Ben’s Best Deli’s Jay Parker (left) with Erik Greenberg Anjou, director and producer of the film. Photograph courtesy of “Deli Man.”
Of all the machers in the new film “Deli Man”, which opens this week, Jay Parker of Ben’s Best stands out. He’s in Rego Park, Queens, for one thing, not the sexy Lower East Side or Midtown Manhattan. He also comes across as a consummate deli man, as quick with a quip as he is with a witty quote about the joys — and occasional tsuris — of running a kosher deli.
And while Parker may not enjoy the high profile of some of his counterparts, Ben’s has developed its own mythos after 70 years in business. The New York Times hailed its pastrami as “incredible”; Guy Fieri honored Ben’s Best with a Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives segment last year.
Ben Parker, Jay’s father, founded Ben’s Best in 1945. After Ben’s death in 1984, Jay — then 33-year-old bond trader — took over the business, and hasn’t looked back. At the start of another day serving up sky-high corned-beef sandwiches, overstuffed cabbage roll and steaming matzo-ball soup, Parker took time to catch up with the Forward. “Deli Man said something accurately: If you don’t love the business, you really can’t be here. It asks too much of you,” he says.
The 90-year-old Streit’s Matzo Factory on the Lower East Side will close after Passover.
(JTA) — Seated in his Lower East Side office, in front of a large portrait of company patriarch Aron Streit, Alan Adler avoids becoming too nostalgic.
“It’s like I tell my family members: None of you own a car from 1935, why do you think a matzo factory from 1935 is what we should be using today?” says Adler, one of Streit’s Matzos’ 11 co-owners.
This is the line of thought behind the imminent closing of the Streit’s matzo factory, a longtime Jewish fixture in a city neighborhood that once was home to one of the highest concentration of Jews in the country.
Streit’s, the last family-owned matzo company in the United States, announced in December that it would be permanently closing its 90-year-old factory after this Passover season because of longstanding mechanical problems and subsequent economic concerns. Sometime in April, the company will shift its matzo production either to its other factory across the river in northern New Jersey, where several other products such as macaroons and wafers are made, or to another non-Manhattan location.
An Israeli-owned car wash on the West Side Highway has become the unlikely source of what may be New York’s most delicious donuts.
No, the guys scrubbing cars aren’t baking in their spare time; former chef Scott Levine, whose resume includes bygone New York foodie temple Chanterelle, where he was executive sous chef, opened Underwest Donuts in December with his wife, fashion stylist Orlee Winer.
Breads Bakery, whose hamantaschen are pictured above, will operate three food concessions at the Armory Show, which falls on Purim this year. Photograph courtesy of Breads Bakery.
Here’s everything you need to know about restaurant openings and closings, chefs on the move and tasty events happening in the world of Jewish food.
A very serious art show will get a little Purim spirit this year.
Breads, the Israeli-owned bakery near Union Square, will serve its highly praised hamantaschen at the Armory Show, the chichi contemporary art fair that calls itself “one of the most important annual art events in New York.”
It’s a first for both Breads and the Armory Show, whose dates coincide with Purim this year. Breads will operate three food concessions at the show; along with hamantaschen, the bakery will offer baked goods like babka and croissants, plus sandwiches, salads and sweets.
A new cookbook offers everyday recipes and modern twists on Jewish classics, with wine pairings.
This is an occasional column in which the writer evaluates a cookbook by making some of its recipes, sharing the dishes with friends and asking what they think of the results. For Purim, she cooked her way through “The Covenant Kitchen: Food and Wine for the New Jewish Table” by Jeff and Jodie Morgan.
Despite what people may think about winemakers — that they’ve always got a bottle of something open to drink — Jeff Morgan says that’s not the case with him and his wife, Jodie Morgan.
“For us, wine is really about eating, not just about drinking,” he said. “We rarely drink wine without food — it just doesn’t happen in our house. It’s all about sitting down and sharing something that tastes really good with each other, with our friends and our family.”
Photograph by Ed Anderson
Cut this tart into 2-by-3-inch squares and it becomes a pass-around finger food appetizer. Or slice it into larger portions, like pizza, and serve it alongside a salad for a light meal or first course. In Nice, France, where we used to live, the locals top the tart with anchovies and call it pissaladière, but we like it best without the little fish. Note that you can serve this tart hot, warm or at room temperature, all with excellent results!
