Bagel and Lox

I’m always complaining that in Paris, you can never find what you’re looking for.

Let’s say you need shoelaces that are 110 cm. You’ll go to the shoelace department at the enormous BHV department store and on the wall of shoelaces, they’ll be 90cm…100cm…105cm…109cm…111cm.

But 110cm?
Of course not.

So here I am in New York presumably the greatest shopping city in the world. And I can’t find one of those things that keeps tortillas warm. I’ve checked Williams-Sonoma and the insanely-huge Bed, Bath and Beyond (where the security guard tailed me for a good 10 minutes…so maybe the stereotypes are true that Americans don’t like Parisians).
And lastly, Zabar’s.

As if I need an excuse to visit Zabar’s, one of the great food places in the world. If they don’t have it, it ain’t available.
(It wasn’t, btw…)

But oy vey!…all the pushing and shoving and jostling.

People were getting mad at me, so I had to tone it down.

I guess I’m not in Paris anymore.

But compared to Parisians, these New Yorkers are a piece of babka…although I’m still holding out on braving Fairway. Those Upper West Side women are mean-ass son’s of you-know-whats. My goodness, you’d think they’d never seen green grapes before. They will run you down with their strollers carrying designer babies just for a bunch of ’em, or for a couple of homely pears.

However in my search for good butter, I was missing out on the greatest breakfast treat of them all: lox and bagels. So at Zabar’s, I body slammed the little old ladies gathering in front of the cream cheese, reached over the people foolishly waiting patiently in line at the bakery counter for a couple of bagels, and kvetched with the guy who slices the lox about how things just aren’t the way they used to be anymore, but thank goodness we have our health. God willing.

Except for me and the tooth I broke eating pizza on my first night. So if you see somebody in New York City chewing funny and noshing only on soft Black & White Cookies for the next week, that’d be me.

Finally I woke up this morning and popped a seeded bagel in the toaster—which may alarm the bagel-extremists out there who say never toast a bagel—smeared a big wad of Philadelphia on it, and layered up the lox. No capers, no red onions.

And no warm tortillas when I get home, either. Still, I’m not complaining. Bagels and cream cheese and lox for breakfast?
I’m in heaven.

I may never go back to croissants.
But I’m definitely going back to Zabar’s.

80th and Broadway


  • Jane
    October 2, 2007 8:41am

    David, my dear. Tortillas = Mexico. Why don’t you grab a cab and demand to be taken to a Mexican grocery store? There must be loads of them. Somehow I don’t equate Zabar’s with tortilla warmers…

    By the way, I have seen silicon ones advertised. Was it Sur La Table? I’m not sure. Problem with those is that they don’t have any soul. Who wants a silicon tortilla warmer on their table?

    Your alternative, of course, is to go out for TexMex tonight and steal the one off the table. You can put it in your man purse.

  • joanne
    October 2, 2007 8:46am

    Hmm, I thought it was a California thing to get the Styrofoam warmers here. Also they are bad for the environment, and will crumble on you. Perhaps a plastic one? In that faux adobe brick color?

  • October 2, 2007 8:51am

    Since you’re on the upper west side already, keep going up to Washington Heights. I’m *sure* you can find a tortilla warmer up there. Zabar’s, not so much. The restaurant supply stores on the Bowery might carry them too.

    Good luck! And I’m sorry to have missed meeting you on Sunday — had other plans. Next time…

  • October 2, 2007 8:53am

    Just a quick suggestion: Go to the Fairway up on 131st/132ndish for a slightly less crowded experience. And whatever you do – GO DURING THE WEEKDAY. During the day it’s not nearly as awful. And weekends are the worst – unless you go early Saturday or Sunday morning :)

    I love Fairway beyond reason.

  • October 2, 2007 8:54am

    Hi Jane: ‘cept NYC is supposed to be the ‘great melting pot’, which I guess doesn’t include cucina mexicana. Plus, you should’ve seen as the useless junk they had at Bed, Bath and Beyond: triangular microwave pizza slice warmers, wine refrigerators, drain sanitizers (do people eat out of their drains?), special brushes for cleaning your pepper mill, thimble-sized little stainless-steel pitchers for steaming milk (huh?), and electric butter slicers (yes…really.)

