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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.

                1. Best value in the store, I'd say the smoked salmon. The pre-packaged one is as great as the fresh sliced one (it seems that I'm not the only one who thinks that).
                  Other things I never leave the store without: "trois petit cochons" pate, mousse, terrine (best price), strudel from the bakery (you have to try the cherry-cheese one) and, when available, canned cod liver (on a small stand next to the cut-to-order smoked fish).
                  Amazing assortment of fruit preserves. Crackers. And yes, you have to go upstairs if only for the experience.
                  Give yourself a good hour for this trip and get your credit card ready. I always go in for just a thing or two and leave with two bags.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: mickyme

                    Regarding the pate -- are you referring to the pre-packaged pate in the case across from the knishes? Or do they sell fresh pate elsewhere? I'd love to get some fresh pate on the UWS, but all I seem to find is the prepackaged stuff.

                    1. re: vvv03

                      Yes, unfortunately is the prepackaged that I was talking about. But I really like the "trois petit cochons" for the price.
                      Hmmm, the dreams of pate loaves that one can find in any parisian supermarket haunt me...

                  2. Walk into the back of the prepared foods section, where you will find the knish section along with the best studel strips (apple and others) and a huge display of delicious soups. Love the cold gazpacho during the warmer months (great over pasta) and the chicken corn chowder.

                    The eggplant caviar is garlicky and a great appetizer.

                    Love their pickled herring in cream sauce with onions as well as the tangy matjes herring in a wine sauce also with onions.

                    Forget their bagels, go across the street to H&H.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: jill

                      Agree with all EXCEPT bagels. Zabar's sells Columbia bagels, which my husband and I like much better than H&H, and they're also $.38 per bagel (H&H is $.95 per bagel). If you like "sweeter" bagels, then you'll like H&H. But for what we think is a true New York bagel, try the Columbia bagels.

                    2. s

                      On a practical note, I recommend not going on a weekend if you can help it, it is so chaotic you may not be able to enjoy your first experience, unless chaos is what you are looking for. I am a Zabar's baby, born and raised in that neighborhood, and it holds a very special place in my memory, the sounds and smells, everything. I hope you enjoy it too!

                      1. Zabar's is a great food store but Fairway is my favorite one.

                        I find the cheese counter of Fairway much more exciting than Zabar’s. I buy at Fairway rare cheeses from Spain, Italy, France, from other Mediterranean countries and from the USA that Zabar’s doesn’t carry.

                        The Smoked fish counter at Zabars is amazing. The Matjes Herring in red wine sauce is addictive.

                        In the good old days of the .COM craze my friend who cashed out lots of money in stock options used to buy Caviar at Zabar for what he claimed to be a very good price for excellent quality - I do not remember how much since I don’t buy Caviar. He was so generous to feed his friends with caviar. Once he brought Zabar’s caviar “leftovers” to the office, I brought other foods, and we had an unforgettable office lunch – eating Caviar with plastic spoons. These days are over.

                        The kitchenware store on the second level worth a visit.

                        Stuff that I buy ONLY at Zabar’s:

                        Strudel cakes
                        The excellent strudel cakes at Zabar’s bakery – Apple, cheese, apple with cheese & cherry-cheese. I call the strudel cakes flutes and in my pre low-carb diet I used to "play" easily a whole flute ignoring my wife’s warnings.

                        The best that I have found in NYC, better than Yonah Schimmel's.

                        1. What from the prepared food department do you recommend? I like their Kale salad. What about these chicken, beef, seafood ones? They have a wide selection.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: SeekingBeauty

                            Do you realize this thread is more than 10 years old?! That said, the several times I have tried a variety of things at Zabar's prepared food counter, I have not found anything to be all that good. I think the food at Westside Market is far better, second choice Fairway.

                            1. re: City Kid

                              Thank you very much for your inputs. Sorry I just did a search about Zabar and this one came up. Did not realize it was so dated.
                              I'm actually closer to Westside Market and Fairway. What do you recommend to get there?

                              1. re: SeekingBeauty

                                Most of the many prepared foods I've gotten at Westside Market have been quite good, including grilled chicken breast, ribs, and a variety of other chicken and veggie entrees and sides. There is a separate self-serve section closer to the cashiers with a lot of packaged bean salads and pastas that are also very good and another section with other salads, dumplings, wraps, etc. Good rotisserie chickens and cheese specials. Bonus: Way less crowded than either Zabar's or Fairway.

                              2. re: City Kid

                                I also love the West Side Market

                                Great cheese dept. - - produce is better than Fairway

                            2. FYI Chowhounds: this original posting is from over 10 years ago