An Illustrated Love Song to Jewish Restaurants of Old

In “The Dairy Restaurant,” Ben Katchor writes (and draws) an encyclopedic ode to establishments that began to flourish in New York City and elsewhere in the 19th century.

Comments: 90

  1. Katchor's comics in the "Forward" (English, print version) were wonderful. I have saved three issues of the Forward with his comics.

  2. The New York East European Jewish humor aside, the cuisine of all the Judaic denominations includes kasher flesh of mammals, birds, and fish. All other food festrictions are not more than a superstructure erected by the theologians on the simple and straightforward base of The Ten Commandments, where there is not a single word of food restrictions.

  3. The Famous in Bensonhurst on 86th Street and The Famous in Borough Park on 13th Avenue! How many notables and salt of the earth ate there?! Too numerous to mention! Those were the days!!!

  4. My many and warm memories of Ratner's...The superb onion rolls...My question, on my first visit: "What is protose?" the Victory Layer Cake...I could genuinely go on...

  5. Sometimes a bowl of egg noodles and farmer's cheese is darn comforting, whether back in my Brooklyn childhood or now in Calif.

  6. I think he would have given a higher grade to the egg noodles and farmer(s) cheese had he remembered to sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar on top.

  7. This article laments the disappearance of dairy restaurants. Not so. Numerous such restaurants continue to thrive in every metropolitan neighborhood where Orthodox Jews live. In fact, if one does an internet search of kosher restaurants, he or she will be asked if they are looking for a meat or a dairy restaurant.

  8. I left New York 15 years ago. I have no desire to see the repurposed Meat Packing district, nor the rebuilt World Trade Center area nor that much loathed new complex with the stairs to nowhere. But I sure would like to go back for a meal at B&H Dairy.

  9. The reviewer overlooked the most memorable aspect which was the attitude of the waiters, especially at Ratners. When they brought your order, it was unceremoniously dropped on the table in front of you with a most emphatic 'Nah!'. Who can forget the kashe with varnishkes, mush steak with grivenes ? Oy ve, Ich kenisht forgessen the blue seltzer bottles. Zeit gezund, alle meine chevre. Bob from Williamsburg, age 89.

  10. @Bob Hankins The last time I ate at Ratner's mys ister and Iorder cheese blintzes with apple sauce on the side. The waiter put our plates down, we quickly told him we wanted aplle sauce not sour cream. "Sour cream is better" he replied as he shuffled of to serve the next table.

  11. @Bob Hankins My Grandfather was for a time a waiter at Ratners. You probably had not met him, as he was a dapper, very ceremonious, gentleman from England. Wishing you well, good health, wonderful meals with blue glass seltzer bottles.

  12. If the book is half as entertaining as the review it should do very well.

  13. However possibly limited a field, Mr. Katchor is a stone cold genius. Here's to Knipl and Knish. Seek out his work.

  14. I don't remember which restaurant it was, but I know my father, who grew up in a Polish shtetl, took me to a Jewish place near Tompkin's Square Park around 1965. The waiters were ancient but endowed with attitude. I remember watching one very old waiter slowly slow-ly sl-ow-ly lowering a bowl of soup to the table. Our waiter decided to initiate me into the delights of blintzes but I was just a kid from the suburbs. My father watched amused as the waiter, wrinkled, bald, and pushy, tried to get me to order one. "Have a blintz." "No, thank you." "Go on, you don't know what you're missing." "No, really, thanks." "You HAVE to taste our blintzes." "No, I honestly don't want one." He looked at me with something like friendly contempt. "Good. We're all out of blintzes anyway."

  15. Oh, for blintzes with sour cream at Ratners on Delancy Street.

  16. I loved Ratners, remember going there in the late 60’s after a concert at the Fillmore East on the Lower East Side, starving from all that pot we smoked.

  17. So glad to see that Ben Katchor is back. I spent nearly four years in NYC from 1968-72, when so much of the City's Jewish immigrant life was being assimilated or fading away. What was left, in the vaguely seedy neighborhoods of lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx, with feckless dealers in odd commodities and services barely hanging on, was so beautifully expressed in "Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer". I still have a copy on my bookshelf. I did encounter the last generation of dairy restaurants and enjoyed their offerings...favoring the ones on West 72nd Street that I knew had been frequented by literary idols such as I.B. Singer. I look forward to getting this book.

