Ratner’s Cheese Blintzes

A couple of weeks ago, I was doing some research for my upcoming cookbook when I came across a blurb about Meyer Lansky, a Jewish gangster otherwise known as the “Mob’s Accountant.” I’ve never been very interested in mafia history, and yet this passage stuck with me. Apparently Lansky was a regular patron of Ratner’s, a Jewish dairy restaurant in New York City. Lansky, along with fellow mobsters Charlie “Lucky” Luciano and Bugsy Siegel, were known to frequent the restaurant. Their favorite menu item? Cheese blintzes. Like many well-known personalities of the past, these mobsters saw Ratner’s as more than just a restaurant. It was a place to hang out, chat, and do business, all while enjoying a dose of Jewish comfort food. Though it’s been closed since 2002, mention the word Ratner’s today and faces continue to light up with recognition. How did a little New York kosher dairy restaurant gain such notoriety, in the mob and beyond?

Jacob Harmatz and Morris Ratner, two brothers-in-law, opened Ratner’s Restaurant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1905. As Katz’s Deli became increasingly famous for their tender, juicy pastrami and corned beef, the pair saw a need for a dairy restaurant where vegetarian, cheese, and fish dishes could take center stage. Ratner won naming rights to the Pitt Street restaurant when he defeated Harmatz in a coin toss. The restaurant became well known for its kosher meatless menu, including such Jewish delights as onion rolls, borscht, vegetarian chopped liver, latkes, and a variety of sweet and savory blintzes. Ratner left the partnership and sold his half of the business to Harmatz in 1918, but the restaurant continued to bear his name. That same year, the more well known Delancey Street location opened. In its heyday, Ratner’s served Sunday brunch to about 1,200 people each week. Patrons included such luminaries as Al Jolson, Fanny Brice, Jackie Mason, Elia Kazan, Walter Matthau, Groucho Marx, Robert Kennedy, Nelson Rockefeller… and even the occasional mafia member.

Meyer Lansky, the “Mob’s Accountant,” 1958. Wikimedia Commons

Before Meyer Lansky became the “Mob’s Accountant” and a regular patron of Ratner’s, he was Meyer Suchowljansky, born on July 4, 1902 in Gradno, Poland. The Suchowljansky family was well respected in Gradno, though they weren’t immune to the anti-Semitic feelings of the time. Gradno was considered somewhat safe for Jews until the end of the 19th century, when the Russian Tzar legalized persecution of the Jews living there. At that time, Jewish citizens had three choices – they could stay and endure the oppressive conditions of their home country, emigrate to the Jewish holy land, or make their way to America and start fresh. Meyer’s grandfather Benjamin chose Jerusalem, while Meyer’s father, Max, chose America.

In 1909, Max set off for America alone, hoping to send for his family in Poland soon after. At the tender age of 7, Meyer was forced to become the “man of the house.” By 1911, Max had earned enough to bring his family over to America through the port of Odessa. Meyer traveled overseas with his mother and brother on an overcrowded, rickety tramp steamer. Upon their arrival in America, they settled in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, Brownsville. Max changed their last name to his wife’s more pronounceable family name, Lansky, presumably to help them fit in better. Max worked hard to support his family, but when times got tough, the Lanskys were forced to move to the Lower East Side tenement district. Meyer became accustomed to a new life without an emphasis on his Jewish faith. Without his grandfather Benjamin around, the family began to lose touch with some of their religious traditions. Instead, Meyer was encouraged to focus on his studies at public school, where he discovered his aptitude for mathematics. This talent would become crucial to his career later in life.

Meyer Lansky, being led by a detective for booking on a vagrancy charge at the 54th Street police station, New York City. Library of Congress

Meyer remained close to his family. One of his main responsibilities was to deliver the cholent for the Shabbat midday meal. He would walk the stew over to a bakery on Delancey street after school on Fridays. For a nickel, the bakery would cook the cholent overnight and have it ready to be picked up the next day. Accomplishing this task for his family was a great source of pride for Meyer. It was on one of his many cholent deliveries that Meyer was introduced to street gambling. He was immediately drawn to the activity because it involved numbers. Soon he was betting his cholent nickels on street crap games. It was here that he began to meet the unsavory characters that would help to shape his career path.

Charles “Lucky” Luciano at the Excelsior Hotel, Rome – June 11, 1948. Wikimedia Commons.