    There was also something called a ‘Euro’ swivel-faucet, the likes of which I’ve never seen in Europe.

    But je suis d’accord on silicone. Like Pamela Anderson, they look a little odd.

    Nicole: I’ll only go if you come and act as my body-guard! ; )

  • October 2, 2007 9:05am

    Sounds like you can hold your own with those West Side shopping maniacs — and Zabar’s is worth it, after all. When we moved from New York to Boston, I thought, no problem, we should be able to find good bagels and lox here. Not so easy, as it turns out — but possible. Now we’re in RI, in the woods, and not a decent bagel in sight. So Zabar’s is sounding pretty good right now.

  • October 2, 2007 9:13am

    I happened to have also eaten a bagel with lox this morning while reminiscing about NYC – I also toasted the bagel!
    Yesterday I pushed past a slow walking old man in M&S and he said ‘what a shame, pushing’ like he was on an old country lane. While I understand his point, it took all my energy not to snap back ‘this is london, not your backyard!’
    then I felt guilty.
    My point is, sometimes the general atmosphere of life can make us misbehave, and I sympathise with those upper-west side women.

    Hand to Mouth

  • latenac
    October 2, 2007 9:42am

    Mexican food is missing from Manhattan but you should have tried Broadway Panhandler they usually have them.

  • Austin
    October 2, 2007 9:52am

    The overall esteem of the tortilla is VERY low in Manhattan. Washington Heights might have one, but you’re probably better off going to Queens to find it.

  • October 2, 2007 9:54am

    Or you could order one online:

    I’m sure there have to be Mexican groceries somewhere around there–we even had them in the midwest! Of course, I’m lazy and use warmed plates and a tea towel or two, which I know they have in Paris…

  • October 2, 2007 10:06am

    I agree with La Reveuse. I live in New Mexico and a plate with a couple of tea towels is what I use (assuming the tortillas last long enough to become cold). Out here, those styrofoam deals are ubiquitous but they’re so hideous!

    Of course the ideal is to have your abuelita (grandma)cook them for you as you eat them, no storage container needed, but that option’s not available for everyone.

  • October 2, 2007 10:07am

    Oy, you are too funny. I’m sure that security guard could tell you were a vrai Parisien too–I bet you had orange socks and a man purse on didn’t you. As for the toasted bagel, I’m all for it–I like them with cream cheese, cucumbers and cracked black pepper. Yum.

  • Fred
    October 2, 2007 10:37am

    David, the only reason the security guards followed you is you’re so darn cute :)

  • Steve Buccellato
    October 2, 2007 10:50am

    Hey, I was just trying to sell my tortilla warmer at a yard sale last weekend. Nobody bought it. If you want it, I’ll throw it in the mail! Mi tortilla warmer es su tortilla warmer. Or whatever.

    I miss Zabars.

  • val
    October 2, 2007 10:55am

    Perhaps, go to the side of town where the latinos hang out. The tortilla warmers will be there in the mercado. Or

    Good luck!

  • Maggie
    October 2, 2007 10:59am

    I recently found a tortilla warmer for $9.95 at Sur La Table after months of looking for one. Not sure if you’re still in the States, but just thought I’d mention it.

    It seems that I’d seen them for sale everywhere before I wanted to buy one, then suddenly they disappeared. : )

  • Susan
    October 2, 2007 11:01am

    Oh no! Not Philadelphia? You can get non-industrial cream cheese at Zabar’s or Fairway, much better.

    When you visit the uptown Fairway make sure you visit Dinosaur Barbecue for the BEST ribs. Skip the sides and concentrate on the meat. Tender enough for a broken tooth :-# (unlike the “flagels”, hard, flattened-out bagels that Fairway is now selling)

    Can’t help with the tortilla warmer — maybe in a dollar store in a less-gentrified neighborhood, or one of the Bowery restaurant supply places–that would be a good chance to blow your mind at the transformation of the East Village. There IS good Mexican food in NYC, but it’s spottier than the boroughs. I love Super Tacos su Ruedas, the truck parked nightly at 96th and B’way. For a real ethnic food field trip over the weekend maybe you can hit the ball fields in Red Hook, Brooklyn. So much food and shopping, so little time!

