Many years ago, while I was working as a counselor at Beth Tfiloh day camp in the Baltimore suburbs, my favorite camper took a trip to Israel. She came back with the best present a 15-year-old counselor could ever ask for: a jar of chocolate spread.
At the time, I’d never encountered such a thing. And it changed my life. Suddenly chocolate peanut butter sandwiches were the stuff dreams were made of.
Fast forward nearly two decades. We live in a world where chocolate and other nutty spreads are prevalent. Just yesterday the maker of Nutella made news by cancelling World Nutella Day!
At the same time, a minor travesty was unfolding in our neighborhood in brownstone Brooklyn. Ample Hills, Prospect Height’s newest and arguably most popular ice cream shop, announced that it is cutting down from 24 ice cream flavors to 16.
In doing so, they may get rid of Nanatella, a delicious organic banana ice cream rippled with — you guessed it — creamy Nutella.
By the time I moved out of Chicago, the place had lost a good deal of its relevance for me. I had come to know Myron & Phil best as the restaurant just west of the storage facility where I kept most of the junk I thought I would need for my move out east. As a new, not-entirely-devout pescetarian married to a hardcore vegetarian, I had little need for a place that did its biggest business in steaks, ribs and a famed relish tray that came with three big scoops of chopped liver.
Sure, you could order the scrod or the steamed vegetable platter, but to do so was to invite disappointment. By then, my father was having a hard time getting out of the house anyway and going to Myron & Phil without him seemed beside the point. Founded in 1970, this was a restaurant for his generation, the sort of place where he had his usual table (close to the exit), his usual drink (“martini up, blue cheese olives”) and his usual order (“the Pritikin Chicken”). This was the quintessential 20th century Jewish steakhouse, a place where politicians came to shore up the Jewish vote — on the walls were framed, autographed photos of Bill Clinton, Dan Rostenkowski and the other celebs and pols who dined here. I haven’t been back in some time, but if Rahm and Barack’s pictures aren’t on the walls, I’d be stunned.
I remember Myron & Phil as a loud joint — a sort of seven-night-a-week Bar Mitzvah. Whoever was running it when I went there would holler at the line chefs, not by name but by physical description (“Hey, Tall Guy, give it a little more fire.”) Rumor had it that some tough Jews had a card game going in the back, but I never saw any evidence of that. Probably it was just a rumor started by my some of my relatives who populated the joint — men who’d fought their way out of the Depression on the Old West Side of Chicago and found middle-class comfort in oil, car sales, and the steel business. Whenever my dad saw Phil Freedman, one of the two brothers who owned the place, he would say he remembered him from when the Freedmans’ mom ran a cafeteria in his old neighborhood — yes, Myron and Phil had also made it out of the old ‘hood all the way to the north side.
Memories of Myron & Phil return upon reading reports that Myron Freedman, the restaurant’s 95-year-old co-founder, passed away early Wednesday morning. At right about the same time, the restaurant itself caught fire. Myron’s son Mark, who’s been running the restaurant for nearly 15 years, told the Sun-Times that he feels like a phoenix who will have to remake his father and uncle’s place as “the jewel of the North Shore.” Myron & Phil will re-open in about a month, says Freedman. Like all of us, he’s part of a generation that has risen from the ashes of the old one. Maybe I’ll even stop in on his restaurant with my family on my next trip through town. I’ve changed a lot since I was last there and I’m sure Myron & Phil has too. I’ll even bet that there’ll be a lot more on the menu for me to order other than steamed vegetables and scrod.
Adam Langer is the arts & culture editor of the Forward.
Every Jewish cook has their Passover mainstays, which are usually divided down a line: Ashkenazi or Sephardic, depending on their family’s country of origin. On a recent Tuesday morning we decided to cross over and try our hands at making traditional Syrian Passover foods.
Our teacher was Jennifer Abadi, author of “A Fistful of Lentils: Syrian-Jewish Recipes from Grandma Fritzie’s Kitchen,” private chef and teacher of culinary classes all over Manhattan. Abadi recently launched a new blog, Too Good to Passover, which she’s hoping to grow into a book about Sephardic Passover foods, encompassing foods from many different Middle Eastern cultures.
She promised to keep it simple, and she did. We started our cooking class with macaroons. Forget the canned coconut variety you’re used to… these are made of pistachios. Abadi used salted and unsalted pistachios to get a salty-sweet combination that’s popular in Syrian cooking. The sugar and pistachios were pulsed together in a food processor and egg whites and rose water added later (technically, the recipe calls for orange blossom water, but that’s harder to find).
When Haaretz’s food and wine critic, the late Daniel Rogov, moved from Paris to Tel Aviv in the late 1970s, he discovered a cornucopia of Jewish foods from all over the world, stemming from the manifold cultures from which Jews had immigrated. What he missed was one of his favorite foods from his childhood in Brooklyn: a pastrami sandwich on rye.
Indeed, what is arguably the quintessential American Jewish dish has never played a major role in any other Jewish cuisine in the world. There is something irreducibly American about the deli sandwich, which bespeaks the unique history of American Jews.