  18. As a non-Jewish vegetarian, I loved the dairy restaurants. I ate in them all the time - they were the very best places in New York to get great food without meat in it.

  19. Before being vegetarian or vegan became popular, Dairy Restaurants were popular eating spots for us.

  20. @Molly Bloom : What could a vegan eat at a dairy restaurant?

  21. @DW99 the vegetable cutlet

  22. @DW99 Bulgar with mushroom and cabbage, soups galore, potato and beet salad...

  23. I'm first generation American, from an Eastern European, Roman Catholic family. Fond memories of going to the LES dairy restaurants of my youth with my parents, for a wonderful bowl of steaming soup served with a generous slice of real black bread, served by a waiter with a white cloth tied around his waist. My parents valued this authentic food, and so do I.

  24. I used to love getting soup at The Famous on 72nd with Challah. The best was the mushroom barley. It seemed like the health dept shut it down. I don’t live in NYC anymore but used to love B&H on 2nd Ave. They used to have nice daily specials. What I really remember is that my glasses fogged it was so steamy in there in the winter. Veselka wasn’t a dairy restaurant or even Jewish, but the jelly donuts still cause drooling....the kasha was delicious, and that counter guy!

  25. @ScottC What a coincidence! I also used to go to the Famous on 72nd with Challah. Boy, did Challah get around...!

  26. A Fabulous Read!! Scrumptiously Delicious!!

  27. This made me remember my mother-in-law's fabulous homemade blintzes (of blessed memory). I don't have the book yet, but it sounds wonderful! So many bygone eras, and those of us in our 70's may have eaten once or twice at a dairy restaurant, but it was our forefathers and mothers who patronized them. Sad that they are gone....

  28. Thanks for the article, NYTIMES, I just bought the book. Julius Knipl was one of my favorite companions in my late eighties stint in Mahnattan valley/Morningside Heights, and early nineties in a Williamsburg full of vacant lots. Back then there were still many traces of the disappearing NY in mysterious store fronts, god's lonely men, and the melancholy soul of NYC; their poet Laureate was the solitary Ibbur, the real estate photographer. It's all gone now, but it can still be visited thanks to the work of Katchor. Thank you Ben

  29. We had a wonderful dairy restaurant back in my old Bronx neighborhood, Pelham Parkway. It was on Lydig Avenue between Cruger and Holland. It was still there in the late 1970s. As a vegetarian, I found it a garden of freshness and delight. So sorry it is not around anymore.

  30. Ratner’s onion rolls turn out to be an easy baking project. Sustenance for the soul and memory during the Corona-cation.

  31. The potato soup at Grand Dairy was the stuff of dreams; IB Singer was a devotee as well. Cannot wait to read this book. But sure wish I knew how to make that soup!

  32. @H Zelon THAT was our favorite: Grand Dairy.

  33. I have lamented the closing of Grand Dairy for decades. Made the schlep to the Lower East Side to humor my wife and mother worthwhile!

  34. Thank you for letting me escape the coronavirus as I read this delightful article.

  35. I'm a goy that grew up in Greenwich Village. I moved to the East Village in 1971 and one of the great pleasures of the time were regular meals in Ratner's & the B&H. B&H was intimate, personal and ground zero for ironic humor, light sarcasm, and poetic expressions of personal angst. And the food was excellent! Ratner's was like a large Parisian cafe -with kosher food. I live in Northern California now (30yrs). And those memories are some of the better ones from my early NYC life. There's little classic Jewish humor here except for a few wry friends who revel in the sardonic. I can however get the best Bialy's I've ever had in my tiny town. "Bialya can be!" I'm think I'm correct in recalling that Ratner's was open 24 hrs. After late night shenanigans in the city, you could literally feel restored by a Ratner's breakfast in the wee hours. And if you tried out a clever line, the waiters would ALWAYS best you on the reply. An old friend told me the only Ratner's joke I can remember: Four old habitués sit down for a meal at their favorite table in Ratner's. They all order tea. Last guy urges the waiter to be sure his was in a CLEAN GLASS. When the waiter returns he asks "So who ordered the CLEAN glass?" I recall no issues with hygiene or food quality at Ratner's or B&H. And I would be delighted to have Kasha Varnishkes or Blintzes there right NOW.

