Breakfast at Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop with 27-year-old food writer Max Falkowitz.
I have a feeling that, as a child, Max Falkowitz was no stranger to the words, “You are wise beyond your years, young man.” The statement holds true even now. Falkowitz has made an impressive name for himself at two respected food publications, first as senior features editor at and currently as senior digital editor at Saveur. He’s only 27.
As precocious as his career path may be, Falkowitz could not be a nicer guy. Kind-eyed behind wire-frame glasses and gently self-deprecating, he hardly comes across as a typical rough-edged New Yorker. (Growing up, he split his time between Queens and Long Island.) But once he gets going on the subject of food — particularly New York City food — it is impossible not to give him your full attention.
Recently, I met Falkowitz for breakfast in Manhattan at Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop, an 87-year old workhorse of a joint. It’s the kind of place that, without a shred of irony, slings corned beef hash, knockwurst and beans and a sizeable handful of Jewish-inspired dishes (matzo brei, potato latkes, chopped liver, egg creams and the like) to an ongoing crush of rushing office workers and equally unhurried kibitzers. The diner’s slogan “…raising New York’s cholesterol since 1929” is emblazoned on the menus.
We parked on a pair of red padded stools at the 25-seat counter, directly in front of the industrial-size griddle where a cook flipped an endless stream of pancakes and omelets. Nearby, two men rolled dozens of oversize matzo balls between flying palms. It was a gray Wednesday morning, and this was exactly where I wanted to be.
Somehow, even as a decently seasoned Jewish food writer, I had never been to Eisenberg’s before. I’m embarrassed to admit I hadn’t even heard of it. (My greasy spoon Jewish diner of choice is B&H Dairy in the East Village.) Falkowitz, naturally, knew it well.
As we ate (I ordered a completely serviceable, if not revelatory tuna melt and a cup of coffee), he shared his own New York food story.
For his worldly culinary sense, he credits his mom. “She had the idea that if you live in New York, you should be a cultured New Yorker,” he said. Despite being a capable cook, his mother worked long hours, which meant a lot of take out and restaurant meals. Fortunately, he said, she was “pretty adventurous,” and “eating in Queens means the world on a plate” — everything from Indian dosas to Korean barbecue.
Falkowitz did not grow up steeped in many Jewish food traditions, save for occasional pilgrimages with his father to Knish Nosh (“I’d get the $6 knish, bagel dog and Dr. Browns soda combo,” he said), and his grandmother’s “dry-but-good” brisket. And yet his perspective on food — at once reverential, analytical and, at times, healthily skeptical — feels unmistakably Jewish.
Even with a solid background in NYC cuisine, he called the three-plus years he spent on staff at Serious Eats a “crash course in the endless fractal diversity” of the city’s dining scene. In addition to fielding pitches that stretched into the deepest corners of the five boroughs, he wrote countless posts, including an investigative piece called Bagelnomics: The Curious Pricing of New York’s Bagel With Cream Cheese, and a deep-dive guide on where to eat Chinese food in the city. (He also contributed an ongoing column on one of his passions: making ice cream.)
At Saveur, his editorial focus has expanded from the Big Apple to the whole wide world. Still, New York, which is arguably the center of the universe, anyway, has his heart.
“I live one mile from where I grew up,” he said of his apartment in Queens’ Jackson Heights neighborhood. “This is where I always want home to be.”
Leah Koenig is the author of “Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen.” She is a contributing editor at the Forward.