."
I turned. A hefty blond woman in an apron nodded between bites.
To savor this heady repartee, I had brought along my friend Karen and her sons, Anton and Sasha, all bagel connoisseurs. The boys began their repast with a voluptuous fruit salad ($1.89), ample for at least two, a mini-mountain of cantaloupe, honeydew, apples, grapes, pineapple, and strawberries, all fresh, fragrant, and juicy. The boys devoured it.
While they pondered drink choices at the refrigerated case, Karen and I sampled a bowl of mushroom-barley soup (free with the order of a combination plate; you can substitute a salad or a 20-ounce fountain beverage for the soup if you prefer). Eat a whole bowl and you'll eat nothing else. Thick with pearls of barley and sliced mushrooms and hot as hell, it's an earthy meal fit for a Cossack, or a Jew running from one.
We had to try a knish, OK, two knishes ($1.99 each). Spinach and kasha (buckwheat groats). Inside their thin dough wrappers, the spinach was light and delicate, the kasha hearty but a mite dry. No problem. We dunked it into the soup. Again, I was delighted that the hot dishes were served piping hot.
Don't look here for deli, as in corned-beef or pastrami sandwiches. The bagels are the main attraction, and they attract quite a crowd. The pumpernickel got a double thumbs-up from Karen, who loved their heartiness and flavor. We both liked the Black Russian bagel, which is akin to the pumpernickel but with a milder, slightly sweet taste. The "everything" bagel deserves special mention because it comes in both the traditional round form and baked into a stick. (Sasha swears the stick tastes better.)
Karen and I shared an interesting combination: The Israeli Special ($5.25) is a bialy (like a bagel, but without the hole) served with one's choice of egg or tuna salad (we chose tuna), hummus, and baba ghanouj, and garnished with green pepper, cucumber, lettuce, and tomato. The tuna was a dense preparation, more like a purée than a salad, and the flavor was boosted a notch with celery. The baba ghanouj was great, chunky instead of smooth, with that wild, smoky taste the dish demands. The hummus, zippy with spice, earned an accolade from usually hummus-indifferent Karen: "It's not the usual tasteless mush."
Goldberg's desserts ($1.50-$2.49) are shipped in from New York. A chocolate "cigar" featured a flaky crust dusted with powdered sugar and miniature chocolate chips. Anton, a chocoholic, pronounced it gratifying.
Sasha's lemon turnover had a rich and flaky dough and the requisite powdered-sugar topping concealing a filling that tasted both sweet and tart. Karen and I shared the cheese Danish. (Would we like it warmed? We would.) This is a dessert for grown-ups--it's not overly sweet, and you can really taste the cheese.
The deli-that-doesn't-serve-deli was humming now, its bagel oven on overdrive. Behind the counter, under his breath, Adam was singing or praying, I couldn't tell which. Both, maybe. If the "Have a good lunch!" sung by staffers is a prayer, consider it fulfilled.