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  • Writer's pictureAdam Horvath

A Buttered Roll & Coffee -Bite, Sip, Repeat.

I think the hair band Cinderella summed this foodigenous up best with their 80's monster ballad You Don’t Know What You Got (t'ill It's Gone). For decades every corner deli, coffee cart, bodega and quickie mart throughout NYC, North Jersey, Long Island and Fairfield County Ct have been selling Saran or wax paper wrapped, hard buttered rolls to go with a hot cup of coffee. And chances are, if you never left the area, it’s quite possible you would live your entire life assuming this affordable breakfast combo is common everywhere. It Isn't!

I'm not implying "bread and butter" is a unique New York phenomenon, I recognize it's the most common free food in every restaurant in the country. I'm just saying for those of us that grew up anywhere near the shadow of the Empire State Building and were raised watching afternoon Scooby Doo reruns on WPIX, taking a bite of a buttery, chewy kaiser roll with a swig of coffee is as much of our adult morning routines as hitting the snooze button twice.

What's So Great About it?

A bagel with a schmear might be the more iconic NYC breakfast, but a freshly baked kaiser roll slathered with butter paired with a coffee is a way of life. It's quick, easy and doesn't discriminate. You're just as likely to find the same crumbs on a Peter Millar sportscoat lapel as you will on a crossing guard's safety orange vest. And for $3 or less at most places, it's still relatively affordable.

According to the NY Times article "Ode to the Buttered Roll", it was Charles Louis Fleischmann and his brother Max, who introduced commercial yeasted bread to the city in the 1870s. Their Vienna Model Bakery made the first kaiser aka Vienna rolls -known for the rosette like shape on top from how the bread is pinched. The airy and chewy rolls quickly became popular as an inexpensive meal with the German Jewish population and later the influx of Eastern Europeans. It was the brothers' innovation that caused this to become the foodigenous it is today.

What to look for?

The Perfect Combo

The Tri-State is blessed with an abundance of quality bread wholesalers like New York Hard Rolls Co & Zaro's in the boroughs and my two personal Jersey favorites, Venice Bakery and Anthony & Sons. That doesn't mean that that there aren't some duds out there. Stay away from anything not wrapped in plastic wrap. If it comes in a pre-sealed bag or worse, aluminum foil, it's probably garbage. Give it the finger touch. Press softly on the top. Your nail should feel the crust and it should have a little give- Think the Pilsbury Dough Boy. Some bakeries make rolls a bit crustier or harder than others, but anything too hard is likely a yesterday leftover. That said, I'm still convinced even "our" worst rolls are better than something you'd find in Des Moines. (Sorry Iowa, I threw a dart)

The real variable is the butter to bread ratio. Too little or too much will make a big difference. Some places like, my local 7-Eleven, add so much whipped butter that I need to squeegee off 70% of the excess like I'm squeezing the last bit of toothpaste from the tube. But the roll is perfect and it's worth the extra effort. I find it better to have too much, than not enough, just saying. You will find places that use a sweet butter, others salted. And be wary, there are a few fugazi marts out there that will trick you with margarine. fukouttahere! Finding the right place is like discovering that perfect barber or hair salon. It might take a little time, but once you find the right one, it becomes forever yours.

If you think I'm overstating the enjoyment of licking your buttery lips before chasing it down with a warm gulp of a coffee regular, go ask someone that you know is a transplant from New Jersey or New York, it's probably not that hard to find one. We tend to stand out. Watch their eyes open wide with nostalgia as they reminisce. And if you are one of those locals that take your coffee and hard roll for granted, recognize how lucky we are!

Pro tip: stick to highly populated stores to ensure freshness and if you do find a stale roll, don't throw it out. Give it a quick dip in the coffee, which will fix that right up!

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1 Comment

Josh Beren
Josh Beren
3 days ago

Wow. I did take this for granite. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

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