During the blizzard in New York last month the one thing I was determined to do was have breakfast at the counter at the B&H Dairy diner in the East Village. It’s a proper, old school Kosher diner that’s just a few feet wide with the smiliest short order cook. You eat breakfast perched on a stool at the counter for a few dollars. It’s not cool or trendy or full of, ack, scene-y people.
It just feels like my little corner of New York.
That’s because I used to live a block or so away, first on East 6th between 2nd and 1st, and then on St Mark’s Place (East 8th), between 1st and A. I ate my breakfast eggs at the counter all the time, revelling in its pure Americana.
I don’t remember why I first went in. I suspect it was simply because I like diners & I like eating breakfast out. If I had suspected that there was an eggs purveyor near my apartment I would have been there like a shot.
The B&H opened either in 1937 or 1938 (they can’t remember), and I swear it can’t have changed much since then, bar the tray of wheatgrass in the window for juicing. The old cash register is still in use, and the local cops double park outside to stroll in to pick up their bagged lunches to go.
It’s billed as a Vegetarian Diner, but there’s lox on the menu, along with a tuna melt and a smoked white fish sandwich. You could have an Egg Cream, a cup of mushroom barley soup or a fresh carrot juice.
I’ve always meant to order the specials, the Polish dishes Dixon introduced me to when we first moved to the city. Potato Knish with Gravy, Stuffed Cabbage, Pierogis with Mushroom, Blintzes…but somehow I always have the same thing: eggs with a heaping pile of home fries, and a great splash of ketchup.
There is always a doorstop of their house made Challah bread (B&H is famous for its Challah French toast), sandwiched with butter and plopped on a paper plate. Very good coffee comes in a silver vacuum for refills, and the breakfast special orange juice — proper, not thin & cheap like you’d get in England, is served as a shot in tiny plastic glasses.
I like that I have a usual. I like very much that when I wandered in last month the lovely young counter guy flashed me his usual beaming grin, and asked me how I’d been. It was at least two years since I had eaten my breakfast at the counter, and I felt the tears spring. Nothing could have made me more homesick for my old life in New York.
I can’t recapture what it felt like living there, not really; that part of my life is done and over. But it doesn’t stop me returning to sit at the counter and order Two Eggs Any Style, Home fries for $5.00.
There is a glorious history of the B&H here.
127 Second Ave., New York, NY 10003
nr. St. Marks Pl