  • October 2, 2007 11:28am

    Susan: Yes, but there was quite a mob at the cheese counter and since I raised a ruckus cutting in line for the bagels, I didn’t want to push my luck.

    Steve: Thanks, but I’m on the move with no fixed address—although I wonder if you can ship it to Zabar’s and they’ll hold it for me?

    Fred: Why is it always the women, though?

    Michele: Cucumbers? On a bagel? You’d be laughed off the island of Manhattan if anyone in NY saw you do that.

    PS All: I went to Fairway this morning and this woman was going through and opening all the boxes of strawberries, fingering through them, and picking some out of one and putting them in another box.

    Good God, have people no shame?

    (And ick. I certainly hope she at least washed her hands before rifling through them.)

  • October 2, 2007 11:39am

    When I lived on 54th I went to Zabar’s and Fairway at least once a week. There truly is no place like Zabar’s. My husband refused to enter those stores exactly because of the jostling crowds and would always tell me how much he loathed going there. I personally thought it was simply part of the experience. Now I don’t go as frequently because I prefer to shop downtown (closer to Jersey City) so my weekly trek is to the Greenmarket instead. I save Zabar’s for special occasions or stop in when I am in Central Park. It is always worth the trip.

  • mango
    October 2, 2007 11:39am

    Poor David, most American are not rude and insensitive. It depends on the situation.

  • October 2, 2007 11:43am

    Hah! Here in Austin the restaurant supply store has 11 different kinds of tortilla warmer, and they sell them by the dozen.

    You can order them online, too, apparently.

    Just another reason to live in Austin: readily available tortilla warmers in a variety of colors and shapes.

  • civita
    October 2, 2007 12:03pm

    it seems a visit to jackson heights might be in order. it’s a quick subway ride from manhattan and has some of the best indian, thai, peruvian, mexican, columbian, argentinian, etc. restaurants in the city. in addition, you would certainly find a tortilla warmer at a shop along roosevelt avenue.

  • Susan
    October 2, 2007 12:19pm

    David, both Zabars and Fairway (and many local markets) pre-pack 8-oz tubs of fresh cream cheese so you don’t have to wait in line. Huge weekend demand for lox and cream cheese requires it!

    If you’re still looking for butter I see that Ronnybrook Farm sells four different kinds–you could probably find it tomorrow at the Union Square Greenmarket. Scrolling quickly through the Greenmarket list of producers I really didn’t see anyone else who does, though–mostly goat- and sheep-milk cheeses. I wonder if there are political issues similar to those described by the artisanal cheese vendors in Toronto. There the big (cow-milk) dairies have such a strong lobby that they coerced legislation that makes it prohibitively expensive for small-scale cow farmers to bring their dairy products to market. So you only find goat and sheep cheese at the St. Lawrence Market.

    That strawberry-pawing woman is like all the customers who insist on opening 8 ears of corn for each ear they deign to buy. Can’t you just imagine them trying that with a French greengrocer???

  • Jill
    October 2, 2007 12:55pm

    Restaurant supply stores here in Atlanta have tortilla warmers, I’m sure. I think you’re going to have to order online unless you want to start driving south while you’re still in the states.

  • Lynn T.
    October 2, 2007 1:00pm

    Your description of getting lox & bagels was so funny & brought back memories of my growing up days, but not so much from being part of your chocolate tour this last May—I see another side of you—-endearing as always.
    By the way, I tried yet another ice cream recipe to rave reviews for company: roasted banana!

  • October 2, 2007 1:22pm

    This may sound weird, but you find tortilla warmers in dollar stores or chain grocery stores(like alberstons and safeway)…if you time, try that.

