Eli Zabar’s Holiday Survival Guide

You know how New York’s gourmet food stores are more like jungles prior to the holidays? The aisles are crowded with a sea of hands snatching challah, hams and pie crusts alike. It’s also the only time the lines outside the Apple Store are given a run for their money by one of New York’s food Meccas. Our solution? To take a beat with one of the original kings of gourmet food shops in New York – Eli Zabar – whose tips for shopping and serving for the holiday are our new survival guide. We took a tour through Eli’s Manhattan with the man himself and obviously snacked along the way; I mean, it’s research.

What would be your ideal food day? 

My ideal food day would be in Paris. I would invite friends over for dinner, and go to the market early in the morning on either Wednesday or Saturday, when my favorite market on Avenue Wilson is open to buy food to prepare. After that, I would stop for a light lunch at Cafe de la Croix Rouge, then get some wine from Le Dernier Goutte, and buy some bread at Poilane Bakery.

A more local ideal food day would be to plan a dinner party with my wife, Devon. We’d go shopping at my market, Eli’s Manhattan on 3rd Avenue, visit my wine store, W.I.N.E. and speak to my colleague Randall about what wines to pair. I would definitely make a baba au rum for dessert.

Must haves for one’s refrigerator over the holiday season… 

It would be nice to have a white truffle, a tin of caviar, some buckwheat blinis, french butter, and perhaps some eggs so you can whip up scrambled eggs with truffle in the morning. But, the reality is that you need to have a cheese selection on hand all the time, so you can always make a toasted cheese sandwich or an omelet when you are tired and there is nothing to eat.

What do you always put out for a holiday dinner party?

I always put out fruit cakes and panettone that I sell at the store, as well as Christmas Stollen, gingerbread cookies, pfeffernüsse and a mountain of clementines.

What do you bring when arriving to a party as a guest?

I usually bring either a bottle of Grower Champagne and or a large loaf of my Jerusalem bread. It’s a great, round country bread that comes out of the oven at the end of the day, so it’s usually still a little bit warm.

What are your favorite picks at Eli‘s Manhattan for the holidays… 

All of the baked goods I mentioned above, and champagnes or white or red Burgundy’s from the wine shop. We also offer magnums of a Riesling from Herman Weiner, which are great.

What is your go-to breakfast?

Slices of grapefruit or a fresh fruit salad with two slices of my toasted Jerusalem or Health loaf, or oatmeal.

What is your go-to dish when eating at home?

Once Devon and I get home from work, we’re usually very tired, so we prepare grilled cheese with sliced tomato. Hummus and pita bread is also a reliable stand-by.

What recipe from your parents do you recreate yourself?

My mother’s French Toast and her butter cookies are sold in the store, as is her Gefilte Fish at Passover.

If you could host a dinner party with any 5 people, living or dead, who would it be? 

My wife, my friends Robi and Michael and their spouses.

What is your menu for a holiday dinner party?

Radishes and butter and salt with a glass of champagne

Pasta with [Eli’s] summer 2013 heirloom tomato sauce

Roast shell of beef with fennel gratin, paired with burgundy

Green Salad

Roasted chestnuts for dessert

Artichokes to decorate the table (they go terribly with wine!)

*For Eli’s Recipe for French Toast, Click Here

*Eli Zabar, photographed at Eli’s Manhattan by Danielle Kosann