Violence was growing in Meyer’s neighborhood, and organized crime was on the rise. As a teen, he befriended Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel. Around the same time he also met Charles “Lucky” Luciano, who made money offering protection to Jewish youth from Irish and Italian gangs. Meyer, Bugsy and Lucky became lifelong partners in friendship and crime. Lucky eventually rose to lead the New York Italian mafia, with Meyer and Bugsy by his side.

It was Meyer, Bugsy and Lucky who were often seen together at Ratner’s, noshing on kosher food and quietly discussing their “business.” In a 1997 interview with the NY Daily News, Abraham Reistein, former manager of Ratner’s, reminisced: “we didn’t approach, unless asked,” he remarked, noting that Lansky often ordered “baked whitefish” in addition to cheese blintzes. According to Reistein, if one of Meyer’s bodyguards would show up with blood on his clothes, a waiter would help to burn the evidence in the incinerator. Ratner’s was Lansky’s second home, and people there liked him… so much so that the back room of the restaurant was turned into “Lansky’s Lounge” for a short period of time.

Bugsy Siegel, NYPD mug shot, April 12, 1928. Wikimedia Commons

With his pal Bugsy, Lansky would go on with to become the father of modern day casinos, gaining a reputation as one of the most powerful men in the country. All of this, fueled by Ratner’s blintzes. I couldn’t help but be curious… what did these famous cheese blintzes taste like?

A couple of years ago, I stumbled across a now out-of-print paperback cookbook from 1975 called “The World Famous Ratner’s Meatless Cookbook,” written by Judith Gethers and Elizabeth Lefft. Of course I had to add it to my collection. Here’s a scan of the cover:

In a section called “Dairy Dishes,” the very first recipe that appears is… you guessed it… cheese blintzes! You know I had to try them, so we can find out firsthand why Meyer, Lucky and Bugsy loved these fried, cheesy delights.

I tested the recipe a few times, and had to tweak the cooking process slightly to make it more foolproof. The Ratner’s blintz batter can be somewhat finicky, especially for those who aren’t familiar with the process. If this is your first time making blintzes, you may want to start with my Cheese Blintzes recipe instead of this one– it’s a little more forgiving and easier to work with. Or you can make the blintzes exactly as written here. The detailed instructions and step-by-step photos should keep you on track.

The Ratner’s cookbook recipe calls for frying the blintzes in clarified butter. To learn how to make clarified butter, click here. I tripled the amount of butter required for frying the blintzes, because in my large skillet the original amount only browned the top and bottom of the blintzes, not the sides. If you’re using a standard-sized skillet, 1 cup should be enough– you want the butter deep enough to brown the blintzes evenly. If you’re worried about the extra calories, these blintzes will cook just as well in grapeseed oil or another oil with a high smoke point. Vegetable-based oils will be less prone to splattering, but the clarified butter gives a nice flavor. For each blintz, I used 3 tablespoons of blintz batter rather than the 2 called for in the cookbook. Otherwise, this recipe is as it appears in the book, along with my own tips and tricks to help you along the way.

Do you have memories of Ratner’s Restaurant? Share them in the comments below!

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Ratner's Cheese Blintzes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup clarified butter - recipe on TheShiksa.com
  • 1 lb. farmer's cheese
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Sour cream, applesauce, or your favorite blintz toppings (optional)

