But for some, it's a blessing in disguise when customers have to buy their fresh knishes
Diners, delis and pushcarts nationwide let out a collective groan when they found out that Gabila knishes would be no more - at least for awhile.
Gabila is one of the largest mass producers of the knish - the Jewish mashed potato pies. Gabila halted the shipment of their famous "deep-fried and square" version of the starchy treat in September when a massive fire took out most of their factory on Long Island. Gabila's manager said he is skeptical that the factory will be up and running in time for Hanukkah, which begins on November 28 - also Thanksgiving - this year.
"The Gabila knish is an iconic New York food," said Arthur Schwartz, a radio personality and Brooklyn native known as the Food Maven. He has perfected a few knish recipes. "You could fry my recipes but it wouldn't taste like Gabila. It's like trying to make homemade Heinz ketchup." For delis like Fine and Schapiro on the Upper West Side, and Katz's Deli down on Houston Street, they and their customers have certainly missed the knishes, which have not been on their shelves in almost two months. Katz's co-owner Jake Dell said that before the shortage they used to sell 1,000 of the square knishes a week. Now they have to point customers to their latkes, which at this time of year, can be even more popular.
"It's absolutely been a problem because our customers ask for it and we can't supply it," said Anthony Yuffe, the manager at Fine and Schapiro. "It's a very popular item, and we are absolutely concerned for Hanukkah. We don't make our own knishes so if we don't have them by then, we'll just have to wait."
But even with the hullabaloo, not everyone is missing the knishes.
"This shortage has affected us but we've had what I consider a positive effect," said Jack Lebewohl, whose sons own the 2nd Avenue Deli on the Upper East Side. "People come in and they'd buy the fried knish because they've been doing that since they were little, and now when people ask for it, we can't give it to them. Then they taste our knish and they love it."
Gabila knishes are sold all over New York in grocery stores, diners and on the Coney Island boardwalk. They have their own Facebook page. And ever since the fire, one entrepreneur is even trying to sell her Gabila knishes on EBay (they are going for 99 cents, but the shipping is a startling $45). Gabila has been around since 1921, and is a fourth-generation family-run business.
"People miss us, we're like God," said Gabila sales manager Mark Cohen. "They have childhood memories of our knishes. One must not miss their weekly knish."
Make Your Own Knishes - If You Dare
By Arthur Schwartz
Yield : Makes about 4 dozen
For the potato filling:
5 pounds Russet (baking) potatoes
1/3 cup vegetable oil, or rendered chicken fat for an old-time deli taste
6 cups coarsely chopped onions (about 2 pounds)
4 teaspoons salt, or more to taste (divided)
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the dough:
½ cup hot tap water
½ cup canola, peanut, or other vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3½ cups all-purpose flour (divided)
1 teaspoon baking powder
For the egg wash:
1 egg, well beaten
Make the filling:
Peel the potatoes, cut them into chunks, and place them in a large pot, covered with cold water by about an inch. Bring the water to a boil. Cook the potatoes until very tender, about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the size of the chunks. Drain immediately in a colander.
Using a food mill with the medium blade or a ricer (do not use a food processor), work the potatoes into a smooth puree. Stir in 3 teaspoons of the salt (1 tablespoon) and the pepper.
While the potatoes cook, fry the onions. In a 12-inch skillet, heat the oil over fairly high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the onions and fry over medium-high heat, stirring regularly, until the onions are well wilted, about 8 minutes. Lower the heat to medium, and continue to fry, stirring only occasionally, until the onions begin to brown. (This could take as long as another 20 minutes.) As they cook, season the onions with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt.
Stir the onions into the mashed potatoes. Taste, and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper (I like mine peppery). Cover and refrigerate until chilled.