In his new HBO Max comedy, An American Pickle (out August 6), Seth Rogen stars as Herschel Greenbaum, an Eastern European immigrant factory worker who finds himself in a (literal) pickle: He falls into a vat of brine in 1920 and wakes up a century later, perfectly preserved, like a dill-flavored Encino Man. As culinary tastes have shifted and New York has continued to change and grow, there are still a number of Jewish-American restaurants that, much like Herschel, have stood the test of time. Here, a six-stop tour of trapped-in-time places opened before 1920 that we know Herschel would have enjoyed back in his day.
Katz’s Delicatessen (1888)
This Lower East Side landmark was already 101 years old before Meg Ryan had her infamously enthusiastic outburst (“I’ll have what she’s having”) in 1989’s When Harry Met Sally. As other delis have closed, Katz’s star has only risen: Each week, the city’s oldest delicatessen sells 15,000 pounds of pastrami and 8,000 pounds of corned beef.
Yonah Schimmel's Knish Bakery (1890)
The namesake Romanian immigrant opened his humble knish pushcart in 1890, and the still-family-owned business moved into its current digs in 1910. If you didn’t grow up in New York, you might not know these Ashkenazi Jewish snack foods, but they’re easy to love: hearty dough pockets filled simply with potato or kasha (buckwheat) or such flavorings as red cabbage, cherry cheese or jalapeño cheddar.
Barney Greengrass (1908)
Dubbed “The Sturgeon King,” this Upper West Side institution is so beloved that it was named an America’s Classic Award Winner by the James Beard Foundation in 2006. In addition to sturgeon, you can stock up on the entire spectrum of preserved fish, whitefish, gravlax, kippered salmon and chopped herring.
Russ & Daughters (1914)
Opened by a recently arrived Polish immigrant in 1914, this Houston Street icon is the quintessential New York “appetizing shop” — a store that sells the items you eat with bagels, such as cream cheese, caviar and smoked and cured fish. These days, Russ & Daughters also operates a stylish café and outposts in the Jewish Museum and the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Nathan's Famous (1916)
Hot dogs may be viewed as an all-American food, but like many other dishes, they can trace their roots to the Jewish diaspora. Nathan Handwerker opened his Coney Island stand in 1916 and began selling his hot dogs for a nickel; they were such a rollicking success that Nathan’s is now a multinational fast food empire. Need proof of how much the food has been assimilated into American culture? Just check out the Fourth of July hot-dog-eating contest held here every year.
Guss' Pickles (1920)
Polish immigrant Isidor Guss started his eponymous pushcart in the Lower East Side’s “pickle district,” a cluster of almost 80 pickle shops that occupied Essex and Ludlow Streets in the early 20th century. These days, the “imitated but never duplicated” business operates out of Brooklyn’s DeKalb Market Hall, where you can buy their trademark barrel-cured pickles and sauerkraut.