Give my regards to Broadway — and Zabar’s

Published 12:18 am Wednesday, November 23, 2011

If I ever move to New York, I know exactly where I want to live – above Zabar’s.

Zabar’s is at the intersection of Broadway and 80th Street. Calling Zabar’s a specialty grocery store is like calling the Grand Canyon a ditch.

For the uninitiated, Zabar’s has everything (OK, not everything, but close to it) from anchovies – fresh, smoked and canned – to zucchini. Zabar’s doesn’t have a cheese shelf. It’s got a cheese room. Zabar’s doesn’t have a bread aisle. It’s got a bread section. Zabar’s doesn’t have a seafood cooler-freezer. It’s got a fish market that offers fresh fish, smoked fish and pickled herring.

To fully appreciate Zabar’s, one must experience Zabar’s. My first experience at Zabar’s was, well, an experience I will never forget. When I visited my first Fresh Market, the one at Cameron Village, I thought it was the king of the grocery stores. A few years later, I visited Stew Leonard’s in Danbury, Conn. That store is part of a small grocery-store chain. It dethroned the Fresh Market as king of the grocery stores.

Then it happened. I was visiting a friend in New York. I happened upon Zabar’s. Eureka! I found the Roman Empire of the grocery-store world. Columbus wasn’t looking for a new trade route to China and the Far East; he was looking for Zabar’s. Want proof? Columbus Circle isn’t too far from Zabar’s, just down Broadway a few blocks.

Zabar’s isn’t a streamlined supermarket. Zabar’s is a collection of additions, modifications and renovations. Its disjointedness is a key part of the essence of Zabar’s.

Yes, Zabar’s has a website from which one can order items and have them delivered. That would be like listening to Tony Bennett on a radio instead of seeing him perform in person. There’s no comparison.

A true Zabar’s experience demands a visit to its aisles, nooks and crannies. You can make that visit anytime — Zabar’s is open each day of the year. Don’t be surprised to see Santa Claus there late Christmas morning as he picks up a few groceries to take back to the North Pole.

And if a New Yorker wants to take home a ready-to-eat meal — make that feast — from Zabar’s, that can be done by visiting the prepared-foods department. Meat-stuffed cabbage, chicken marsala, oak-grilled salmon, braised Brussells sprouts, potato pancakes (one of my favorites), smoked duck breast and “homemade” cranberry salad are just a few of the available selections.

For those who know how to work the system (and I do), one can get a meal by asking for samples at the various departments located within Zabar’s. Don’t worry; Zabar’s gets plenty of my money when I visit New York. Let me explain. When I arrive in New York, I have an empty duffel bag with me. When I leave New York, that duffel bag is no longer empty. My wallet may be empty, but not that duffel bag.

If visiting Zabar’s for the first time, beware of the old women armed with canes, not used as much for a walking aide as a device to clear aisles of anyone who gets in their way.

I could use one of Zabar’s fresh, hot loaves of rye bread, some slices of Swiss cheese (made in Switzerland) and a jar of Zabar’s deli mustard about now.

Mike Voss covers the city of Washington for the Washington Daily News. He contends the only thing missing at Zabar’s is a section where eastern North Carolina-style barbecue is featured. With the help of his brother-in-law, Joey Arthur, he could remedy that situation.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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