Gabila’s Knishes—No Cutting Corners

photo courtesy of Gabila's Knishes

photo courtesy of Gabila’s Knishes

In the world of geometry, the square is the geek of basic shapes: four equal sides, no variety, rigidly conventional and kind of nerdy. You know — square.

But, when you take an ordinary square and mix it with some crispy fried dough, a touch of savory, seasoned potato puree, some break-the-mold chutzpah and the threat of an untimely demise, suddenly it’s hip to be square.

A culinary cousin to dumplings, raviolis, empanadas and pierogis, the knish was brought by Jewish immigrants the United States in the early 20th century. It’s a pocket of carbohydrate heaven, a pillow of whipped potato wrapped in a flaky golden crust.

The team at Gabila’s Knishes in Copiague quickly realized they were navigating a square love affair last autumn — or at least a case of unrequited love — when a fire took down the manufacturing line that produces their signature knish.

Gabila’s produces 13 million fried square knishes annually. The fourth-generation, family-owned business claims to be the largest producer of knishes in the world and cornered the market on the square knish in 1921, when founder Eli Gabay established the original business in Brooklyn.

men sorting potatoes to make Gabila's knishes

photo by Doug Young

Stacey Ziskin Gabay, one of Gabila’s co-owners, says they are the only company that offers the square knish, supplying many national wholesale clubs, supermarket chains and delis in the tristate area, including the legendary Katz’s Deli. Ziskin Gabay says according to family lore, the recipe probably originated in Eastern Europe and immigrated with Gabay’s founder to the United States. Gabila’s sources potatoes from Long Island to Maine, and the squares account for 75 to 80 percent of the company’s business.

The fire halted production, and the absence of the square prompted a public uproar, according to Ziskin Gabay. The company was inundated with calls from customers and devotees who feared the demise of their beloved square knish.

“While we always knew we had really loyal fans, we didn’t anticipate the outcry,” she says. “People find them delicious, and we’re the only ones who make them.”

Ziskin Gabay says square knish aficionados seem to crave the comforting contrast of crispy, fried dough and silky seasoned mashed potato filling. “We discovered through this crisis that apparently this was a staple in many people’s diet,” she says. “It’s a versatile item, and people eat them on a daily basis, whether it’s a snack item or a side dish.” She says some fans get inventive and even construct a meal called a “knish-wich,” slicing the square in half, and adding a sandwich-style filling.

Square knish diehards have reason to celebrate. Gabila’s announced last week that the manufacturing area had cleared inspection after five months, and the fried squares began arriving at local eateries this past Monday.

Who would have thought something so square could be so sexy?