Hit Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop (174 Fifth Avenue, 212-675-5096) at the end of the lunch rush, and it will still be busy, full of a unique mix of construction workers, businessmen, locals, and a few tourists, who share the 25-seat long counter. You’ll see suited types with gold pinkie rings enjoying pastrami on a sub roll, and you’ll hear German tourists discussing just exactly what a tuna melt is. With its melting pot of cultures and dependable food, Eisenberg’s exemplifies the essence of a true New York diner.
Found behind the register or outside sitting on his camping chair each day is the owner of Eisenberg’s, Josh Konecky. A portly New Yorker with a taste for billowy Hawaiian shirts, Konecky had been a regular customer for over 10 years, ordering his “non-observant Jew bacon and eggs” on an almost daily basis. In 2005, the internet took a toll on his printing business, and he decided to look for a career change. The then-owner of Eisenberg’s, Steve Oh, mentioned the business was for sale. Konecky made the purchase.
After changing what had to be changed according to the health department, Konecky slightly “Jewishized” the menu, changing the chopped liver recipe to his mother’s and adding homemade burgers. Besides that, the feeling and menu hasn’t changed, to the great happiness of the regulars. “Some guy was paying today and said he would sue me if I changed anything,” said Konecky.
Eisenberg’s surely does not have the best food in town, but the food is still very good. But it’s not the sole reason the place is typically filled from morning (it opens at 6:30 a.m.) until about 7 each night: it’s filled because Eisenberg’s is a true old line establishment that prides itself on its past, its consistent quality, and, as its saying goes, “Raising New York’s Cholesterol Since 1929.”
Eisenberg’s long counter and red leather stools hearken back to how diners and luncheonettes used to look. Skip the tables in back for one of these stools — the true Eisenberg’s experience happens at the counter. The joint will be packed with regulars, so the first question from the cooks behind the counter is going to be, “Do you need a menu?” And after one visit, you probably won’t.
I have friends who only eat breakfast at Eisenberg’s, no matter the time of day, and with good reason. The eggs here are as good as any diner in the city, especially if you get them in the LEO. A scramble of lox, eggs, and onions, it’s as good as smoked fish and eggs can be. Before ordering the eggs, always ask to start with a small cup of complimentary pickles, one of the best free bites around.
Konecky keeps standards for the Jewish fare high, which means the Jewish classics are always sure bets. Order the housemade turkey on a toasted bagel with some lettuce, tomato, onion, and a little Thousand Island. Throughout the 1900s, New York lived on a sandwich like this. Not into turkey? Try the homemade tuna salad on toasted rye — it’s always fresh and has just enough mayo to keep the sandwich from drying out. Tuesdays and Thursdays are meatloaf days at Eisenberg’s, and those are good days to go. This isn’t that dry meatloaf with chunks of seemingly still-uncooked onion that your friend’s mom made you in third grade. This is the delicate and perfectly textured version you wish your Jewish grandmother had made you. And if you don’t feel like drinking a cel-ray with your meal, order one of the best egg creams still found in the city. Sweet and delicate, the vanilla version is the perfect pairing for the burger.
There’s one thing you should avoid, though: “We sell a ton of pastrami,” says Konecky. But it’s hard to see why. Tough, fatty, and chewy, Eisenberg’s pastrami is a world away from the version you find down on Houston Street at Katz’s. Besides the pastrami,
Most of all, Eisenberg’s is now an anomaly in the Flatiron District. It’s a haven away from the lights and chopped salad emporiums lining the block, and it’s a far cry from Eataly, which is just across the street. Konecky has a low-rent lease that expires in 2022, and he has been trying for months to re-negotiate to no avail. “I’m not trying to be a restaurateur, or even expand,” he says. “Just trying to keep it alive and traditional.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 21, 2014