For the tart crust, we use a mixture of all-purpose and high-gluten flours. You can also substitute bread flour for both flours. The dough will need to rise for a few hours, during which time you can prepare your topping.
When it comes to wine, this onion tart is quite versatile. It pairs equally well with both reds and whites. If you’re starting off with the tart as an appetizer, offer your guests a white wine like bubbly or perhaps a glass of crisp Chardonnay. The caramelized onions have a hint of sweetness — great with Riesling or Moscato.
Photograph by Ed Anderson
Filled with the flavors of the Middle Eastern shouk, or marketplace, these fragrant meatballs have just a hint of heat. They are bathed in a bright tomato sauce and served over smoky freekeh, a wonderful wheat cereal found all over Israel and now becoming popular in the United States. You can substitute brown rice for freekeh, if you can’t find it. Remember, though, that freekeh takes a little longer to cook than rice and requires more water. Whether you use freekeh or rice, start by cooking it first. When it’s done, just keep it warm and covered, until you are ready to serve.
Don’t be afraid of the long list of ingredients. Most are simply spices. And the tomato sauce is a snap to prepare. (We don’t recommend seeding or peeling the tomatoes. It’s not worth the effort.) However, because there are three steps here, the best way to keep it simple is to lay out the ingredients for all steps prior to cooking. You’ll breeze through the rest!
And from your wine cellar, look for a rich, spicy California Zinfandel or an earthy Syrah.
Cinnamon Snail food truck in happier times. Facebook
Vegans and omnivores alike are in mourning. Cinnamon Snail, the popular kosher, vegan food truck, will no longer roam the streets of New York City.
For five years, the truck, which Yelp named the 4th best eatery in America in 2014, has served up creative, gourmet vegan fare — dishes like pinenut-butter topped fresh fig pancakes, smoked portobello mushroom carpaccio and an addictive line of donuts and cinnamon rolls that has entrapped thousands of hungry New Yorkers, including me.
About a year ago, I was on the hunt for a perfect parve cake for my wedding. I wanted it to be vegan and free of chemicals or additives. I was already a longtime devotee of Cinnamon Snail’s truck, but I discovered online that Cinnamon Snail made wedding cakes, too. I knew I had found my baker.
The author’s Harissa Chili, inspired by the recipe in Einat Admony’s “Balaboosta” cookbook. Photograph by Gayle L. Squires.
Having become a well-practiced apartment mover over the past few years, I’ve learned that the best way — literally and figuratively — to warm your house is to cook and then share with friends. Sure, the last few days before a move and the first few days after it are all about take-out, delivery and treating yourself to that restaurant that just opened, which you’ve been wanting to try. But once the boxes dwindle and your kitchen no longer resembles a yard sale, getting back in front of the stove just feels so good.
After my last move, my housewarming meal was a chili Shabbat dinner. The recipe is below, but here’s the gist: first, sauté ground beef and lamb in a pot so hot it sizzles. Remove the cooked meat and place it into a bowl –— how proud are you that you can now find your bowls? — and then melt down (in the same pot) the aromatics and stir in some canned tomatoes and beans. The kick comes from North African harissa chili paste and a smidge of chipotle pepper. The most important part of the recipe, of course, is inviting over a few friends — the ones who are close enough that they’re not fazed by climbing over the last lingering boxes or pouring salt out of the container because you can’t find the shaker — to devour the entire pot of chili with a bottle or two of wine.
What better way to break in new digs than by inviting friends for a warm bowl of homey goodness? Photograph by Gayle L. Squires.
This recipe is adapted from the spicy chili in Einat Admony’s “Balaboosta.” To make my life easier, I used cans where I could: canned kidney beans instead of dried; canned tomatoes instead of fresh. I also replaced merguez sausage with ground lamb because it’s easier to find.
