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Eat and Drink

NYC's disappearing foods and beverages

New York City is a place of constant change. Neighborhoods look and feel different with each year. Restaurants open. Restaurants close. And our palates change.

Some classic New York foods, once easy to find, require a bit more of a search these days.

Matzo

Yes, you can still purchase matzo all over
Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Yes, you can still purchase matzo all over the city. But when Streit's Matzo Factory, the last matzo factory on the Lower East Side, closed in 2015, we were, well, verklempt.

The LES, once a Jewish stronghold, has only a few remaining vestiges of that old-world cuisine left. There has been some resurgent interest in smoked fish and appetizing foods, however: Russ & Daughters opened a second location, Russ & Daughters Cafe, in 2014.

Streit's still bakes matzo in its Meadowlands, New Jersey, location, but passersby are no longer able to connect with the matzo by watching the show through the LES location's famous window. And what's next?

"Prices are going up, costs are going up and production is going down," co-owner Alan Adler said in 2015.

Bialys

Bialys are named after the town Bialystok, in
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

Bialys are named after the town Bialystok, in Poland. But according to urban legend, there is some controversy about what, exactly, a bialy is and when and how it earned the moniker. In Poland, Jewish bakers called them Bialystoker kuchen. In the early 1900s in New York, the name was shortened to just bialy, according to food historian and critic Mimi Sheraton. She wrote an entire book on the subject, 2002's "The Bialy Eaters."

While at one point in NYC bialy bakeries were everywhere -- there was even the Bialy Bakers Association, Inc. -- today there are only a couple of places to get traditional bialys: yeast rolls with an indentation in the middle filled with bits of caramelized and crispy onions and, often, poppy seeds. Kossar's Bagels & Bialys, located on a quiet stretch on the LES and in operation since 1936, is one of those places (367 Grand St., kossarsbialys.com). Good bialys can also be found at Russ & Daughters (179 E. Houston St., russanddaughters.com), Hot Bialys & Bagels (116-63 Queens Blvd., Forest Hills, 718-544-0900) and Hot Bread Kitchen (La Marqueta, 1590 Park Ave., hotbreadkitchen.org).

Seltzer

Nowadays, (in New York City, at least) you
Photo Credit: Brooklyn Seltzer Boys

Nowadays, (in New York City, at least) you can buy seltzer at any corner bodega, and you can even make your own. But no matter how much you love your SodaStream, the bubbles will never be as painfully sharp and punishing as when you order seltzer from a bottler and have it delivered to your doorstep in those thick, glass bottles. The pressure, the weight of carbon dioxide applied to the water, doesn't even come close to the mass-produced options.

Very few people actually get seltzer delivered, but we are advocating for a return to this old-fashioned system. It's just the best you can get, and isn't that worth going to great lengths for? Gomberg Seltzer Works Inc. in Canarsie is the last seltzer bottler in the city, and you can order it delivered from the Brooklyn Seltzer Boys (brooklynseltzerboys.com), a family-run business.

Egg Cream

One of the great controversies about the egg
Photo Credit: Joe Dombroski

One of the great controversies about the egg cream is the origin of its name. This delicious beverage is not made with eggs at all. The consistency is only slightly like an egg-white mixed with frothy milk. Once you get over being confounded, the only thing to consider is where you can get your hands on one.

Made with just three ingredients -- cold milk, seltzer and chocolate syrup (historically and best, with Fox's U-Bet Syrup) -- this concoction is as pleasurable as that other three-ingredient drink, the dirty martini.

The egg cream used to be available at all kinds of places, from delis to drugstores. These days, you can find it at classic joints including Gem Spa, 131 Second Ave.; Ray's Candy Store, 113 Avenue A; and Juniors (pictured), original location at 386 Flatbush Ave. in Brooklyn. You'll also see them on retro-inspired menus at Brooklyn Farmacy, 513 Henry St., and Russ & Daughters Cafe, 127 Orchard St.

Knish

Ah, the knish: yeasty bread wrapped thinly around
Photo Credit: iStock

Ah, the knish: yeasty bread wrapped thinly around fragrant fillings of potato, or, more traditionally, kasha, chicken livers, onions and shmaltz. These tasty delights, with both Jewish and Ukrainian roots, can be found in healthy and ethnic grocery stores. But if you want a warm, just-cooked knish, you have to head to Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery, at 137 E. Houston St., on the Lower East Side. Dating to 1910, it's the first knishery in NYC and is still in operation today.

Lox

Sure, you can pick up lox at any
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Joel Saget

Sure, you can pick up lox at any grocery store, but lox made in New York City is extremely hard to come by. Some appetizing stores make it themselves, but there are only a handful of smoked fish operations left here. Our favorite place is ACME Smoked Fish, 30 Gem St. in Williamsburg. Open 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on "Fish Fridays," stop in for samples and buy as much lox, gravlax, whitefish, herring and a host of other products as your heart desires.

Baked Alaska

Once a standby of steakhouses and high-end dining
Photo Credit: Brent Herrig

Once a standby of steakhouses and high-end dining establishments around the city, the baked Alaska can now only be found at a few places. The dish (with that name) originated at Delmonico's Restaurant, which opened in 1837 and is still in business. A baked Alaska is essentially a piece of cake with ice cream on top, which is then covered with meringue and set on fire. It's quite the showstopper.

You can still get it at Delmonico's, 56 Beaver St., and a quite delicious version made with semifreddo instead of ice cream can be found at Saul, located inside the Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Pkwy. Daniel Boulud's DBGB, 299 Bowery, also serves the dessert.

Lobster Newburg

Just how this dish, made with lobster, butter,
Photo Credit: Delmonico's Restaurant

Just how this dish, made with lobster, butter, cream, cognac, sherry, eggs and cayenne pepper, came to be, and just where it was created is a subject of much debate. The most popular theory sets its introduction to eaters at, yes, Delmonico's Restaurant. According to the book "Dining at Delmonico's," the dish was introduced and named after Ben Wenberg, a sea captain who was a loyal patron of the restaurant. In 1876, home from a cruise, Wenberg entered Delmonico's and said that he had brought back with him a new way to cook lobster: in a chafing dish. Owner Charles Delmonico loved it and put it on the menu, calling it Lobster a la Wenberg. Months later, after a dispute between the men, Wenberg was banished and Delmonico changed the spelling from "Wenberg" to "Newberg."

The dish is still on the menu at Delmonico's.

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