I arrive a couple of minutes early for my lunch reservation at Sadelle’s. The hostess eyes me warily and asks if my companion is going to join me soon.
Her stressed-out demeanor is understandable: It can’t be easy being the hostess at one of the hottest new spots in New York. A bakery and restaurant serving classic New York Jewish delicatessen, Sadelle’s has somehow managed to turn foods like whitefish salad, matzo ball soup and chopped liver into fare for gallerinas, hipsters and fashionistas alike. Every weekend since Sadelle’s opened in September, the trendy youngsters swarm to the bakery, lining up for hours to try the famous hot bagels, baked by Melissa Weller, formerly of Per Se and Roberta’s.
The hostess’ attitude changes completely, however, once my lunch date arrives. My tiny Jewish grandma, Claire Sudolsky, shuffles into the hipper-than-thou space wearing a floral jacket and bright green glasses, her white hair a beacon among the chic twenty-somethings clad in black. “I love your outfit!” the hostess exclaims as she shows us to our table. “You’re keeping summer alive.”
A lifelong New Yorker now “mistakenly” living in Scarsdale, my grandma, who still works as a bookkeeper, is a regular patron of Jewish delis in the city, and so the perfect person to critique the food and ambiance at Sadelle’s.
After a lot of arguing about what to order, (“Don’t get too much!”), we finally settle on the lox and cream cheese (it’s labeled “house salmon” on the menu), which comes with cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, capers and two of the celebrated bagels ($16), an order of matzo ball soup ($12), and my grandma’s favorite, cheese blintzes ($14).
As we wait, my grandma notices that the women next to us have received a surprising order: bacon.
“Is this restaurant not kosher?” she asks the busboy. “Honestly, it’s my first day, I don’t know,” he replies, slightly terrified.
My grandma then says, sotto voce (which because of her hearing, is actually quite loud), “He must be an unemployed actor, he’s so nice-looking!”
The waiter goes back to the kitchen to find out that it is not kosher. “Terrible,” my grandma says, shaking her head (she herself does not keep kosher).
When the food comes, she has a difficult time eating the bagel because of her dentures. “You don’t mind if I cut it up, do you?” she asks. Crunchy and flavorful, the bagels are good, but we aren’t sure what all the fuss is about. The smoked salmon meets with her approval because it is “not too salty,” as does the scallion cream cheese (“so fancy!”).
We both really enjoy the matzoh ball soup’s rich vegetable broth. But the blintzes are her favorite dish. “It tastes like ice cream!” she exclaims, eyes wide. That’s the highest praise she can give.
But her favorite Jewish delicatessen is still Mendy’s in Grand Central because it is “always there when you’re on the way home.” Sadelle’s should take note: Sometimes that’s all a tired New Yorker really wants.