The heat in the chili comes from the North African spice paste harissa. Since the spiciness of harissa can vary, use a light touch initially — you can always add more later. I like to serve this on top of wheat berries, but you can use brown rice, barley, farro or your favorite grain.*
1 pound ground beef
½ pound ground lamb
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1½ cups finely chopped yellow onion (about 2 medium)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon sugar
1 28-ounce can of chopped peeled tomatoes
-2-3 tablespoons harissa (depending on how spicy it is)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon chipotle powder
About 4 cups water
2 15.5-ounce cans kidney beans, rinsed well and drained
4 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1) Sauté. Heat a large heavy-bottom pot over high heat (no oil) — it’s ready when you drop a small piece of meat in and it sizzles very loudly. If the pot isn’t hot enough, you’ll end up boiling your meat instead of sautéing. Add the beef and lamb to the hot pot and sauté until browned. Season with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Drain off any excess liquid, but leave all the good browned bits. Remove the meat and set aside.
2) Sauté again. Heat the olive oil in the emptied pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, making sure not to burn it. Stir in the tomato paste and sugar. Add the tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons of harissa (you can add more later), cumin, chipotle, 2 tablespoons salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper and water.
3) Simmer. Add the beans and bring the chili to a boil, then reduce the heat to very low, cover the pot and simmer for 2½ to 3 hours. After the first 30 minutes, taste for spice, stirring in extra harissa if you’d like more of a kick. Check the chili periodically, and if it looks dry, add some more water.
4) Serve. Scoop into bowls and sprinkle with sliced scallion.
Gayle Squires is a food writer, recipe developer and photographer. Her path to the culinary world is paved with tap shoes, a medical degree, business consulting and travel. She has a knack for convincing chefs to give up their secret recipes. Her blog is KosherCamembert.
The popular smoked-fish store just added Jewish classics such as smoked meats, kasha varnishkes and kugel. Photograph courtesy of Shelsky’s.
Fans of Shelsky’s, the always-mobbed Brooklyn smoked-fish emporium, are getting even more to fress.
Starting today, the white-tiled appetizing shop will expand its menu to include classic deli sandwiches, Ashkenazi side dishes and meats by the pound.
“It’s something we’ve always wanted to do,” owner Peter Shelsky told the Forward. “We’ve done smoked fish for a while. Now, we want to play both sides of the News York Jewish food game.”
Family influences abound in the kitchen and the cookbook.
At San Francisco’s Bar Tartine, the chef’s Lithuanian Jewish grandmother shows up regularly in the kitchen — or rather, her spirit does.
“Family influences are our strongest inspiration,” Cortney Burns writes with co-author and co-chef Nicolaus Balla in their intro to “Bar Tartine: Techniques & Recipes.”
“Collectively, we are Hungarian, Eastern European Jewish, Japanese, Irish, Polish, German, Filipino, Slovak, Laotian, Mexican and Mayan.”
That’s a lot of ethnicities in one kitchen, which is perhaps one reason the food at the Mission District hot spot is so unique — San Francisco Chronicle critic Michael Bauer raved in 2013: “Once in a while, a restaurant comes along that is so different and exciting that it becomes my personal benchmark.” He added Bar Tartine to his short list.
It always surprises me when someone says they’re intimidated by the idea of roasting a whole chicken — even though I hear it a lot. My response is to encourage the person to try it, because it’s easy and incredibly rewarding. Really, it’s pretty hard to go wrong.
If anyone’s still not convinced, watch our video and then follow the steps below. There are really just four of them, and you can leave out No. 3 if you feel like keeping it even more simple:
One: Season. Two: Stuff. Three: Bed. Four: Roast.
Roast chicken with za’atar, lemons and shallots. Photograph by Liza Schoenfein.
I offer this recipe as a guideline, not a dictate. There are a few basic steps, the details of which can vary. Season with the za’atar suggested here, or with other herbs and spices — or just with salt and pepper. Stuff with the lemons and shallots in my recipe, or with garlic and fresh herbs such as thyme and rosemary.
Place on a bed of leeks and lemon slices like I do, or on a mixture of eggplant rounds and bell pepper chunks, or on a variety of root vegetables (carrots, parsnips, potatoes and/or beets) — or forget the vegetable bed entirely and sit your chickens on a roasting rack.
Make two chickens like I do, because then nobody fights over the legs and you have built-in leftovers. Or make just one if that’s your preference.
The point is, you can hardly go wrong. Watch our how-to video for inspiration, then try it.
