Wednesday, September 29, 2004


...if you’re a fish.

Most mornings, I follow the same general routine: wake up, shower, shave, get dressed, run to morning minyan, a quick breakfast at Ye Local Bagel Emporium, then off to the Great Corporate Salt Mine. Once in a while, (yesterday, fer instance) I’ll sleep in and miss minyan, and of course those occasional early morning teleconferences or not-so-occasional business trips may intervene.

Ye Local Bagel Emporium may be the first restaurant where I genuinely qualify as a “regular.” The bagels are the real thing, with a glossy exterior and just the right “tooth” to the innards. Some say there are better bagels to be had in the greater Atlanta area, but I haven’t seen any such evidence. If you’re not up for a bagel, the rye bread is to die for, although the challah is not quite as good - too dry. Bialys and onion pletzels, fantastic. The coffee? Well, it varies. Some of the Minyan Boyz take delight in bad-mouthing the coffee, and a few will even go so far as to refrain from drinking it. I think it’s perfectly acceptable most days, although, as with Forrest Gump’s chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get. Today, for example, it tasted a wee bit... off. Bitter doesn’t quite do it justice. But, hey, a couple packets of Splenda and some half-and-half, and you could almost drink it despite that lingering pong of oil refinery and athlete’s foot. I had three huge mugs full, and my heart feels like an alligator.

[A good way to tell whether the coffee will be drinkable: Dump in a couple of those little half-and-half thingies. If the coffee turns a nice, warm, brown color, it might be OK. But if it turns grayish brown, it’s guaranteed to taste like ass.]

But the bagels and coffee are not what set this place apart from the plentiful local alternatives. It’s the fish.

Delicately perfumed smoked salmon, both Nova Scotia style and the saltier belly lox. Baked salmon (AKA kippered salmon), in meaty, aromatic chunks. Vinegary herring filets, enrobed in cream sauce and garnished, nay, smothered, with sliced onion. Golden-skinned whitefish chubs. Assertive slices of sable - not for the faint of heart. And for an occasional treat, smoked sturgeon.

All of these delights are what the Old Man used to call “appetizing.” That’s a noun, not an adjective - although it’s a perfectly apropos adjective. When I was a kid, “I’m going to the deli to pick up some appetizing” meant that Sunday breakfast was going to be special.

If you can tolerate the carbs, just take a bagel, bialy, or onion pletzel (toasted or not, your preference), slather with some Philly cream cheese, and then decorate with the smoked fish of your choice. Mmmmmmmm, good. Or if you’re avoiding breadstuffs, just take the fish, wrap it up in a few nice leaves of romaine lettuce with some Vidalia onion, and presto! Jewish breath freshener.

Just don’t be putting that fish on a cinnamon-raisin bagel. That’s just plain wrong.

If you live in the great cities of the Northeast, you may take the routine availability of high quality smoked fish for granted. But if you live in the South, getting decent lox for your bagel ain’t always easy. No Zabar’s here, bruthuh.

[Ahhh, Zabar’s. Smoked fish heaven, where you can even score exotica like pickled lox (cubes of salmon picked in vinegar just like herring). Last time I was there (it’s been about 14 years!) I had a veritable fishgasm... so many delicious kinds! Twenty-five different types of smoked salmon alone!]

But if you know where to look, you can satisfy your Breakfast Fish Jones in the unlikeliest of places.

True story: About 25 years ago, I was working on a project in Texas with a bunch of Japanese colleagues. After several weeks of eating Tex-Mex, barbecue, and hamburgers, they were starting to get a little green around the gills, so I decided to give ’em a treat. Picked up a dozen bagels, some cream cheese, and a pound of honest-to-Gawd lox and schlepped it out to the plant one Sunday morning. With great ceremony, I sliced the bagels, applied the schmear, and layered on the lox. And these guys watched the proceedings with eyes agape. They tucked in...and then did something completely unprecedented. They asked for seconds. “Suchibu-san, this is best food we have had since coming to United States!”

Smoked fish, the key to international cooperation and understanding. Try some today!

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