Monday, May 12, 2008

A schmear in the land of steer

This Sunday afternoon I decided to treat myself to a proper NYC bagel. My 32nd birthday is coming up and I’m feeling a bit homesick. I kept seeing advertisements online for “Manny Hattan’s New York Delicatessen, and I decided I needed to go and evaluate it. First check in the “con” column is that it’s up at the Gateway Marketplace – miles North of where I live. But if it’s good, that con can be overlooked easily. Second con, within the Gateway Marketplace, it’s sort of hard to determine where this place actually is, and the parking immediately around it is limited. Okay, so that’s two cons. A half con is that I wasn’t greeted promptly by a waiter upon being seated. This isn’t a biggie, but if it had gone on much longer than it had, I’d probably have been a bit cranky. The prospect of a bagel keeps me elevated. And the last con, which I guess should only qualify for a half con, is all the signage around the place. It’s hilarious to me that a deli (Deli is generous, by New York standards) in North Austin has signs saying “Home of the World Famous Reuben” as if it were invented here. I will say, though, that while the “Featuring Grandma’s Homemade Matzah Ball Soup” sign entertained me because now I’m intrigued enough to get a pint of it (or however they sell it) to take home and inspect. (For the record, I have never seen it spelled with an “a” – in my Brooklyn world I have only ever seen it spelled “Matzoh.”)

So what did I order, you might ask? They had a “Hudson Special” (again, chuckle-inducing name) where you could get two different smoked/cured fish with your bagel. I chose to have the ever-popular toasted everything bagel with cream cheese, whitefish salad, and lox. Let’s just hope they don’t put the whitefish salad on top of the cream cheese. That would be tragic. I also ordered a coffee, which has proven to be just the kind I like (with my little creamer and two packets of even more fake blue sweetener). They also provide you with a stainless steel bowl of two dill pickles and some kraut. That’s a definite check in the “pro column” as we all know how much I love pickles.

The plate arrives with a lightly toasted everything bagel (I like them lightly toasted, so that works for me) with nothing on it, a decent-sized scoop of whitefish, a little individually packed tub of name-brand cream cheese (slight minus), some tomato slices, and about four pieces of lox with some capers scattered on top. My one gripe is that the seasonings on the bagel were only on the top. But I suppose I can’t find that as a fault of this place – after all, they’re H&H bagels. So far so good. Now to eat.

The first half was exquisite. I don’t know if these really are H&H bagels (though I’m not sure how they could market them that way if they weren’t), but they are the perfect consistency. The cream cheese, was, well, supermarket cream cheese, but that’s all you need when you’re putting lox on top. And the lox was sort of thick, but not too bad. I’m really just looking for things to complain about at this point. I’ve never been a caper fan, so they remain on the plate. But if the second half of this bagel with whitefish salad is as good as the first half, I might have to make this a bi-monthly trip. (I can’t afford it on a monthly basis. Sodas here are around $2.50. So is the coffee, if you can believe it. I haven’t determined if there are free refills for either yet.)

The whitefish is more fragrant than flavorful. It’s not bad, but it’s not like La Bagel Delight around the corner from my house in Brooklyn. I tried it with the bagel, not so great. I tried it with the bagel and tomatoes. No improvement. I tried it with just tomatoes. Ditto. I even tried it on its own in order to give it a fair chance. It’s not that it’s bad, but something about the seasoning is off. I just doesn’t have the personality as the whitefish salad of my youth. Next time around, instead of getting a half order of both fishes, I’m definitely going with the full order of lox, and they had better include a second tub of Pennsylvania City cream cheese, because one of those tubs is really only enough for a generous schmear on one half of a bagel.

All in all, the bill came out to around $16.50. I know lox and whitefish salad are pricier items in the city as well, but c’mon….this is pretty crazy. I’m just trying to remind myself that this was an experiment in finding a decent bagel in Austin. And on that front, it was a raving success. But like I said, including a tip we’re talking $20 and that certainly isn’t something that I can afford with any regularity.

To eat or not to eat

The theme of this blog keeps changing....but I think I've finally stumbled on a good topic - food. At the most basic of levels, food sustains. But when it's really great, food also entertains. Preparing it or enjoying it, both can be hobbies, and as it turns out, they're my hobbies. Weekends are when I do the majority of my cooking (I'm normally too exhausted during the week to do any significant cooking), but even when not really cooking anything new, I try to be creative. For me, drinks fall under the broad interests of the foodie, so I'll be writing about that a bit too. And as a quick disclaimer, by foodie I don't mean I eat cornish game hen with parsnip puree and quince chutney (or whatever)...I mean I enjoy food in most (all?) of its iterations. So don't be surprised if some store-bought breadcrumbs and canned tuna make appearances. That's just how I do things.