Robin Raisfeld and Rob Patronite issue a sobering reminder in the latest issue of New York magazine that “Today’s Cronut could be tomorrow’s Charlotte Russe.” No food, no matter how traditional or locally beloved, is ever really safe from the ravages of time. Here’s more from their introduction to a list of 20 foods that just might disappear from New York City forever (if we don’t do something about it):
We’ve decided to take stock of some of New York’s old-time iconic foodstuffs like bagels, bialys, pike quenelles, and baked Alaskas, then assign them an Endangered Culinary Species rating, and also tell you where you can still get a delicious rendition of each. Some things, we’ve discovered, have gone the way of the Carolina parakeet and the woolly mammoth. (Rest in peace, Nesselrode pie.) The good news is we found many authentic versions of old classics going strong or at least hanging on, as well as some loose or newfangled interpretations of dishes that, although they might rankle purists, are nevertheless a step in the right preservationist direction.
1. Egg Cream (VULNERABLE)
The seemingly simple concoction, most likely invented at Louis Auster’s Lower East Side candy store circa 1910, is rarely made well today. The trick is to use freezing-cold milk, good chocolate syrup (Fox’s U-bet is standard), an advanced stirring technique, and seltzer blasted through antique soda-fountain heads fitted with special leather washers. That, anyway, is how an egg-cream fanatic named Craig Bero does it down at the Cosmopolitan Café in Tribeca ($2.50; 125 Chambers St., nr. W. Broadway; 212-766-3787).
2. Lard Bread (VULNERABLE)
If anything has been demonized more than fat in recent years, it’s carbs, which makes the survival of this salami-and-cheese-studded loaf a bit of a miracle. You can still find it in the Italian bakeries dotting neighborhoods like Bensonhurst, Belmont, and Carroll Gardens, where Mazzola turns out a particularly worthy specimen ($6 for a loaf; 192 Union St., at Henry St., Carroll Gardens; 718-643-1719).
3. Bagel (ENDANGERED)
Those soft and squishy overgrown dough balls you see everywhere are not bagels. True bagels are shaped by hand, boiled in alkalized water, then baked into a dense and smallish puck. Labor intensive. Practically no one makes a proper bagel anymore. One exception is former Per Se and Roberta’s baker Melissa Weller, who will open a brick-and-mortar shop early next year in partnership with Major Food Group, the parent company of Torrisi Italian Specialties and Carbone.
4. Mutton Chop (ENDANGERED)
As Frank Bruni uncovered in his Times Muttongate review, the signature dish at Keens Steakhouse is actually a lamb saddle—still delicious but less gamy. Mutton, or lamb that’s two years old, has become commercially elusive. The rare beast has recently been spotted at Roman’s in Fort Greene, which gets its supply from affiliated butcher shop Marlow & Daughters and makes a terrific chop. The menu changes nightly, though, so Keens’ pseudo-mutton’s a surer bet. ($48.50 at Keens; 72 W. 36th St., nr. Sixth Ave.; 212-947-3636).
5. Vastedda (ENDANGERED)
Vastedda is a calf’s-spleen-and-cheese sandwich, and a specialty of Sicilian focaccerias. By our count, there are three existent Sicilian-style focaccerias in New York. Our favorite is the wonderfully atmospheric 109-year-old Ferdinando’s, where the vastedda is made with fresh ricotta and sharp Pecorino and served on a soft and toasty house-baked roll ($6; 151 Union St., nr. Hicks St., Carroll Gardens; 718-855-1545).
6. Lobster Newburg (CRITICALLY ENDANGERED)
This superrich dish of lobster cooked with butter, cream, Madeira, egg yolks, and a dash of cayenne was invented in 1876 by a gourmet sea captain named Ben Wenberg. One night, Wenberg swanked into Delmonico’s and gave an impromptu cooking demo on how to make the concoction. Charles Delmonico liked it so much he put it on the menu, christening it lobster à la Wenberg. But the restaurateur and the sea captain fell out, and the dish was renamed lobster Newburg. You’ll find it at the current incarnation of Delmonico’s but practically nowhere else ($49; 56 Beaver St., at S. William St.; 212-509-1144).
7. Charlotte Russe (CRITICALLY ENDANGERED)
Not the molded-dessert extravaganza reputedly created in the nineteenth century for the Russian czar Alexander but an old, interpretive candy-shop treat whose mere mention sends Proustian shivers down the spines of certain folks who grew up in thirties and forties Brooklyn. It was typically a simple round of sponge cake shoved into a paper cup fitted with a push-up bottom, then topped with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry. Sightings are extremely rare today, but Holtermann’s Bakery on Staten Island still makes them, and Leske’s has recently begun selling a version that swaps a plastic mold for the virtually extinct paper cups ($2.50 at Leske’s; 7612 Fifth Ave., nr. 76th St., Bay Ridge; 718-680-2323; and 588 Fifth Ave., nr. Prospect Ave., Park Slope; 718-369-0404).