Derelict Dining: B&H Diner


(Originally posted on the “A New York Thing” Glob.  R.I.P.)

In the early 1960’s my father, a Colombian immigrant and South Bronx resident, was denied entry to Cooper Union.  He promptly took the 6 train downtown, marched into the Dean’s office, and told him to go fuck himself.  This was hasty and uncouth, but also provided his first experience in the East Village, where he would then make his residence. To some, Downtown has become a sort of museum to an “edgy” past, a rock and roll theme park where rich kids get to dress up in 4,000 leather jackets.  Despite this, my father was ecstatic to hear that I would be returning from abroad to his old stomping grounds earlier this year.  “Gabo!, You gotta go to the B&H Diner and have a blintz” he told me before making fun of me mercilessly for what I pay in rent compared to his former $80 a month eleven window penthouse on 2nd Ave and 6th.


B&H is an institution, and not a secret one.  It’s charms and cramped quarters are consistently filled with revelers and wanderers, locals and tourists.  Yet, its allure goes far beyond the fact that it is an affordable “old school” diner at the corner of 2nd Avenue and St Marks floating in an endless sea of skull engraved bongs for sale.  It means so much more, which we will now discuss.


Our society functions on the basis of certain truths and constants, collectively defined and agreed upon.  Pudding is delicious, the Middle East is in turmoil, the Knicks suck, green means go.  B&H is not bound by such strict norms.  True artists, they are.  In bright yellow letters they proclaim loudly, “Vegetarian”.  However, vegetarian is just a “word”, an idea, an ethos.  Why let the fact that you have said you are vegetarian stop you from eating meat?  Would you stop listening to rap music just because you are “against” “murder”?  I haven’t.   B&H lives this way, and I applaud them.  

It is true that most items on the menu are in fact vegetarian. But the sincere delicacy of B&H, one passed down to me not by my father but from the spirits that enter into my life (i.e. semi-lucid older folks I meet on the street), is the white fish, which according to society, is a meat.  


White fish bears many similarities to tuna, which is a magical canned food.  B&H does a fantastic tuna melt on top of their homemade challah bread.  However, white fish is tuna’s better looking/smarter canned sister.  The pescatarian Rashida Jones to tuna’s Kadada.  Smoky, delicate, a palate amusing flavor with a taste that doesn’t overpower.  


On this night, young Torey Kish and I chose to pair my white fish sandwich with a full sampler platter of the finer things in life: Borscht and Kasha with Gravy.  Summer has Kool-Aid, and winter has borscht, and I draw this similarity primarily based on them sharing the exact same electric red colour.  I’ll leave you to your thoughts of a huge carafe of Borscht busting through the Berlin wall to end Communism/usher in an era of political instability in Ukraine.  The Kasha was warm and filling, but not outstanding- it needed more salt.  

Ease of use:

Food at B&H is served almost instantly upon ordering.  Sandwiches are prepared in 30 seconds.  Soups are ladled out at shock-worker speeds.  The staff are friendly, yet not particularly keen on explaining dishes to you.  For example, I was banned from eating Kasha Varnishkas when I asked what it was. “Maybe next time”, they chuckled at me.  It turns out they are just bow-tie pasta.  


Destiny is about more than just Kelly Rowland, Beyonce, and the five or so women that Beyonce had killed in the early 2000’s.  It is about life coalescing disparate patterns, events, and people into unlikely scenarios.  I spent the majority of my early 20’s living in Cairo, Egypt (revolution, coup, pyramid themed fast food, etc).  Thus, I was taken aback when I entered into a Kosher diner specializing in Jewish eastern European food, only to be greeted by two chefs hailing from the land of the Nile: Mikey (Mahmoud) and Fawzy.  Few things in this world make white people feel weirder than hearing a fellow white person speak Arabic in a Kosher diner, but I embraced destiny, and Mikey now affectionately calls me a nickname that would take a very long time to explain here.  My point is that there is a Jewish diner run by Muslims, which would make for a probably mediocre/possibly racist sitcom about post 9/11 New York.  


Somewhere, probably in the Palladium dorm at NYU, there is a 19 year old thinking themselves very funny for having a Saturday tradition called “Blunts and Blintzes”, where, as one might imagine, they and friends get very stoned and eat blintzes.  I haven’t smoked weed since high school, but I do enjoy a blintz, which is really just a yiddish chimichanga.  I’m allergic to most fruits, so choosing the blueberry blintz at B&H was not only a foray into alliteration themed desserts but a possible deathly mistake.  Luckily, I am alive, and the blintz was a decadent and fulfilling end to a great meal.  

My meals at B&H are rarely transcendent, but it is a consistent and tasty option when you want a fairly straightforward a satiating meal.  If it were a rap album, it would be Ludacris’ “The Red Light District”.  

Taste: 3.5/5 Mangas

Cost: 3.5/5 Mangas

Ease of use: 4.5/5 Mangas