Food trends come and go, great New York bakeries have vanished, and it is harder and harder to find a good babka on the upper West Side. Barney Greengrass still has these dense, sweet cakes that go so well with coffee; and although babka is not the main attraction, we cannot come to this storefront restaurant without one to take home.
The food that put Barney Greengrass on the map is smoked fish. In the glass case of this restaurant and take-out store, you will find lean, silky sturgeon, salty cured salmon (known as lox), not-so-salty cured salmon (novie), snow-white whitefish, and luscious sable. At tables in the dining room adjacent to the takeout counter, all these fish are available on platters, with bagels and/or bialys, cream cheese, onions, tomatoes, and olives. These are the makings of a true New York breakfast; there isn’t a restaurant in town that does it with the aplomb of bare-tabled Barney Greengrass.
If you come in the morning, especially on a weekend, you will smell plates of eggs-and-novie being carried from the kitchen to customers as soon as you enter. This signature dish is eggs scrambled with plush morsels of Nova Scotia salmon and onions nearly caramelized by frying. The combination tastes opulent; the textural range from the eggs’ soft curds to the firm nuggets of fish they enfold to the slippery web of onions is a tongue’s delight. The aroma of this omelet, as well as smells of freshly-toasted bagels and of cold cuts, salamis, and garlic pickles from the take-out side of the restaurant, make walking into Barney Greengrass one of the most appetizing experiences New York City has to offer.
The original Barney Greengrass became known as “The Sturgeon King” after opening his first restaurant in Harlem in 1908. Barney passed the business to his son Moe, who ran it for decades in its current location on the West Side. Moe died in January, 2002, and the store is now run by Moe’s son Gary.