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Mar 8, 2003 02:32 AM

help a zabars rookie

  • m

how is the store laid out?? what are the best departments?? how are the specials?? what are the busiest times to shop?? is the smoked fish counter still a New York icon?? how are their bagels?? what is the worst value in the store?? best?? has the store gone downhill at all?? what in zabars should you buy elsewhere?? are they infallible??

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  1. I can answer one of your questions:

    Their sliced-to-order "house" brand of lox/smoked salmon is EXCELLENT. Some people feel that Russ & Daughters may be slightly better, and Murray's Sturgeon Shop may be its equal (and better for sturgeon but, as I recall, more expensive), but you really can't go wrong with at least THAT item here.

    1. The store is basically three parallel compartments, cheese when you enter, prepared foods including smoked fish center, last section kosher foods, breads, coffee.

      The ready made sandwiches are a good deal. I don't like the turkey, but I do like the various chicken ones, such as chicken provencal.

      The bagels are mediocre.

      Have fun, wander around.

      1. If you're in the market for copper cookware, it's hard to beat Zabar's for selection -- it's damn near mind-boggling -- and the prices are about as good as they get, too. I've also bought good knives there (Global) at competitive prices.

        1. I've been unimpressed by the cheese counter, although they have some pretty good Italians, including pecorinos. The ricotta tastes like nothing.

          The fresh rugelach at the bakery counter are FANTASTIC when they're fresh, but $1/each is kind of ridiculous.

          I've had good luck with smoked fish except for some disappointing sturgeon, which was my fault b/c I didn't ask to taste it first. Always get a taste.

          PS they sell smoked-salmon trimmings in a plastic case in the fridge opposite the smoked fish counter for WAY LESS MONEY and it's the exact same stuff from the exact same fish, just a little less pretty.

          The sandwiches loomedwoman mentioned go on sale later in the day (6-7ish?) which is great.

          Also a nice selection of dry goods, like Latini pasta, mustards, olive oils, etc.

          And the upstairs is a must-go. Some great finds to be found and deals to be had.

          6 Replies
          1. re: adam

            "The ricotta tastes like nothing"

            I'm also sort of disappointed with the Zabar cheese section, and I find it difficult to say exactly why.
            It looks big, certainly bigger than Fairway, and it's easier to see things there, but I've found more "wow" cheeses at Fairway than in Zabar's.
            On one occassion I was very happy with a Fairway cheese. Later I got the same kind at Zabar's and was underwhelmed. (Zabar's had a lower price, which may explain it.)
            I'm no cheese expert, and I'll keep trying Zabar's. I like the store for non-food reasons also: for a long while a Zabar's donation kept the local library open on Saturdays, when the city couldn't pay for that.

            1. re: Mar a

              I echo this view on the Zabar's Cheese Department. It's certainly impressive to look at, but I can't remember finding anyone there who really seems to know much about the cheese, nor is it clear that they treat it with the kind of attention that a lot of cheeses need if they're to age well. They're there to call your number and serve you and that's it. At Fairway, by contrast, even relatively new people at the cheese counter seem to be evolving an opinion about what they're selling. I've bought a few overripe cheeses there too, but then there are some melons you need to eat the day you buy them too....

              All of that said, Zabar's IS an interesting place. The prices are a mixed bag ... some great and some galling. Weekdays are much better than weekends as someone else already noted.

              The upstairs has a housewares/kitchen supply area that's crammed with all sorts of things. If you're coming from a place that has more space, I'm sure the density of merchandise will be eyepopping to you.

              If you're tall, prepare to watch your head throughout your visit because there's a lot of stuff hanging from the ceilings.

              Lastly, if you're in this neighborhood, you should do yourself the favor of wandering down the same side of Broadway to see Citarella and Fairway too. It might be sensory overload by the time you're done, but this is an interesting concentration of food retailing within the space of 8 blocks (less than 1/2 mile).

              1. re: Nanaimo Bar

                wow! i couldn't disagree more. i practically worship at the alter of their cheese.

                we've had numerous grand slams there, particularly with the goat and sheep cheeses and anything from france or spain.

                it pays to look at the cheeses, smell them, and perhaps even ask for a taste if at all possible.

                there are a LOT of winners there. it's hectic, but it's fun, and i love it.


                1. re: Tree

                  Huh. In 15 years, I don't think I've ever found anyone at Zabar's who had much to say about cheese and I have found several good ones at Fairway. Really.

                  As for what to buy and not buy, I agree with our colleague who said you need to give them a good looking, feeling and sniffing over to choose wisely. I've had my share of stinkers from Fairway, but I've had a lot more successes than failures.

                  Across these stores, I am finding I need to pay attention to prices and quality. Since they're all on a mad dash to grow and compete, they're all very strong in some things and negligent in others. The emergence of the vast underground Gristedes in the next block from Fairway has only added to the mix.

                  Happy shopping.

                2. re: Nanaimo Bar

                  Broadway and the 70s is a culinary neighborhood to be sure. Don't forget the bakery Levain at nearby 74/Amsterdam. Love their ciabatta. I just tried the ciabatta at Sullivan St. and while its light 'n' white style may take well to butter, Levain's chewier number is true goat cheese material. AND Levain is a veritable breeding ground for the next generation of chowhounds: I always catch some 10y/o kid eying the cookies warily, selecting one with care, gobbling it right down and pronouncing his/her judgment to the delight of the counterperson. Where do you see THAT?

                  I've had some cheeses at Fairway so horrible (a young manchego in particular) that i had to throw the hunk away, so it's probably a mixed bag. The parmigiano of two weeks ago was the best I've had outside Emilia, but the newer wheel is immature crap.

                  There's also a cafe/patisserie right opposite Fairway's southern rim, on 74 in the Astonia building (the one that looks like a wedding cake, which carries some yummy pastries.

                3. re: Mar a

                  Part of the problem with the cheese counter is that the people behind the counter don't seem particularly knowledgable about cheese. I know what I like, but I don't know what's particularly "ripe" and when I feel like straying from my normal favorites, I'd like some direction. I'm not confident that the Zabar's cheese stewards can deliver.

              2. One of my favorite things to do during warmer weather is to get bagels at H&H next door, then buy salmon from Zabars (I second the post about the house brand lox, although I didn't know about the trimmings, and will try them next time around -- texture seems kind of wrong, though), and bring it all down to the 79th Street boat basin for a picnic brunch.