On this, the sixth day of Hanukkah, we’re nearly at the end of what is widely regarded as the latke high season. Really, though, any day when the thermometer registers below 45 degrees can be regarded as an excuse to devour hot, greasy carbohydrates, and even if self-preservation and intestinal fortitude conspire against the everyday consumption of potato pancakes, it’s still nice to have a good stand-by should the craving strike.
Among the many restaurants, delis, and hole-in-the-walls that traffic in latkes are the Second Avenue Deli and Sarge’s. These two shrines to Semetic excess stand within a mere three and a half blocks of each other in Murray Hill. The massive latkes at both restaurants are served in plates of three, presented less as a meal than as a challenge to both common sense and the nutrition establishment’s efforts over the last 40 years. But which is the better latke?
The Second Avenue Deli’s latkes cost $13.95, and come with a shallow bowl of applesauce. Given that latke ingredients — typically potatoes, oil, egg, seasonings, and a bit of matzoh meal — are some of the cheapest known to the restaurant industry, the price is difficult to swallow. And so are the latkes, which are the size of 45s. Although they were a delectable golden brown, their crust was slightly soggy instead of crusty, like the frying oil hadn’t been hot enough. The latke’s insides were uniformly gummy, like something that came from a box, instead of a potato: one taster observed that “it’s like eating salty piano felt.” The applesauce might have helped if it was accompanied by sour cream, but it wasn’t. Serving a latke without sour cream is like serving soup without a spoon, and the omission added insult to gastrointestinal injury.
Sarge’s latkes, which were about the same size as Second Avenue’s, did come with a generous bowl sour cream, as well as applesauce. At $9.95, they were also four dollars cheaper than Second Avenue’s. But most importantly, their golden-brown crust was matched by an audible and satisfying crunch. Their interior, which contained bits of carrot, was soft and properly seasoned; accompanied by the sour cream and applesauce, every forkful boasted the holy sweet-salty-fatty trinity that a good latke should. Make no mistake: this is not the best latke in town, or even the east side of Manhattan. But in Murray Hill, at least, Sarge’s reigns supreme in both quality and value over its closest competitor.
548 Third Avenue
Second Avenue Deli
162 East 33rd Street