You will also need

  • 2 mixing bowls, sifter, small nonstick skillet (7 -8 inches), large nonstick skillet (about 12 inches)
Servings: 17-18 blintzes
Kosher Key: Dairy
  • In a mixing bowl, sift together flour and salt. In another mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and water till thoroughly blended. Beat the dry ingredients into the wet, whisking thoroughly till the batter is completely smooth with no lumps.
  • Grease a small nonstick skillet and heat between medium and high. The skillet is ready when a drop of water sizzles on the surface. If the water pops or jumps out of the pan, the skillet it too hot—let it cool slightly before starting. If the water sizzles, it’s at the perfect temperature.
  • For each blintz, pour roughly 3 tbsp of batter into the skillet, then quickly tilt the pan in a circular motion till the batter coats the entire bottom of the skillet, making a very thin, crepe-like pancake. The batter needs to be added all at once, otherwise it will cook before you've had a chance to swirl it. I measure it out by using a 1/4 cup measuring cup and filling it 3/4 full. It may take you a few tries to get the hang of the process-- proceed with patience!
  • Let each blintz cook for 75-90 seconds until the bottom of the blintz is very lightly golden. You can tell it's ready by touching the center of the pancake's surface-- it should be completely dry to the touch. Do not flip the blintz to cook the other side, and do not let the edges get too brown or dry. Use a spatula to take the blintz out of the pan and place it on a plate.
  • Keep the blintzes separated by pieces of parchment paper, wax paper, or paper towels. This will help keep them from sticking together.
  • When all of the blintzes are cooked, let them cool while you create your filling. Rinse and dry one of the mixing bowls. Combine the farmer's cheese, egg yolks, sugar and vanilla in the mixing bowl, then use a fork to mix ingredients well.
  • Note: Farmer's cheese (also known as pot cheese), while once popular, can be difficult to track down nowadays. It is primarily sold in kosher markets, and has a consistency somewhere between queso panela and ricotta cheese. If you don't have access to farmer's cheese, try using my alternate cheese blintz filling recipe on TheShiksa.com... or use an equivalent amount of ricotta cheese that has been very well drained, using cheese cloth to squeeze and remove as much liquid as possible.
  • Now you’re going to stuff and wrap up your blintzes! Place a blintz with the lightly golden side facing down, the less cooked side facing upward. Put 2 tbsp of filling on the lower part of the blintz, about an inch from the edge.
  • Fold the lower edge of the blintz up over the filling.
  • Fold the sides of the blintz inward, as though you’re folding an envelope.
  • Roll the blintz up and over the filling like a burrito, tucking the edges in as you roll.
  • When the blintzes are stuffed and rolled, you are ready to fry them. Pour 1 cup of clarified butter or grapeseed oil into a larger nonstick skillet (12 inches) and heat over medium until hot. Do not let the butter or oil turn brown or start smoking. Cook the blintzes in batches of 4 or 5--this will give you space to turn them easily in the pan. Carefully place the stuffed blintzes flap-side down into the hot oil. The blintzes should fry for 1 ½ to 2 minutes until the bottom of each blintz is golden brown and crispy.
  • Turn the blintzes carefully using a spatula and/or tongs, then fry for an additional 1 ½ - 2 minutes. Blintzes should be evenly browned on both sides.
  • Let the fried blintzes drain on a layer of paper towels.
  • Serve blintzes warm. They can be served as-is or topped with fruit topping, sour cream, applesauce, whipped cream or maple syrup. Apparently Meyer Lansky liked his topped with sour cream.

Research Sources

Gethers, Judith and Lefft, Elizabeth (1975). Ratner’s Meatless Cookbook. Ballantine Books, Random House, New York, NY.

LowerManhattan.info: Ratner’s Closes, for the Last Time. December 16, 2004.

McAlary, Mike (1997). “Old Mobster’s Lounge Act Meyer Lansky Still Able to Make Money.” New York Daily News, February 28.

Mendelsohn, Joyce (2009). The Lower East Side Remembered and Revisited: A History and Guide to a Legendary New York Neighborhood. Columbia University Press, US.

Montague, Art (2005). Meyer Lansky: The Shadowy Exploits of New York’s Master Manipulator. Heritage House Publishing Co. Ltd. US.

Comments (51)Post a Comment

  1. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Thank you so much for this recipe!!! We moved from NY a few months ago to below the Mason Dixon Line. We used to buy our blintzes in Fairway Market, but alas there is no Fairway here. This recipe will deliciously solve that problem!
    I can’t wait to make them for lunch! I usually have my blintzes with a Greek 0% yogurt with fruit, while my husband, continuing the tradition of his Russian- Jewish grandparents, must have sour cream. Now to find a good, mile high, corned beef on rye.

  2. I used to have a paperback Ratner’s Cookbook. The cover looked different. I lost it in one move or another. My favorite recipe was the onion rolls with the oil, poppy seed, and onion filling.

  3. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    My great Aunt Ray was the queen of blintzes! She was the matriarch of LESHNER’S CREAMERIES in the Boston area. She was one of the first people to sell blintzes in the frozen section
    of the deli. There were 13 Leshner appetizer stores, which my grandfather ran, after his father, my great grandfather, passed away. She was known and loved for her personality and famous for her Blueberry Blintzes, Mushroom Blintzes and cheese Blintzes. The Bletlach..is what the crepe is called..and Blintzes
    will continue to be a favorite with many people. Thanks!

