Review of Yonah Schimmel Knish
By Chef Vincent Tropepe
In 1890, Yonah Schimmel a Romanian immigrant used a pushcart to start his knish bakery. As business grew, Yonah and his cousin Joseph Berger rented a small storefront on Houston Street. When Yonah left the business a few years later, Joseph took over the business retaining the original name. In 1910, the Bergers moved the business to the south side of Houston Street at its current location at 137 East Houston Street.
When I walked in, I felt it is a place of reverence, a place steeped in history. Yonah Schimmel knishes are widely known, but no matter what you read about it before, the feeling that overcomes you can’t be felt through words no matter how poetic the writer might be.
Because COVID-19 has continued to prevent indoor dining, the modest sit down area is closed, but from afar I did my best to glance around the walls taking in the signed autographs, traditionally painted family portraits, photographs of Woody Allen and loose discolored newspaper clippings that span decades. The items on the wall are meant to be seen, but not on the wall in a decorative way rather moreso like posted on a community bulletin board at your local supermarket which in my opinion gives the place character.
Yonah Schimmel knishery is one of the last immigrant relics of New York City. It is situated in what was a mega hub of Jewish culture – the lower east side. It was here that thousands of Jews of all ethnicities that were fleeing Russian and Polish anti – Semitism in the late 19thCentury settled to start their new lives.
When the Jewish community found financial and educational opportunities they moved from the lower east side to the Bronx and Brooklyn.
Having eaten every knish from their menu, the knish itself is a well-crafted cloud of potato. You can eat more then one (or two, or three) without noticing. The different varieties are balanced with just enough potato to the variety you may choose. Yonah Schimmel knishery also has a verity of dessert knishes with a delicious cheese base and a variety of fillings such as cherry, apple, blueberry and chocolate to name a few.
Yonah Schimmel is the American dream of brick and mortar beginnings as an immigrant establishment. It has achieved widespread success and endurance. In the restaurant business it is a familiar tension between retaining tradition and adjusting to contemporary demands, but as the knishery faces pressure of assimilation it maintains its roots. As a restaurant and food consultant and having been put on planes by business owners and travel to wherever they are this give and take is rare and it’s probably one of the core reasons why Yonah Schimmel still stands to this day.
Location: 137 E. Houston Street New York, NY 10002