When it comes to smoked fish, bagels and cream cheese, the only two places that really matters in New York are Barney Greengrass on Upper West and Russ & Daughters on Lower East.
A couple of years ago, I happened to stay at a place just across the street from Barney Greengrass, and after a couple of days of curious gazes and online research, I decided to give it a try.
For more than 100 years, Barney Greengrass (also known as The Sturgeon King) has provided New Yorkers with all sorts of smoked fish and caviar. The original deli was in Harlem, but in 1929 they moved to the current location at 541 Amsterdam Avenue.
Stepping into Barney Greengrass is like stepping into a long gone era. In the windows, newspaper articles bear witness of some of the prominent guests, who have visited the place through the years. Barney Greengrass has also been featured in several movies, so if you’ve seen Smoke, You’ve got mail or Revolutionary Road, you might recognize the place. The décor, the furniture and the items on the menu all screams 1950s but in case you wonder, I can inform you that the prices are very much 2014.
Barney Greengrass is most famous for their high grade smoked fish, but you can also get cheese sandwiches, soups and caviar, if smoked fish isn’t really your thing. I ordered the signature $15 scrambled eggs and Lox, which came with a toasted bagel and a generous block of cream cheese. The eggs and the salmon was a match made in heaven and the cream cheese was like a mouthful of soft, white clouds. Unfortunately, the bagel was burnt, and I probably should have sent it back. It was a shame, because the bagel detracted from the overall impression of an otherwise fabulous meal.
Judging from several online sources, Barney Greengrass has quite a reputation for abrupt and at times outright rude service, so I was pleasantly surprised by the charming and friendly staff on duty the day I was visiting. Maybe it was because I was there at the more quiet hours between breakfast and lunch rushes, I don’t know (maybe I just shouldn’t listen to “online sources”), but the staff really made me feel welcome and appreciated.
Will I visit again? Oh yes, and maybe already next week, when I’m off to New York again. Read about my visit to Barney Greengrass in 2016, when the bagels were just perfect>>
My guide to the bagels I love in New York City >>
Barney Greengrass, 541 Amsterdam Avenue (between 86th Street and 87th Street), Upper West Side, New York