Whether you’re a New York expatriate who’s been exiled to a software development job in Silicon Valley or just someone who discovered the delights of quintessential New York food on a trip to Gotham, we all love New York food. I don’t think it’s chauvinistic to say that there are some things that are better in New York.
That’s true for other parts of the country as well. Barbecue is better eaten in North Carolina or Texas or Kansas City. Frozen custard should be licked in Wisconsin or Saint Louis. Chili should be eaten in Cincinnati. But for things like pastrami, bagels, bialys, and cheesecake, you've got to go to the source. Or have someone from the source ship it to you, bring the mountain to Muhammad, so to speak. So without further ado, here’s the Serious Eats Guide to Quintessential New York Mail-Order Foods.
Bagels | bageloasis.com
Bagel Oasis ships very fine bagels from its unassuming bakery in Queens. Its bagels are properly sweetened with malt, are, blessedly, not too big, and they actually have some chew to them. Two dozen bagels are $18 plus shipping. Add a pound of good cream cheese to your order for another $7.75. Or just buy some whipped Philadelphia cream cheese at your grocery store.
Bialys | kossarsbialys.com
The bialy is a lighter, onionier first cousin to the bagel, made with a different dough. Unlike bagels, they are not boiled and baked. Most bagel-bakers make bialys that are not deserving of the name. But Kossar’s specializes in bialys, and it has been making terrific ones for a hundred years or so on New York’s Lower East Side. One dozen of them are $7.20 plus shipping. Unlike bagels, bialys have to be toasted before eating so they don’t suffer any loss of freshness in transit.
Black and White Cookies | wmgreenbergdesserts.com
Many current and former New York City residents swear by a local specialty: the black and white, an oversized cakey, almost spongecake-like cookie iced with half vanilla and half chocolate frosting. Most black and white cookies in the city are leaden, oversize disks that are just too sweet. But the black and whites from William Greenberg Desserts are made with good-quality dark chocolate and are surprisingly light. A dozen regular hubcap-size black and white cookies are $40 plus shipping. A dozen minis are $28 plus shipping.
Cheesecake | juniorscheesecake.com and eileenscheesecake.com
You’re going to have to choose between the legendary Junior’s cheesecake (pictured), with its obscenely rich primordial ooze, and Eileen’s Special Cheesecake, which is lighter, not as sweet, and has a superior graham cracker crust. They’re both very fine cheesecakes, but if forced to decide, I would probably order from Eileen’s. But I’m just reporting hereyou decide. Junior's 8-inch plain cheesecake, $29.95 plus shipping. Eileen's 10-inch plain cheesecake, $60 shipping included.
Hot Dogs | papayaking.com and katzdeli.com
Having written a long feature on hot dogs for the New York Times, I broke the story that almost all of the meaty, garlicky natural-casing hot dogs with snap that New Yorkers know and love are actually the same hot dog, made by Sabrett’s parent company, Marathon, and dressed in different ways. The best online mail-order source for these hot dogs is the Papaya King website (papayaking.com). A barbecue pack, which contains 18 franks, one pound each of sauerkraut and sweet onions, and a T-shirt, costs $81, shipping included. They even tell you how to cook them on their website. If you want to skip the schtick, the T-shirt, and save some money, order the same hot dogs from Katz's (katzdeli.com) for $8.45 a pound, plus shipping.
Pastrami | bensbest.com
Though two other good New York delis, Katz’s (katzdeli.com) and Artie’s (arties.com), ship pastrami, I like the garlicky, peppery, plate pastrami that small Brooklyn smokehouse Empire National makes for a small deli in Queens, Ben’s Best. Ben's Best pastrami is $22.50 a pound, plus shipping.
Pickles | thepickleguys.com
There have been numerous pickle turf wars on the Lower East Side in the last few years, but the Pickle Guys, led by their fearless leader, Alan Kaufman, make great old-fashioned crunchy, garlicky, sour and half-sour pickles. One half gallon of pickles, $10.50, plus shipping.
Rugelach | 718-802-9771 (online ordering not available)
Margaret Palca makes sensational rugelach at her bakery on the outskirts of Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. These little buttery rolls full of cinnamon, raisins, and nuts have just the right crunch-to-tenderness ratio. One-pound tin of rugelach, $15, plus shipping.
Smoked Fish | russanddaughters.com
I have known Mark Federman, the third-generation owner of Russ & Daughters, ever since I walked into his store 30 years ago as a new New Yorker seeking community, warmth, and solace. Mark, his nephew Josh, his daugher Nikki, and his merry band of multicultural salmon slicers (including Herman, the artistic slicer, as Calvin Trillin called him in one of his books) all take great pride in the food they sell, and it shows in the terrific mail-order packages they ship. The Orchard Street Sampler ($105 including shipping), which includes a half pound of Nova Scotia salmon, two chubs (whole, small smoked whitefish), one pound of cream cheese, eight bagels, one half pound each of whitefish and baked salmon salad, and a half pound of chocolate-covered marshmallow twists, is a great introduction to this incomparable traditional New York repast.
Steak | peterluger.com Even with the national proliferation of upscale steakhouse chains like Morton’s, Ruth's Chris, and the Palm, the steakhouse serving the best prime meat dry-aged the longest is still Peter Luger in Brooklyn. If you don’t want to fly to New York, and you don’t want to deal with the cheeky gruffness of the wait staff there, order a porterhouse online.