  • October 2, 2007 1:36pm

    I just strutted down the market with my orange and white Zabars shopping bag yesterday morning!

  • Michelle
    October 2, 2007 1:42pm

    You can also try East Harlem, where you will find a preponderance of Mexican groceries/bodegas. The Jackson Heights suggestion was a good one as well (make sure you go for Indian food if you’re out there).

  • October 2, 2007 2:09pm

    Jackson Heights’ Indo-Pak grocery stores have chapati warmers, which I know my mother’s used in the past to warm tortillas. And the grocery stores in El Barrio definitely have tortilla warmers proper.

    I live six blocks from Zabar’s, and there isn’t a weekend that goes by without my eating (or wishing I was eating) a Nova Special.

  • October 2, 2007 2:43pm

    This is a breakfast that I love here, just love! I have been willing to make bagels for a while, should really give it a try very soon. You made my mouth water, see what you did?

  • October 2, 2007 2:49pm

    go to my man the rey del taco for some good eats, and where did you eat for pizza? That you broke a tooth!

    Should go to Stamford, Connecticut for a Bo Bo’s pizza! And why a warmer? I woof those tortillas right down, no time to sweat them!


  • October 2, 2007 2:55pm

    Oh yeah I had some smoked salmon on my whole grain levain bread with red onions and avocado, yummy!
    Have you been to kosars or the doughnut factory David?


  • Maureen
    October 2, 2007 3:20pm

    Oh how I dream of toasted sesame bagels (really good ones) with cream cheese, red onions, capers and a lght sprinklng of sea salt and fresh pepper. Or maybe some whitefish on a bagel, oh yummy!

  • Katie K
    October 2, 2007 3:43pm

    Great seeing you on Sunday. We used to have a wonderful place here in Chelsea for buying Mexican products named Kitchen/Market, but it closed several month ago. Maybe the kitchenwares place at Chelsea Market has what you’re looking for. Chelsea Market is worth a visit, especially Buon Italia and the gelato stand by the kitchenwares shop. Hope you checked out the cupcakes at the Cupcake Café.

  • October 2, 2007 4:28pm

    Katie K beat me to it, but yeah, Kitchen market used to seel EVERYTHING. My favorite place in Chelsea is no more because of rising rents. I would have to also lament that Avenue C also used to be a great place for tamals and other equipment, but that too has dissapeared with the rising property values. I miss living in NY but I wonder if the NY I loved is gone forever.

  • Brenda
    October 2, 2007 5:22pm

    I am a Mexican who never saw a tortilla warmer until I was in my 20’s. My first thought:


    What’s wrong with the way Grandma always did it? (She wrapped the tortillas in a folded over flour sack that’s been turned into a dishtowel. Warming them directly over a gas flame before eating them is, of course, optional.)

    You don’t need a tortilla warmer. I mean, seriously. Would a Frenchman buy a special cheese refrigerator to keep his cheese cold?

  • Brenda
    October 2, 2007 5:24pm

    Double the posting means double the love, right?

    Please feel free to delete one–or all–and this too!

  • Ivanna
    October 2, 2007 6:37pm

    If you are still looking, I would try on Bedford Ave in Williamsburg. No, really. First stop on the L there is an amazing little Mexican grocery/deli still managing to stay afloat between N 7 and N6 on Bedford.

  • Maureen
    October 2, 2007 8:38pm

    In San Diego we wrap up tortillas in tin foil and pop them in the oven along with a square of soapstone. When we sit down to eat we put the soapstone in the bottom of a large gourd, line a nice napkin in the gourd and put the tortillas on top. Everything stays warm, looks nice too.

  • Karin
    October 2, 2007 11:18pm

    You haven’t had a bagel until you’ve had a bagel from Gryfe’s bagels in Toronto. They are like no other bagel I’ve ever tasted, completely unique and delicious.

    Theres nothing better than buying a dozen bagels hot out of the oven and then eating one (or two) straight from the paper bag.