  4. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    What wonderfully delicious memories you’ve brought back for me. I’m swooning just thinking about Ratner’s cheese blintzes (with sour cream of course) and onion rolls!

    I have to admit though, that what stands out most in my mind when I remember going to Ratner’s as a child was how much the hands of the oh so ancient waiters used to shake, and how sure I was that they were going to spill the soup and coffee all over me, but somehow they always managed to get it just right, shakes and all. Ratner’s wasn’t just a restaurant, it was an institution.

  5. I so miss Ratners! As a native NYer, that was my a family favorite to visit. I looooove the blintz and can’t wait to try the recipe! Thanks for posting it!

  6. These are so easy to make and as good as it gets! I used your alternate recipe for the filling, since I can’t get Farmer cheese here (I remember my mother eating Farmer cheese on matzoh for breakfast). Thank you so much for the trip down memory lane!

  7. Thanks for a trip down memory lane. This reminds of my Russian Jewish papa!! One of his favorites and of course with sour cream for him! Jam for me all the way. Thank you for sharing !!

  8. I am one of the “cooks in the kitchen” at the small synagogue I belong to. My next cooking date, for the Saturday Kiddush is February 9th. I’m going to give these a try. Since, I live in the San Gabriel Valley, and finding pot cheese is not an option, I’m going to use the ricotta mix. Thanks so much for posting this.

    1. Yes, blintzes can be frozen. Just separate them with parchment paper if you want to cook them individually or freeze in an ovenproof dish if you want to bake them.
      I still try to get farmers cheese when possible.
      My recipe is very similar. I don’t make clarified butter.
      Trader Joe’s had some decent frozen blintzes if you don’t have time to make your own.

      Thanks for the memories.

    1. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
      Alana,
      Many of the traditional cooks like using the Mexican “queso fresco” white cheese in baked recipes. I’ve read (and heard once on NPR) of an old Mexican tradition brought in from Jewish families fleeing oppression over a century ago. Although still “hiding” in a predominant Catholic nation, there were rituals done by abuelas on friday nights with white shawls, candles, and diet adjustments in meals. A Catholic priest was credited for researching some of these culinary practices to Shabat rituals continued “on the sly” back in the day. He commented that Canada, the U.S., and Mexico are all “immigrant + indigenous” populations. I use cream cheese and queso fresco often. Maybe Tory could look into a “Shabat” culinary connection in Las Comidas Americas? Makes me think a bit when cutting into a tasty homemade chili rellenos… Shalom y L’ Chaim

  9. I love your blog and always look forward to what your going to do next.

    I converted in 1997 and haven’t looked back. I love Judaism and all it offers. My son had his bar mitzvah last month and both sides of our family are so proud!

    Could you suggest some different/regional haroset?

    You are the perfect person to tackle this. Bannana’s and dates?

    If you ever need an assistant or someone to test before publishing, email me!!!!!

    Laura

  10. A good corned beef was asked about. Those of us lucky enough to be living in LA have arguably the best corned beef, the best pastrami, and the best rye bread. We have Langer’s.

  11. OH ! the memories! When i was living back East we always had Friendship Famers’ Cheese on hand. In Berkeley, I used to get baker’s cheese and mix them. I live in the country now, will try your special mix. Also, when I make the batter I let it rest in the fridge for a while so the flour can absorb the liquid and be even smoother. HAve you tried that? Do you know where I can get a copy of that cookbook?

  12. Have the cookbook with a different cover that says Special Premium Edition. Used to go to Ratner’s when visiting NY. I’ve made the blintz filling for forty years, but cheat with an electric crepe pan for the wrap. Sour cream is the only way to go. Enjoy your blog.

  13. Thanks for the memories. My mother would make small bite-size cheese and potato blintzes and they would only last 10 minutes.

  14. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Thanks for bringing back great memories. When I was in college we drove from Maryland to NY one day just to get some Ratner’s soup, blintzas, and onion rolls. Those were the days when gas was cheap!

  15. :( I think I would have wanted this recipe book! I am looking for another recipe for veggie cabbage rolls and also some really good potato knish dough.

  16. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Great work as always. The way you document each step with photos is exemplary.

