A staffer in a white deli coat strides through the dining room with an edible delivery. "Hot bagels," he announces. "HOT BAGELS," the staff shouts as a reply. He carries ten of them (perhaps more) on a wooden baton, doing his best impression of a cotton candy hawker at a ballgame. He lowers his lance as he approaches our table and asks us to remove one bagel each. Each specimen is beige, the color of khakis, and covered in so many sesame seeds the baked product is nearly invisible. I take a bite. And then another. The concentrated, fragrant nuttiness is profound. And then, amid this moment of bliss, I watch a lady exiting the restaurant with a mink scarf partially draped over the chihuahua in her left arm.
Welcome to Sadelle's, arguably the city's only Jewish-inspired appetizing den selling $15 pigs in a blanket past a velvet rope. Bussers assemble $100 lox plateaus in the vertical style of fruits de mer. Staffers pour orange juice into thin-lipped wine stems, with proper room left for citrus swirling. Bakers work out of a glass and steel cage, located smack in the middle of the dining room, which is great for those who like to Instagram manual labor. And servers process payments with specially outfitted iPhones, because even though cash is often the preferred currency for bagels, only credit cards are accepted here.
This is what happens when you transplant the culinary traditions of the Lower East Side to the Soho shopping district. You get something that feels a bit like Tao for bread (kitschy and clubby), a hint like Balthazar for brunch (packed and pretty). And you get, with Sadelle's, an instant New York daytime classic.
Of course, Major Food Group is at the helm, with many of the luxuries coming courtesy of Melissa Weller, the ex-Per Se and Roberta's baker whose efforts place Sadelle's alongside Carbone as the spiritual heart of this growing restaurant empire. Major Food, despite its humble sandwich shop origins, is famous for refining New York's iconic Italian-American fare, repackaging cheap veal parms into $65 chops and selling them in a Michelin-starred theme restaurant where diners get to feel like they're in Goodfellas or The Godfather.
Sadelle's, by the same token, elevates one of the city's other great gastronomic traditions: the ethnic cuisine of the Ashkenazi Jews who settled in Manhattan in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It's a tradition, alas, that's long removed from poverty; New Yorkers are accustomed to paying $18 for pastrami sandwiches and $100 plus for caviar. Russ & Daughters, both the young cafe and century-old retail shop, remains the city's most dedicated purveyor of such wares, especially at the high end with its deep selection of herring, smoked fish boards, and endless permutations of caviar. Sadelle's sells its share of babkas, blintzes, and matzo ball soup as well, but it also veers into more standard breakfast offerings: blueberry pancakes, French toast. You'll also find Midtown-esque power selections, from $29 club sandwiches to $22 Waldorf salads to $48 lobster salads. Is this Major Food's testing ground for its imminent move into the Four Seasons? Perhaps.
And perhaps I'll have something to say about dinner at Sadelle's in the New Year, with its Russian-style pelmeni and astronomically priced caviar. For now, here are a few thoughts about what's great at breakfast, lunch, and brunch.
The Bagels Are Epic, Obviously. And They're Free, Kind of.
"Bagels are our bread service," a waiter says, and explains you can order as many as you like for no extra charge in the dining room. At the takeout counter they're $2 apiece, 50 cents more than Black Seed.
Now here's the thing. The typical New York bagel, the oversized Big Mac of the bread-for-one world, has a slightly crackly, gently burnished, somewhat chewy exterior, with things getting a hint fluffier toward the center. Sadelle's shiny sourdough specimens, by contrast, are a lot smaller (more baseball than softball), providing a higher ratio of exterior chew to soft interior. And they are spectacular.