  • October 3, 2007 12:17am

    I agree with La R�veuse and Nancy. You can get some great “tortilla warmers” in the towel section at Bed Bath & Beyond. I saw people use them in Mexico, and it worked great.

  • Brian
    October 3, 2007 10:05am

    You wait to go to New York to pick up a tortilla warmer, and you were recently in Austin? :)

  • October 3, 2007 11:41am

    I think I saw one at Zaragoza Deli on Ave. A at 13th Street. Los Paisas Deli Mexican at 104th and Amsteram probably has them as well. But a napkin in a basket works very well, and is prettier too!

  • October 3, 2007 12:30pm

    Like Michelle said, there are Mexican groceries in East Harlem (my neighborhood!) where tortilla warmers are available — probably at the local dollar stores too, of which there are plenty up here. And if you’re going to make the trip, good tacos too — Taco Mix on 116th St. and La Casa de Los Tacos on First Ave. near 117th St.

    And no, I can’t stay away from Zabar’s OR Fairway, and I’ve got the achilles tendons to show for it. It’s those tiny, extraordinarily aggressive silver-haired ladies who ram their carts up the back of your heels that are my bête noire…

  • October 3, 2007 1:05pm

    That sure looks tasty! Bagels and lox is the way to do it – Jew or not ;) Sorry about your trouble finding a tortilla warmer.

  • Marissa
    October 4, 2007 11:00am

    World Market has tons of things to cool Latin food – including the things that keep your tortillas warm.

  • October 4, 2007 3:55pm

    FYI New York Seniors have the right of way in any line in any supermarket or food shop.
    They are entitled to jump ahead or just in front of you or whatev..
    If you value your life you will give way quickly.
    Designer strollers are ready to do combat but you stand a 10% chance here of winning. Forgetaboutit NYC Seniors.
    The odds will always be against you.
    So be it.

  • October 4, 2007 5:05pm

    I’ve know where you can get your tortilla warmers: Thought you’d appreciate the name of the company and the website ;-)

  • Jora
    October 5, 2007 11:34am

    Oh, how I love Zabar’s. I was first introduced to it out here in California by way of a care package sent by a dear friend after our son Charlie was born. I was blown away by the Chocolate Babka!!!

  • October 5, 2007 1:57pm

    Oh. My. GAWD. I have had this same problem for, literally, YEARS. It seems like too much of a one job gadget to actually order off the net, so I’ve kept my eyes open everywhere from Broadway Panhandler to the outer boroughs, including restaurant supply places on the Bowery and the Kmart on Astor Place. Nada. Never. For years. Just yesterday, I happened to be in the Pathmark grocery store on 125th and Lexington, and there was a whole cart filled with plastic tortilla warmers. They weren’t shelved yet, and I was in a rush, so I don’t know how much they were, but as of yesterday, like a minor miracle from heaven, they were available.

  • October 10, 2007 3:45am

    Dave, if you still can’t find one, I’ll send you one in Paris. I lived there for a little bit and remember moaning to my mother about the things I couldn’t find (i.e. ranch dressing, which I never even ate or liked in the States, but once I stepped on foreign soil it was like an obsession). I was giddy with relief when she sent me a bag of salt and vinegar chips and 2 packets of Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning in the mail a few weeks later. I think its good karma to pass on the care package love. Ciao!

  • Karla
    October 13, 2007 6:58pm

    David, You know you are famous when strangers offer to give you stuff just because you want it… If by now you do not by now have too many tortilla warmers, I will send one.

    I did meet you years ago when David T sent me from Santa Fe to work for two days in the Chez Panisse pastry dept. You were the only one (in that department-other than Lindsey) who seemed to have fun in the kitchen and didn’t expect me to be GRATEFUL to peel apples all day for free!

    It IS pretty funny to me now that I was asked to peel them “the Chez Panisse way ” (top to bottom – never in a spiral) even though they were for charlotte filling!

  • October 18, 2007 9:24pm

    I love this post! I’ve been born and raised in the Bay Area, but somehow my family and heart are in New York City. This post helped me remember TWO of my favorite places in the world! I can’t wait to get back to Zabar’s.