    Your blintz recipe and method brought back memories of my late mom making them for us on “milchik night” (Tuesdays, by family tradition).

    I do miss Ratner’s, especially those onion rolls!

  17. My favorite dish at Ratner’s was their mushroom-barley soup. I believe the recipe is in the paperback book (mine has a different cover as well). Years ago when my wife passed away and I had to cook for myself, this was about the only meal I could make properly. Like the blintzes recipe, it also needs clarified butter. The secret, however, is baking the onions in that butter before adding to the soup. I heartily recommend you try it if indeed the recipe is in your copy of the Ratner cookbook.

  18. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    I’ve just made the hungarian (and also diet) version of blintzes , it’s really yummie. I made with “túró” which is similar to cottage cheese and used oat flour instead of all purpose flour. Though it was not as nice as yours on the pictures, everybody loved it :) Thanks for the recipe and greetings from Hungary!

  19. Wow what a memory flash for me. Every year the week after our return from the Catskills and before Rosh Hashanah we would take a trip to the Lower East Side to buy gatkas (thermal underwear), socks and unterwesche for the ones we kids had outgrown over the summer in cash with no sales tax, go to Ratners for blintzes and to the PickleMan for pickles. Now the old sweatshops are million dollar condos and it’s called NoHo….Oh and the blintzes at the Concord Hotel in the Catskills — they were divine too!! thanks for memories!!

  20. Farmers cheese seems easy to make. It is just milk, and an acidic liquid like lemon or buttermilk. I’m going to try this recipe this week using homemade farmers cheese( fingers crossed!!)

  21. If you live on the east coast, I am able to get Friendship brand farmers cheese at Wegman’s Market. I used it this weekend to make pierogi!

  22. Hi! Just a follow up on this recipe. I made Farmers cheese using 1/2 gallon of milk almost to boiling point and added 1/4 cup lemon juice. Waited 10 minutes and strained through a cheesecloth (I actually used a coffee filter, as I had no cheesecloth on hand). The actual blintzes were just delightful! I fried them in lots of margarine and topped with sour cream and a fresh home made berry sauce!! I will definitely make again!!

  23. There are no kosher markets in the San Gabriel Valley, which is directly east of Los Angeles. There are lots and lots of hispanic, and asian markets, because those are the dominant ethnic groups out here. The San Fernando Valley is a 30 mile schlep each way; driving into Los Angeles is not something I want to do. I’ll use fresh whole milk ricotta from the Gioia Cheese Company, located in South El Monte.

  24. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I grew up in N.Y. and my parents took us to Ratners all the time.I remember there Blintzes,onion rolls and there mushroom and barley soup.As an adult we moved to Florida
    and I missed all the great restaurants in N.Y. I have no trouble
    finding farmer cheese they sell the friendship brand in our
    local Publix super market.

  25. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Growing up in Brooklyn, NY. My mother would feed me Blintzes before I went to school for lunch.
    Now living in Centeral Texas, I find it very hard to get what I grew up on, so when I saw this receipt I had to make my own. It was delicious, and they freeze very well. Thank you again for great food, and memories.

  26. for the first time i tried making blintzes today and they were somewhat of a failure … if ONLY i read your blog first !!! no wonder why they came out all wrong …

    as always your instructions and pictures are so easy to follow — i look forward to practicing this :) :)

  27. I have been told not just once but several times that I am Meyer Lanskys granddaughter. For many years I have been trying to find out the truth. I was orphaned at 16 by my mothers suicide. I have pictures of my father,Lucky and bugs hugging in my fathers supper club in NYC. I do know my grandmother also was from Grado Poland. I do not talk to any relatives anymore after the suicide and they refuse to give me information.

    I enjoyed your research and article VERY much.

    Please contact me if youcare to

    NO PROBLEM

  28. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I was searching for instructions on soaking dry chickpeas when I came upon your blog and now it is bookmarked for further investigation. I lived in New York throughout the 80′s, in the Lower Eastside and Katz’s and Ratners were two of my favourite restaurants. I even managed to pick up the Ratners Cookbook before they closed down over ten years ago. As a young starving artist (historically Jewish btw) I often went to Ratners for a filling and inexpensive meal. I particularly loved the mushroom varnishkes and the cold borsht soup with sour cream. I plan to try the quinoa risotto soon and to visit your site for more great tips and stories. Great job.

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