  36. Lovely memories. But do tell: where do get your great bialys in Fairfax?

  37. @Expat in CA What a treat. Willing to travel from Sonoma County for bialys! Where are you getting them?

  38. I took a beautiful girl from North Carolina to the Famous restaurant in Brooklyn, when we sat down for dinner the waiter immediately looked at the both of us and said, "what does she want?" he was able to spot her immediately as an outsider.

  39. My favorite places to eat as a kid growing up on the Upper East Side. I would contrive to have my mother and I walk to the Lower East Side via 2nd Avenue and continue to Orchard Street etc. Not only "Ratner's" but many small mid-block ones as well. Oy Vey.

  40. At one time, you couldn't walk more than 15 minutes and come across and dairy restaurant with awesome, home cooked food at very affordable prices, probably with the proprietors arguing about something.

  41. Ahh...the food yes, your table companions of course, the atmosphere not so much but the collective memory, powerful! Woody Allen captured some of it in Broadway Danny Rose. For those us who remember the tastes, smells and feelings of being home again these places will always be shrines to a vanishing way of life. Now if Mr. Katchor would follow up with a cookbook the story would be complete...

  42. How I loved Ratner's on the Lower East Side- my father would take me in, early Sunday mornings from Bergen County, NJ before we shopped on Orchard St in the 1960's and 70's. Gruff waiters, delicious breakfasts, and a cozy atmosphere- what a happy memory to bring forward during such an awful week. Thank you!

  43. Can’t wait to read this book. Does anyone remember the East Village Dairy Restaurant on ,I think, Third Ave and about fifth Street . It was beautiful, high ceilings wonderful booths heavenly strawberry short cake served with a ramekin of strawberry juice and the best tuna on toasted bialy.. was it real ? Was it a dream?

  44. @Jeanne Dalessio Ratner's was on third at I think 6th St. Next to the Filmore.

  45. @Expat in CA Filmore East! Memories of teen age.

  46. Ratner's on the Lower East Side was perhaps the best known, and last remaining NYC dairy restaurant that I can remember. it's closure was a cultural, loss, though in those last years the quality of the dairy dishes being served (which included pareve fish) had fallen well below what one could buy at a kosher bagel shop. Such kosher bagel shops, which were once plentiful within NYC and the surrounding suburbs, are not nearly as numerous as they once were, largely because of the number of us who are no longer consuming bagels several times each week as we once did.

  47. @Middleman MD Don’t forget Moskowitz and Lupowitz

  48. @Middleman MD Oh what I would give for a bowl of Ratner's mushroom barley soup! I would stop there before concerts at the Fillmore East.

  49. But are there recipes? (By the way, I love noodles and cheese. I was given huge portions at The Bagel in Toronto in the 1970's by a waitress named Dorothy. She said I needed to eat more. I was pre-med at the time and she would consult me about all her medical ailments.)

  50. Raised Jewish, I'm now kreyving for some good cheese blintzes!

  51. So much has been lost

  52. Well, at least we still have Dairy Queen.

  53. The Front was filmed at Hammer's Dairy Restaurant near 2nd Avenue and 14th Street.

  54. Looks like a good read. The history of New York is so rich in tradition! The only place from the book that appears to be still standing is the New York Times! The second best newspaper in the world! Which one was the first one you ask in eager expectance? Don’t know, because it went out of business! That’s sarcasm by the way.

  55. I would like to contact the author..... My grandparents owned and ran a dairy restaurant three blocks from partner's next to the Williamsburg Bridge called the G & Z that they operated for many years...1930's-1950's. It was open 24 hours a day, every day. I have pictures and stories from that time that you might find of interest.

  56. The world of David Levinsky, Boris Thomashevsky, Jacob and Stella Adler and of our fathers and mothers.

  57. At last a new addition to Ben Katchor's brilliant oeuvre. There is absolutely no one else like him. Only Maira Kalman comes close. And I'm so happy to learn that he got a MacArthur.

  58. My ancestry is Jewish, and this is an aspect of Jewish life that I knew absolutely nothing about. I'm fascinated. I'm going to get the book as soon as I'm sure that it won't come with a life-threatening illness. (Half joking. New books ought to be pretty safe if you disinfect the box before you open it and wipe down the dust jacket.)

