Sunday, July 28, 2013

Open Wide

  ...from a photographer's notebook

Too yummy to leave un(photo)documented                        ©2013 Steve Ember

Confession: I love a good lox and bagel.

Just in case you just checked in from another planet, allow me to describe this deli delicacy. You start with a bagel. It might be a plain bagel, or whole wheat, or cinnamon raisin (my fave), onion, sesame, well, the choices seem endless.

Now you slice that round nugget with the hole in the middle and you pop it in a toaster, after which you smear on some cream cheese, atop both halves.

Then comes the lox.


Lox entered the language as a Yiddish version of the German word for salmon, Lachs. Lox is made by curing the salmon, whether by smoking or in brine. It can have different subtleties of taste and texture, depending on the type of salmon and, of course, the process used. But when done right, it is so-o-o yummy.

Sunday brunch for me will most likely be a nice lox and bagel. And depending on how much I’ve bought, there will usually be a yummy reprise to start the day on Monday.

Naturally, when in New York, I must enjoy a good lox and bagel. Is it better in New York? Well, isn’t everything, when one is in that “New York State of Mind?” I know, I haven’t really answered the question of absolute quality. But what I do vividly remember from one such Manhattan lox and bagel experience many years ago was, well, the experience

Cold winter day in 1995…around the corner from my hotel near Central Park was (the original) Wolf’s Delicatessen at the corner of 57th and Avenue of the Americas…looked inviting, so I grabbed a table…and a menu. Did I need a menu? Of course not.

We don' need no stinkin' menus!

Lox and bagel and a large orange juice…and a restaurant full of New York deli-ambiance. Under such conditions, one does not rush; one savors. 

Was it the best lox and bagel experience? Well, it ranked pretty high on the gustatory enjoyment scale, but what I most vividly remember was that aforementioned ambiance - and seeing comedian Henny Youngman, sitting up front in the restaurant as I was leaving. He seemed down in the dumps, lamenting the fact he didn’t have an engagement that week in Miami Beach and was stuck in a bone-chilling Manhattan winter.

But, about the photo up top...

Manhattan on a much milder day, this past June. Out and about with the cameras, exploring the Tribeca neighborhood. It had been a festive night before, and I got off to a noonish start.

It’s easy to put off breakfast when you want to explore and seek out new motifs to photograph.

But, by mid-afternoon, two things started happening, a growing realization I was running on fumes, and the rain started. Fortunately, I’d reached Canal Street and the Tribeca Bagel Shop looked like an inviting spot to have “brunch” and wait out the rain. It was.

Nothing fancy. No signs advertising free wi-fi…no oh-so-serious MacBookers looking Mac-Bookish over their high priced Macchiatos. Typical long deli counter and in the middle of the room, a long buffet/salad bar…and on the far side, a long counter with high chairs and a few tables. Oh, and what looked to be a nice selection of juices along another wall.

The nice gal who took my order told me I didn’t have to wait while the lox and bagel was prepared – just grab a seat and they’d bring it over.

This time, I ordered my lox and bagel (whole wheat) with...capers! And when the sandwich arrived, I finally remembered what I had been missing all these years as a compliment to my lox. Not those hard stingy little things that come in the tall narrow jar you can’t fit a self-respecting spoon in to get ‘em out. These were corpulent capers that added a succulent accent to some darn good lox.

As I savored my late “brunch” I caught sight of a Zorba-esque gentleman in a Tribeca Bagels tee shirt, standing beside the deli counter, obviously savoring his product. He had a great face, and I asked him if he’d mind my taking his picture (I’d already taken a photo of the second half of my lox and bagel with those scrumptious capers peeking out). He agreed, and we struck up a conversation.

He came over and sat down. I thought he was Greek; turned out he’s from Israel. I guess having a couple of cameras alongside the lox and bagel plus an equipment pack on the adjacent seat is a good enough conversation starter and he was also into cameras and electronics, so the conversation flowed.

Seems the space was once his electronics store. He got out of that business as a result of not being able to compete with the superstores and mail order establishments.

This time, I think he struck gold. I left, feeling like a regular customer of this honest, unpretentious New York neighborhood joint.  

Next time I’m anywhere near Canal Street, I’ll be back.

©2013 Steve Ember

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