Clean allium notes dominate in the everything bagel; the classic blend of onion, poppy, garlic, and salt. Even better is the "everything 2.0," which changes up the flavor profile with a sweet tang of fennel. But really, the regal choice is the salt bagel. Elsewhere, its sodium-laden exterior evokes the ice-melting pellets ejected from the wayward end of a snow day sanitation truck. But at Sadelle's, Weller does away with the typically aggressive coating of pretzel salt. Instead, she uses a smattering of Icelandic fleur de sel, imparting the exterior with a soft, mineral crunch. And on the inside, Weller uses a Sichuan restaurant's worth of black pepper, providing a solid 30 seconds of gentle, low-level burn. Gorgeous.
Smoked or Cured Fish Is Why You're Here
Lox carvers, the highly-prized sushi chefs of the appetizing world, stand tall behind the deli counter at Sadelle's, shaving off slices of fatty fish with such facility it's as if they're peeling away the layers of an onion. This is why you've come to Sadelle's.
House salmon, cured in sugar, salt, and dill, packs all the gorgeous, almost gelatinous texture of a persimmon. The cost is $16 — not bad considering that the portion is enough for a party of two making open-faced sandwiches. For a heartier taste of the sea, smoked Scottish ($20) is the way to go, while sable, the bluefin tuna belly of the Lower East Side, is a stunning study in maritime oil. And at $24 for just a few slices (only enough for one), it's more expensive, pound for pound, than Nobu's famous black cod.
Two small gripes: While condiments are excellent (sliced tomatoes, capers, cucumbers, onions), the envelope-pushing Major Food Group would be well served to push the conversation forward with an edgier selection of pickled vegetables or mushrooms. Also: To-go bagel sandwiches cost $12 to $18, but the fillings, including the salmon, were cold during a recent visit.
The BEC Sandwich Is a Solid Addition to the NYC Roster
The expensive egg and cheese sandwich, which became somewhat of a symbol for the upscale-ificaiton of everything in New York when Times critic Pete Wells penned a love letter to the $4 bodega version last spring, is here to stay, alas. Estela continues to hawk its excellent $16 version on a danish while Santina debuted an excellent $17 version with avocado and bacon earlier this year. Sadelle's charges just as much and the ingredients are simple: two fried eggs with smoky bacon and gooey muenster on housemade challah. The result is akin to eating a French toast sandwich at a Texas state fair: Eggy, buttery bread is the de facto toast soldier to the runny yolks inside. The Monte Cristo-esque masterpiece, just like the version at Santina, easily feeds two. And that brings us to a related point...
Just About Everything Here Is Enough for Two
Before you gripe about the prices, keep in mind that most dishes here are sufficiently portioned to share. That goes for the $20 salami and mustard omelet, which tastes precisely like a New York hot dog transformed into an egg dish. And that also goes for the placemat-sized blueberry pancakes, as well as the cheese blintzes, whose mix of ricotta and cream cheese mimics the pudding-like texture of good Russian tvorog. The turkey and roast beef triple decker is a $29 mistake, a study in what happens when too much coleslaw overwhelms a pile of one-note turkey and overcooked roast beef. Also a skip are the pigs in a blanket, little different in taste and texture from the frozen Hebrew National variety.
Baked Goods Need No Improvement
Weller's sticky buns and chocolate babka are close to perfect. The buns, caramel-laced laminated brioche, are an axiomatic argument in favor of replacing every cinnamon bun in America with these salty-sweet treats (on par with the excellent variety at Roberta's). And the babka is everything it should be, a touch dry, more closely mimicking a loaf of bread than the brownie it pretends to be elsewhere.
Cost: Anywhere from $10 for grapefruit cocktail to $100 for a smoked fish platter for four, though most breakfast preparations hover in the high teens and low twenties.
Sample dishes: Salami and eggs, classic egg sandwich on challah, smoked sable, smoked salmon, cobb salad, triple decker sandwich, chocolate babka.
What to drink: Fresh squeezed orange juice ($6), coffee ($4), Bloody Marys ($15).
Bonus tip: Reservations are accepted via OpenTable; walk-ins should come early to avoid waits of up to 90 minutes.