  59. I am going to raid my fridge to grab the blintzes which have been waiting patiently for me.

  60. <3 Scrumptiously Fabulous!! :-)

  61. As a chef and a member of the tribe the book makes it into the library. A sour pickle by trade is self deprecating. The death of the dairy restaurant is because there were no family members to bring it along into the 21St. Century. i.e. Russ and Daughters. What is happening, chef like myself are recreating individual dairy dishes, along with Birdie G, Friendman"s, Wexlers in LA. Certainly this book is a treasure for a Chef who's mother thought baseball was okay when Sandy Koufax refused to pitch on Yom Kippur. However read it vigorously but eat it sparingly, as any good Jewish or not, cardiologists would advise.

  62. I remember in the late ‘60s a dairy restaurant with the unique name “Dairy Restaurant” opened on Jerome Avenue above Mosholu Parkway for a fresh start after migrating from 176th Street. They lasted for 10 or 15 years. These were wonderful.

  63. Moshe Peking was the first authentic Kosher Chinese restaurant in Manhattan. It set the standard for excellence and I remember it fondly.

  64. In the 1950s my dad frequented a local SE Bronx Jewish deli for the expensive salty sable fish which he couldn't afford. Borscht, Jewish rye and pumpernickle bread, sour cream and pungent farmer's cheese also were purchased.

  65. Anybody remember a dairy restaurant named Parnas (sp?) in the fur district?

  66. When you eventually go into peak lock down,you will have the opportunity to roam the internet and seek out (and cook) a myriad of classic Jewish cookbooks.One of my favourites: Molly Goldberg's, " Jewish Cookbook", where I first learnt to cook a decent bagel.

  67. Can't wait for this to arrive! The inside preview on Amazon sealed the deal. Beautifully illustrated. Will be nice to read while eating a cheese blintze.

  68. My copy of The Dairy Restaurant arrived on Shabbos (March 14) and, like all of Ben Katchor's books and comic strips, it is wonderful. I have had the pleasure of corresponding with him and eating out with him twice. I am really glad that Garner's review is so lauditory. Ben Katchor is a real mensch.

  69. Many fond memories of dining at Ratner's before late shows at the Fillmore East. The pickles ... the bread basket (onion board!) ... and those massive plates of eggs, lox and onions. Of course, it was all a bit much if you were tripping ...

  70. Paying tribute to Zei-Mars in Brighton Beach. That was our go to place when visiting my grandparents on Brighton East 15th.

  71. The last paragraph made me sigh and smile. Of course, Mr. Katchor wrote this book! He met his wife at a dairy restaurant. What a wonderful love letter to her.

  72. From the 1970s, I remember fondly the barley-mushroom soup and the cheesecake at the Famous Dairy Restaurant on W 72. A kindly waitress named Irene - elderly and obviously from the "old country" - told me more than once that I reminded her of her son. Unforgettable.

  73. Every weekend I would go for practice driving with my grandfather who lived in Brooklyn. After one session he told me he had to take me to the most wonderful thing. It was a dairy restaurant in heavily-Jewish Borough Park. At first I thought the restaurant was the wonderful thing. But no, my grandfather said the rice pudding was the thing. Already in my 20s I had never had rice pudding - and it was really wonderful, very light and fluffy with a lovely strawberry sauce. The thing is, the Jewish palate has become much more sophisticated. I've met so many frum (religiously observant) Jews who have attended the Culinary Institute of America because they want to experiment with traditional dishes and create new ones for today's world.

  74. What a tremendous review - thanks for pointing this book out. I have cut and pasted several paragraphs of the review/book text to friends already. Dwight Garner is the most joyous book reviewer around and makes reading the paper a delight on a regular basis. Look forward to the book.

  75. The Grand Street Dairy Restaurant, not to be confused with the Grand and IBSinger mentioned below, was the place. It was, as I recall, at Grand and Ludlow. After my mom was finished with her shopping and my dad had found parking, it was time for lunch. The mushroom and barley soup was sublime but even more so was the protose steak (yes, vegetarian) with onions or mushroom sauce and fries and peas on the side, all brought to you by a waiter whose manner of speaking was the stuff of screenplays. What a wonderful time it was.