2 whole chickens, approximately 4 pounds each, preferably organic
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 teaspoons za’atar (optional; see note below)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 lemons, one quartered; the other cut into ¼-inch rounds
1 shallot, peeled and cut into large pieces
2 leeks (white and light green parts only), cut into ½-inch rounds (or a few shallots or onions)
1) Preheat oven to 424 degrees F.
2) Pat chickens dry with paper towels and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.
3) In a small bowl, combine za’atar (if using) with salt and pepper. Sprinkle all over chickens. Place 2 lemon quarters and half the shallots into the birds’ cavities.
4) Drizzle roasting pan with remaining tablespoon of oil. Scatter leeks and lemon rounds in roasting pan. Place chickens on top, breast side up. Roast on middle rack of oven for 1½ hours or until chicken is cooked through (juices run clear when area between leg and thigh is pricked with a knife).
5) Remove chickens to a large cutting board and let rest for about 10 minutes before carving. Serve with roasted lemons and leeks on the side.
Note: Za’atar is a Middle-Eastern spice mixture of sumac, thyme or oregano, and sesame seeds. It’s available at La Boite, a New York shop owned by Israeli and spice master Lior Lev Sercarz, Penzey’s and Kalustyan’s. For a simple and delicious dinner, sprinkle it on chicken pieces or fish fillets that you’ve drizzled with a little olive oil, then roast.
Liza Schoenfein is the food editor of the Forward. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @LifeDeathDinner. Her personal blog is Life, Death & Dinner.
Chef Alex Resnik is heading home to Queens to open a kosher restaurant. Photograph: Facebook.
Here’s everything you need to know about restaurant openings and closings, chefs on the move and tasty events happening in the world of Jewish food.
Los Angeles-based kosher-cuisine wizard and Top Chef survivor Alex Reznik is returning to his hometown with a new Glatt kosher restaurant, Eater reports. Reznik, who runs the well-reviewed Ditmas Kitchen & Cocktail in L.A.’s Jewishy Pico-Robertson area, will launch Bedford Kitchen & Wine Bar in Queens, New York, “in a few weeks.” Eater’s Los Angeles blog reports the chef will come out as bicoastal, juggling kitchen duties at both spots. And keeping with Reznik’s theme of “restaurants with Brooklyn-y names that aren’t actually in Brooklyn, Bedford Kitchen will open in a Jewish pocket of Flushing near Queen’s College,” Eater says…
…Brooklyn-based chef Ilan Hall, on the other hand, can save on airfare back to L.A. — for now. The Knife Fight star told the Forward he’s actively seeking a new home for The Gorbals, the recently shuttered downtown Los Angeles hotspot where he pioneered bacon-wrapped matzo balls, among other treyf treats. “We decided to move The Gorbals in L.A. and closed the original location this past December to look for new a space,” Hall said. “The new location will also be downtown, but it’s going to have a pretty different menu. We’re in the process of testing recipes, and we’re hopeful that the new space will open later this year.” Hall continues to wow diners at his Brooklyn branch of The Gorbals, which opened last year…
Michael Abramson presents Yam Chops’ carrot “lox”. Photographs courtesy of Yam Chops.
That luscious lox is made of carrots. Silky cream cheese comes from cashews. And the crispy bacon? Maple-marinated coconut.
Welcome to Yam Chops, the herbivore paradise that bills itself as Canada’s first “vegetarian butcher.”
“We’re about non-meat meat that tastes great, with great texture,” said Jess Abramson, whose family runs the shiny storefront next to a chicken shop in Toronto’s Little Italy. “We’re describing that act of putting that protein at the center of your plate, and getting it within easy reach of customers. If you’re a vegetarian, the question of your main meal always haunts you.”
With customers who run the gamut between vegetarians, “flexitarians” and curious carnivores, Yam Chops has earned a fanatical following among Toronto foodies. “We’re a throwback to what a butcher shop might have been 100 years ago, where they knew your name and what you liked,” Abramson said. “We encourage people to taste, guide them around the store, open cases for them. People crave that kind of service now.”
