In Search of the Perfect Knish

Kasha Knish at B & H C.C. Glenn A kasha knish at B & H Dairy & Vegetarian, 127 Second Avenue.

Traditionalists argue whether a knish should be round or square, baked or fried, but what about blueberry or chocolate cheese? Is a knish truly a knish if it’s not a savory potato snack?

In search of a culinary adventure on Tuesday night, a couple dozen knish veterans, newbies and plain epicurious folks met in Tompkins Square Park to embark on NYC Food Crawl’s newest installment – a quest for the perfect knish.

Like a giddy camp counselor, Amanda Gilmore organized teams with captains, doled out maps of knish stops and gave out tips to crawlers while standing atop a gate post. “It’s all about going at your own pace,” said Ms. Gilmore, one of the founders of NYC Food Crawl. “Patience is generally key.”

In scavenger hunt fashion, crawlers followed a map marked with four knish spots plus a bonus: Yonah Schimmel’s, the legendary, 100-year-old knishery on Houston and Forsyth Streets. Aside from B & H on Second Avenue, the food trail ventured outside of the East Village, incorporating a handful of delis and knisheries in the Lower East Side, including Noah’s Ark, Kossar’s Bialys and Katz’s Delicatessen, which was eerily boarded up during dinner time for repairs. Food crawls typically visit more locations, Ms. Gilmore said, maybe six or more, within a smaller geographical area.

The NYC Food Crawl was created after a friend of Ms. Gilmore, in search of pork buns, posted a pork bun-eating expedition on Nonsense NYC on a whim. Unexpectedly, more than 50 fellow pork bun lovers showed up. Ms. Gilmore and a few friends then decided to organize, market their events and schedule them monthly. Announced via tweets, Facebook events and word-of-mouth, the crawls are free with a pay-as-you-go policy.

Schimmel's Potato Knish
Box of Knishes from Schimmel'sC.C. Glenn Potato knish (top) and a box of blueberry, broccoli and kasha knish at Yonah Schimmel’s, 137 East Houston Street.

Past months have featured dumplings, tacos, cannoli and ice cream. “We didn’t want to do the same old bar thing,” said Ms. Gilmore. “It’s about reimagining your urban territory.” A lot of thought goes into choosing the perfect food item for a crawl, Ms. Gilmore said. Portability, affordability, messiness and location all factor into creating a crawl. Pierogies are too messy, and kimchi doesn’t lend itself to being eaten on the go.

The knish – a large warm heap of potatoes, onions and salt baked underneath a thin layer of dough – has certainly been part of the urban territory for more than a century. Knish eaters, bakers and historians argue over its origins, and its correct ingredients.

The original knish contains only potatoes. But some knisheries have branched out, baking or even frying (to the chagrin of purists) the round, biscuit-looking snack and adding such ingredients as cheese, peppers, blueberries and even pizza sauce. Most, if not all, knishes are kosher, of course, as the knish was brought to America by Eastern European Jewish immigrants in the late 19th century.

After clearing several plates of knish varieties at Yonah Schimmel’s, Susie Baumohl and friends ordered a couple more: pizza, then chocolate cheese for dessert. All grew up in Jewish households and they recalled fond childhood memories of knish. Friend and co-knish conspirator Cara Rochwarger admitted that she often buys frozen knish from grocery stores because they’re easy to prepare. Heat it up, squirt on some mustard and commence knishing.

At B & H Dairy and Vegetarian, only two knish options are available: original potato and kasha, more commonly known as buckwheat. The kasha knish is filled with lumpy buckwheat groats and smothered with hot mushroom gravy. Enough for dinner, the knish is cheap, only $3.25 at B & H, and $3.50 at Yonah Schimmel’s.

First-time knish eater Charles Jiang tried the knish and matzo ball soup from Noah’s Ark Original Deli on Grand Street. “I was just trying Jewish food left and right,” said Mr. Jiang, who, being raised in a Chinese family, had never tried such delights. “I will definitely have a knish again,” said Mr. Jiang.

The agenda for NYC Food Crawl’s November outing? “We could do a cranberry crawl,” said Tiffany Lynch, the instigator of the knish idea. “Cranberry donuts, cranberry sauce, cranberry pie…”

Here are a few noted knisheries that were the destinations for the NYC Food Crawl’s tour:

Yonah Schimmel’s, 137 East Houston Street (at Forsyth)
Noah’s Ark Original Deli, 399 Grand Street (at Clinton)
Kossar’s Bialys, 367 Grand Street (at Essex)
Katz’s Delicatessen, 205 East Houston Street (at Ludlow)
B & H Dairy & Vegetarian, 127 Second Avenue (at St Marks Place)