As I wrote last month, the 76-year-old diner B&H Dairy—a remnant of the old-school, working-class, Jewish Lower East Side—was shuttered on March 26 after an illegally tapped gas line caused an explosion that tore the block apart, killing two people and injuring a dozen more. Over time, nearby stores and restaurants came back to life, but B&H, in its old historic building, had to pass a series of newly stringent FDNY and Department of Buildings inspections before it could offer its kosher food to customers once again.
Today, B&H finally reopened in triumph. By 8:55 a.m., a line of cheerful East Villagers had formed. Andy Reynolds, a local artist who’d designed the “Challah, por favor!” shirts lots of customers were wearing, greeted friends and gave interviews to local news stations. At 9:20, the doors finally opened, and a huge cheer went up. Everyone filed in, shaking hands with the grinning countermen who stood by the register, ready for business. A brightly colored cardboard banner hung from the ceiling said “Welcome home!” Customers bellowed “Leo!” when they saw a beloved line cook.
It was a party. Diners introduced themselves to one another; menus and cups of coffee were passed hand-to-hand from counter to table. People shared plates of the famous B&H challah. The staff kicked into gear as if no time had passed at all. And tiny glasses of orange juice were handed out by a handsome, young cook, yelling, “Yalla! Yalla! Yalla! Habibi!”
Fawzy, B&H’s owner, came in, and the room went nuts. And when relative quiet returned, Fawzy told the group, “God bless you! You saved me!” Many of them had donated to crowd-sourced fundraisers and had written to city officials on B&H’s behalf.
A large tattooed gentleman in a Three Kings Tattoo t-shirt and a big beard got served first. Everyone cheered some more. He took a bite and beamed. “The potatoes! Just the way I like ‘em! Beautiful!”
People made gentle fun of a blonde woman for eating borscht for breakfast. A hipster Instagrammed his super-sized grilled cheese sandwich on challah with a potato pancake stuffed inside— the Jewish equivalent of a Wisconsin State Fair foodstuff. “Baruch hashem!” someone said at the counter, as a cook shimmied down the narrow aisle between two-top tables and the counter, calling, “Huevos! Huevos! Huevos!”
“I’ll be back for lunch, Leo!” a man called as he left.
“This is the real New York,” someone else sighed happily.
Marjorie Ingall is a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.