  76. Oh, if only The Garden Cafeteria on the Lower East Side were still around. I miss it so. It had the best cheese pudding in the world. I've tried and tried to make it at home, but I've never been able to duplicate it. Can't wait to read this book!

  77. Dairy restaurants are a special place for me. My mom's family owned Matlin's on west 39th St., in the heart of the garment district. According to my cousin, "your mother spent her baby years sitting on the counter next to the cash register, flirting shamelessly with all the customers. She was irresistible. Many a guy slipped her a surreptitious stick of gum or a life saver (strictly kosher, of course)." Later on, my father and his brothers, who had a factory manufacturing couture women's clothing across the street, patronized Matlin's for lunch. My mother, all grown up now and a hopeful fashion illustrator, helped out at the restaurant and would bring my father's table little treats, like extra cream or desserts. They began to date and got married in 1942. They were married for almost 60 years and were wonderful parents. The restaurant passed into other hands in the 1950's, but I remember eating there one time as a little boy in the early 60's.

  78. When I was a kid we went to The Famous in Brooklyn and to Ratners on 3rd or was it 2nd Ave. on a regular basis. Sunday night at Ratners, and during the week to The Famous. Years later I would prepare egg noodles with cream cheese and sour cream. A delicious heap of fat with good shakes of salt. If I were on death row, would they be able to make that for me as my last meal? Or, at least as a side dish so it wouldn't be so unhealthy.

  79. Back in the mid-1940's, my parents would take me to a Sunday afternoon movie at the Earl Theatre on West 161st St. at Jerome Av., the next block east of Yankee Stadium, then supper at the dairy restaurant across the street. Was it Goldman's? I can't remember its name, or even what I ate (except for the blintzes). But just the mention of "dairy restaurant" triggers a whole flood of childhood memories. And then there were the neighborhood deli's, also all gone now. People today don't even know what a "deli" really is (or was). Don't get me started.

  80. Having returned in 1962 from 15 mos. in Japan at a remote base, I was hunnnnnngry for Jewish food. We went into Ratners, and I asked my waiter for kasha varnishkes. "It's no good," he said. (Ratners' waiters were famous for being surly). "I'll take some anyway," "Get another waiter" as he stalked away. Later, after another waiter brought them, a loud fight broke out and one of the waiters was chased out of the kitchen, followed by dishes hurled at him. I laughingly asked the cashier if this happened often. "Oh, once or twice a week," she said.

  81. The Rascal House in Miami.

  82. “avid indoorsmen” Brilliant! I will quote that often

  83. In early 1972 I was working at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Friday was payday and I usually celebrated by eating at the counter at Farm Food.

  84. Let’s have a moment for Jewish bakeries as well. I was devastated when the Westville Kosher Bakery in New Haven closed. Likely the bakery would have survived, but I suspect the restaurant was too much. It’s the loss of good rye bread, REAL rye bread, that haunts me. Marble rye, onion rye, corn rye, pumpernickel with and without raisins. Large loaves of rye, small ones. Caraway seeded ryr, extra seeds (yes please!), no seeds (What’re you, nuts?). Large, with seeds, for me. Growing up in New Haven, it was rye bread and pizza, never mind I was neither Jewish nor Italian. Lovely memories, but now I am fearing that the city’s wonderland of pizza won’t be there after corona. Good memories though.

  85. I would give anything for a plate of egg noodles and farmer’s cheese have?”

  86. Wow, I'm salivating, remembering my grandmother's iuch with kneidalech... Please New York Times, keep on giving us articles like this, that celebrate life, good food and good humor. We need this now more than ever.

  87. What a delicious review!

  88. Imagine. Somebody eats a bat and look where we are. To the best of my knowledge, no pandemics can be traced back to a bowl of borscht and an appetizer of kasha.

  89. if the book is as good as this review i can't wait to get it...

  90. Dairy restaurants were not known to be as sanitary as the review implies. An old dairy restaurant joke: Three friends sit down at a dairy restaurant. When the waiter arrives, friend #1 says, "I'll have a glass of milk." Friend #2 says, "I'll have a glass of milk, too." Friend #3 says, "I'll have one, too, but make sure it's a clean glass." The waiter returns with three glasses of milk. "Okay," he says, "who ordered the clean glass?"