A pastrami sandwich at the 9th South Deli in Salt Lake City. Photograph by Anthony Weiss
(JTA) - Going back to his very first bite of a Reuben more than 50 years ago, Randy Harmsen has always loved deli food. So when he decided to open his own restaurant, the Salt Lake City native followed in the footsteps of his heroes, who founded establishments like Katz’s in New York, Langer’s in Los Angeles and Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
But although Harmsen’s 9th South Deli is stocked with deli classics like succulent pastrami and crunchy pickles, it differs from the predecessors who inspired it in at least one key regard: Unlike the Jewish founders of Katz’s, Langer’s or Zingerman’s, Randy Harmsen is Mormon and a former bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Harmsen first sampled deli food as a teenager in 1963 at the delicatessen of Lu Dornbush, a Dutch-born Holocaust survivor who maintained a shop in downtown Salt Lake City, and was immediately taken with the cuisine. As he subsequently traveled for work — he ran an engineering firm — Harmsen always made a point to seek out delis in whatever city he happened to be in and try their offerings.
The recipe notebook of Lola Blei, the author’s grandmother, who was known as Loly. Photograph by Daniela Blei.
If there was ever a doubt that cooking is more than just a means of providing sustenance, the evidence lies in my grandmother’s cursive. Her recipes fill a wire-bound notebook, its brittle pages a testament to butter and the passage of time.
Toiling in the kitchen of apartment 15A, in a leafy Buenos Aires neighborhood, my grandmother reaffirmed who she was: Jewish, European and Argentine. She was also a good cook, though not an exceptional one, with a knack for baking cakes named for Habsburg monarchs. Today, her recipe notebook lives in a drawer in my San Francisco home. Between the covers are glimpses of the 20th century: stories of loss, exile and nostalgia.
Like many Jews of her generation, my grandmother’s voyage to the New World happened more by accident than design. It began on a freezing February day in 1948, when Klement Gottwald, an ardent revolutionary and a drunk, stepped onto a balcony in Prague to proclaim a communist republic. For my Sovietophobic grandfather, whose wartime travails brought him unbearably close to the Red Army, it was time to run. Having escaped the drudgery of forced labor in Hungary, he saved himself by finding work in the Soviet Union, putting to use his polyglot education as a translator for Soviet troops. His experience left him terrified of communism’s march across the continent.
From left, Josh Sharon, Solomon Taraboulsi and Gabriel Israel with The Shuka Truck in midtown Manhattan. Photograph courtesy of The Shuka Truck
(JTA) — Just over a year ago, Israeli friends Josh Sharon, Solomon Taraboulsi and Gabriel Israel moved to New York to pursue professional dreams: Sharon and Taraboulsi to prove themselves in real estate, and Gabriel to attend the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.
Instead, the twentysomethings may have found something even better: serving up shakshuka, the Middle Eastern egg-and-tomatoes dish, on the streets of Manhattan. The three childhood friends from suburban Tel Aviv launched The Shuka Truck in December, and it is already generating an array of media coverage.
I first tasted their original creations, which are kosher (supervised by Rabbi Shaltiel Lebovic of Go Kosher), several weeks ago. The shakshuka was perfectly cooked, well seasoned and emerged from the truck piping hot accompanied by an impressively diced Israeli chopped salad. I had to know more, so I sat down with Israel and Sharon, both 23, to hear their story; Taraboulsi, 24, was unable to join us. The interview that follows has been condensed and edited.
While the deli remains intact, Wise Sons lost its commercial kitchen in the fire. Photograph: Flickr
Beloved San Francisco deli Wise Sons is scrambling to rebuild its catering and wholesale businesses after a devastating fire in early February destroyed the building that housed its commercial kitchen.
The fire — which killed one person and injured six, according to news reports — also forced the delay of offshoot Wise Sons Bagels, which partners Leo Beckerman and Evan Bloom had planned to launch this week. After months of testing, Wise Sons’ commissary kitchen was finally ready to bake bagels for wholesale accounts and branded retail outlets it had planned to open across San Francisco, SFGate.com reported.
Still, Bloom told the Forward that Wise Sons will emerge from the disaster even stronger. “In six months, we’re hoping we’ll be saying, ‘Yes, we made it through the fire,” Bloom told the Forward. “We have to find a new place. And the market for real estate in San Francisco is abysmal. But we know more about our business now. And our staff has really come together. I’m a micromanager. Suddenly, you can’t worry about a lot of little things. The staff has really shown us they can do it.”