Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Not many foods bring me as much joy as appetizing. And not many places in the world prepare lox, baked salmon, and herring like Murray's Sturgeon Shop on the Upper West Side. A bagel and lox (belly) on a plain bagel not toasted with a slice of tomato might be my last meal request if I were on death row. Let's hope that situation never develops, but if so it's definitely a contender.
Bagels and lox are NYC. NYC is bagels and lox. You can get a serviceable bagel and lox sandwich at many places throughout the city. But when you want the best, quality of the highest degree, you have 2 choices- Russ & Daughters on Houston Street or Murray's on Broadway between 89th and 90th, NYC institutions. A little more than a year ago I Lox-ed and Loaded in the LES, and today we're letting off uptown. I've had Murray's a lot more than R&D in my lifetime- based on proximity- and it gets top billing. I've tried more things there and have a better overall feel for their quality and consistency. The main difference between the 2 is that R&D is more of a tourist attraction based on its location. You don't get the same customer at Murray's. We mean business uptown. We're not here to wax nostalgic and think of yesteryear. We're here to eat. Don't get it twisted though, quality is tantamount at R&D.
I've always associated lox and appetizing with celebration or a festive occasion. First off, the shit is MAD expensive. Every now and then my father would bring it home on a weekend morning, but based on the exorbitant prices, I've always viewed it as a delicacy. I don't get to eat it that often, so when I have the opportunity I definitely go in, and definitely appreciate it.
There are several staples I must have at Murray's. They are as follows:
The lox. They offer several variations, but the one to choose is the Mild Salt Cured Lox aka the Belly Lox. The saltiest and most briny salmon they have to offer. Silky and smooth. They usually offer a taste in the store and the smoothness is incredible. It literally melts in your mouth. A quarter pound costs $8.99. Due to the really strong flavor you can use less slices to make a sandwich. A quarter pound provided me with 3 nice sized sandwiches- 2-4 slices per sandwich, depending on the size of the slice. Belly lox are only cured in a brine, not smoked. The less salty Nova Lox, are lightly smoked and cured. The mild flavor forces you to add more slices to your sandwich. In a recession Belly Lox win.
The kippered (baked)salmon. This stuff is magical. The moistness. The richness. The saltiness. The oiliness. Pure decadence. Murray's describes it as "first cured than smoked resulting in a moist, flaky fish with a delicate smoke flavor." Unlike lox, baked salmon is sold in chunks from the fillet. Similar to eating a cold piece of salmon, but the curing and smoking process gives it so much flavor. I prefer eating it plain, but you can spread it on a bialy and enjoy it that way, similar to white fish. A quarter pound costs $9.50 and the piece above came out to a little more than $13. I dream about this stuff. Cause eating this is highly addictive, especially when you're used to having money to live with...
The Spinach Egg Salad. The perfect equalizer to the salt attack. Fresh, raw spinach added to their "hand chopped eggs mixed with sweet onion, celery & a touch of salt & mayonnaise." Protein and vegetables. That's a win win to me. The spinach adds a great texture to an already delicious egg salad. It might sound like a simple dish, but I've yet to find a comparable taste anywhere. $6 per half pound.
The plain cream cheese. Whipped into a smooth consistency that can easily spread on a bagel. Mild flavors that work great with the lox. I really dig cream cheese and can eat it plain. $6 per pound. I prefer scallion or chives cream cheese on a bagel, but need plain with lox. No need to jumble the flavors.
Those are the 4 necessities according to Howfresh. On this trip I ventured a little deeper into old world Jewish cuisine and ordered the pickled herring in cream sauce with onions. I hadn't had it in years and wanted to spark some old memories. My pops used to eat this or matjes herring on pumpernickel fairly often. Murray's pickles the herring themselves and offers a cream or clear wine sauce. The mixture of the fishy, mushy slices of herring, the sweet cream sauce and the sharpness of the crisp onion creates an odd interaction. It's good for a second and then too much for me. The cream sauce freaks me out a bit and the texture of the fish is something I'm not that used to. I tried it and won't be ordering it again for a while. $3.39 per fillet.
I have one complaint about this place. Their bagels are terrible. It's insulting to serve such fine food on such a shitty bagel. If you're ordering by the pound just remember to pick bagels up at H&H on 80th and Broadway or wherever you get yours. They reminded me of what you get in the morning coffee carts. Real light, no density or chew whatsoever. Smarten up Murray's. You're too good for this.
Murray's is take-out only and very small. The walkway is 3-4 feet wide and no more than 15 feet long. If it gets crowded the line definitely snakes outside. And there definitely are lines there. The workers behind the counter take their time when slicing the fish and preparing the other foods. These cats are artists with the knife. Hand sliced perfectly- thin translucent slices of fish. Some beautiful shit.
Years ago, back in the Old New York, appetizing stores were pretty common throughout the city. Today you can count the specialty shops on one hand. Along with Murray's and Russ & Daughter's you have Barney Greengrass (more of a restaurant that an order over the counter) and Zabar's, both on the UWS. There are other neighborhood spots scattered around, but no where as esteemed or historic as those 2. Murray's has been around since 1946 and has been keeping New Yorkers happy and full for more than 60 years. Many attributes of this city are disappearing as time goes by and corporate America takes over every inch of this city, but barring any fish shortage or other freakish event, Murray's will continue to pump breath into an aspect of New York City culture that is barely known, but delicious.
Murray's Sturgeon Shop
2429 Broadway between 89th and 90th Streets
New York, NY 10024
Subway- 1 train to 86th St. and walk 4 blocks north or the 2/3 to 96th St. and walk 6 blocks south
Open 7 days a week- Call for hours
Posted by HowFresh at 6:15 PM