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Schnitzi Schnitzl: Around the World But Close to Home

January 28, 2008

Around the World But Close to Home

With recent trips to Turkey, London, and Arizona, JFK is starting to feel as much like home as home.

Trips to the airport are expensive, long, and involve barreling down the Belt Parkway with an eye on the clock, but they do yield a chance for some human companionship–a precious commodity for a telecommuter like me–because I need to get driven to the airport and back. And car service drivers provide some of the most detailed and interesting information about other parts of the world that I am exposed to. One driver, plumbed for information about Haitian food, pointed out a place on Flatbush Avenue that reminds him of home–a place I will be seeking out later in the blog cycle. Another driver repeatedly mumbled questions about when my husband leaves for work, so he could come over and we could “make friends.” He got a very polite response from me (“can you speak up, sir? I’m really having a hard time hearing you”) until I suddenly realized he was asking. Yet another driver told me all about the city of Islamabad (only 40-ish years old, built recently to replace Karachi as the government center of Pakistan), he told me about an ice palace in Dubai, and his impressions of Iran and Afghanistan. I know more about the world now than I used to, so that trip compensated for the sleaze of the other guy.

Along with the human interaction, this overland travel lets me see a bit of what’s being developed in our area. It seems as if we are being crowded on all sides–well, on the south side–by Schnitzel restaurants. Except for health reasons, I could not be more delighted by this.

Schnitzel Fact Sheet

What is Schnitzel? Can you show me a picture of one? But if I don’t want to click on the link–just tell me this. Is it noodles? Or am I confusing it with that cheese thing with potatoes that you can get a separate little oven for?

The noodles are Spätzle. The potato cheese thing is Rösti, a food item that sparks all sorts of other debates. (Should I cook the potatoes before I make it? Is it good? Will I feel less or more existential dread if I buy a tiny little oven just to cook one thing that only Swiss Germans eat?)

Calm down, my friend, because you are about to know more about schnitzel than is, uh, strictly necessary. Schnitzel is German-language word which means pounded cutlet which has been egged, floured, breaded, and pan fried in lard. Generally the cutlet is touted as veal, often the cutlet is pork masquerading as veal, and sometimes it is both labeled as and is actually chicken. Chicken pounded flat and breaded and fried, esp. dusted with salt and squirted with lemon and heaped with arugula and finished with cubed tomatoes . . . ahh, that is the dish known in New York City as chicken milanese (or more colloquially Flatty Delicioso) and that is also a dish that is sadly not to be found in this part of South Brooklyn. But in Milan, where cutlet cooking of this sort was originally codified, purists use veal, eggs, unflavored breadcrumbs, no flour, and cook it in butter. Later, in Germany and Austria, it developed its own set of details, resulting in a slightly lower quotient of lip-smackiness.

However, Ashkenazi Jews who migrated to Israel from Eastern Europe imported the notion of schintzel and once in the promised land, where there is no pork*, started making it with chicken or turkey and re-upped the deliciousness, spicing it up Middle Eastern style, cooking it in oil, spritzing it with lemon, and putting lots of garlicky condiments on offer, and that’s what Schnitzi is all about. Oh, that, and a more delicious form of bread: the baguette.

From doing a bit of reading (one way of gathering information other than traveling or talking with a car service driver,) I have come to understand that schnitzel on pita is apparently a very important and pleasing part of life in Israel, and some believe it to be the national dish. It was surprising that before Schnitzi we hadn’t seen schnitzel in the nabe, because Israeli sandwich stores are one of the few amenities that our neighborhood does. not. lack. We’ve got the world-class Olympic Pita a few blocks to the south—which is my favorite—and the Famous Pita just a few blocks north, and this is the one which my husband votes for as being the best. Those deserve their own posts (and perhaps some sort of eat-off contest).

Schnitzi Schnitzel

But we noticed Schnitzi last summer, when it sprouted up as a bright shiny clean coin on the face of the CIA (Coney Island Avenue). We knew of it before the wedding but didn’t manage to eat their until right after. It was yet another foodery with rabbinical blessings from various sects on the doors. but instead of being an Italian restaurant or a sushi one, this somewhat garish orange and blue storefront promised to bring something new to bring to our experience. Once married, we tried Schnitzi. In the time between the wedding ending (early October) and the honeymoon beginning (mid-October) I developed and then secretly nursed a Schintzl fascination, obsession, and subsequent addiction. Luckily, our trip to Turkey quelled it.

With Spanish (chili peppers and bread crumbs) Greek (garlic and bread crumbs), Italian (herbs and bread crumbs), Polish (bread crumbs and MORE bread crumbs), and Chinese (sesame seeds and I will let you guess what else) as some of the exciting things on Schnitzi’s menu, you can eat your way around the world without ever leaving the block of the CIA between Avenues I and J. Think of it as a bread crumb tour of the world with juicy glatt** kosher*** chicken cutlet on a yummy baguette with any number of sorts of sauces.

The chicken is breaded and fried fresh, requiring a huge amount of labor in a very small, open kitchen, which is why the numerous young countermen (sort of Coney Island Avenue Israel hipsters, if that is . . . possible) all wear t-shirts which say, on the back “I’ll be with you in a moment.”

There is another Schnitzel opened a bit closer to JFK, and soon we will go. Hopefully, sooner than I return to JFK, but that is doubtful. Meanwhile, if you have any questions about where, in the airport, to buy a bag of cashews or a neck pillow shaped sort of like a bear hugging your neck, post in the comments tab and I will get back to you asap. However, I would prefer comments on the topic of sandwiches.

* how could be promised land?
** certified as having died without spots on the lungs, ie very healthy
*** blessed but more important, brined in salt and osmosis makes it extra juicy

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