Much of the Jewish deli sandwich’s popularity in America is tied to the evolution of the sandwich itself, which exploded in popularity after the First World War. Even before the advent of the mechanical bread slicer in Iowa in 1928, the sandwich (originally invented by Rabbi Hillel the Elder, as we commemorate each year during the Passover seder), became one of the most popular of all American foods, with more than 5,000 sandwich shops in New York by the mid 1920s. In a city defined by its manic energy, the sandwich became the perfect fuel for people on the go.
Homemade inari sushi, mandle bread, rice balls, spicy edamame, hamantaschen, and rice crispy treats. If there was anything incongruous about the offerings at the recent bake sales for Japan earthquake relief at Brandeis Hillel Day School, a pluralistic Jewish day school in San Francisco, no one seemed to notice. The mix of Jewish, Japanese and American treats spoke directly to the palates of this unique modern Jewish community.
Though bake sales are “not a tradition” in her native Japan, parent Yumi Murase Berman, has learned about them since immigrating to the United States. Reacting to the recent tragedies in Japan, she reached out to other Japanese-American-Jewish families to host two fundraising bake sales. The menu they created for the bake sale was an extension of the multi-faceted identities that exist for many of these multi-ethnic families and the foods they eat.
American Jews have had a long romance with Chinese food. But the food of this school (which serves both falafel and sushi in its lunch program) and community represents more than culinary tourism or attempts of trying the cuisine of the moment. This mixing of cuisines could be credited to the American tradition of adopting and blending foods of immigrants into a culinary melting pot. But it is equally a natural extension of the Jewish culinary tradition of adapting and integrating local foodstuffs and recipes into the Jewish diet. These blending cuisines and food traditions are part of the ongoing negotiation of Jewish identity and community that we see mediated through food. In this case, it comes not from outside influences but from within the growing Jewish community’s internal Jewish culinary negotiations.
Buenos Aires, best known as the Paris of South America for its vibrant culture and architecture, has become a major tourism destination. And there’s plenty of interest for the Jewish tourist. Argentina has one of the largest Jewish communities in the world, and the largest in Latin America, with estimates ranging from 175,000 to 250,000. The neighborhoods of Once and Abasto, in the heart of the city, are full of synagogues and are the main area for kosher grocers, butchers and restaurants as well as Judaica and Hebrew book stores, largely clustered on Calle Tucuman. In years past, the neighborhood contained a mix of Ashkenazi, Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews, but today, Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews remain the most visible. Many Ahskenazis have assimilated, spreading into the suburbs.
Cuisine wise, Argentina is best known for beef, the staple of virtually every meal. Kosher cuisine here is no different, and visitors used to dry kosher meat will be happy to find juicy, tender steaks in Buenos Aires. Yosef Chamen, of the kosher butcher shop Carniceria Artesanal Kasher (Viamonte 2743 at Boulogne-Sur-Mer; +54/11-4962-5643) says, “it’s because we use smaller, younger cows, not the big ones like you have in the United States that makes our meat always tender.” And kosher food has a following throughout the city, even among non-observant Jews and non-Jews alike, according to Isaac Laniado, owner of the Kosher Pizza Man (Tucuman 3110 at Anchorena; +54/11-4861-7290). “People believe that kosher is a healthier way of eating, and it is true,” he says. So whether you’re a frum or just a curious visitor, there are plenty of reasons to try Buenos Aires’s kosher offerings.
If you’ve ever been to an observant Jewish wedding it’s likely that you’ve come home with a bentsher, a small prayer book used to say blessings after a meal. Your party favor might have even had a cheesy logo on the front – maybe it was the couple’s Hebrew initials intertwined to form a rose. New Kosher’s “community bentsher” is nothing like that.
Instead of the standard Hebrew or Hebrew-English, New Kosher, a website and organization which works to make kashrut more accessible to all, breaks the mold by mixing prayer with stories, poems and even recipes. “If you don’t keep kosher, you don’t see a point or it’s archaic to you, but you want to understand it, the resources available are complicated. So, we took an idea, stripped it down, tried to present it in a way that’s easy to understand and related to daily life,” explains Patrick Aleph, founder of New Kosher, Punk Torah and lead singer of an art/punk/grunge band Can!!Can.
While Aleph and New Kosher’s creative director Michael Sibini crafted much of the bentsher, the poems and recipes come from a wide swath of people including author Matthue Roth, and Leon Adato, who runs EdibleTorah.com, a site that helps coordinate potluck dinners for Shabbat.
As the Forward’s international whisky correspondent I was hoping for some modest representation of the tribe at the 2010 New York WhiskyFest this Tuesday. What I wasn’t ready for, though, was a minyan davening maariv in the lobby just before the doors opened for the non-VIP guests.
That sense of hevruta set the scene for an evening where, among the 2,000 or so attendees sipping, sniffing and talking whisky there was a disproportionate presence of Jews with kippahs, Jews without kippahs and, in a couple of cases, even Jews wearing shaytls. A relative dearth of Jewish women, though, was entirely in keeping with an event that was an almost exclusively male affair.
The arrival of cold season is loudly heralded by advertisements for flu shots and the sounds of sniffles on buses and trains. Colds are inescapable and still, year after year, armed with folk medicine and fierceness, we resolve to cure the incurable. Thankfully, Jewish tradition, from Maimonides to the shtetl, offers us some guidance for using food to cure the common cold.
In the category of folk medicine falls the “guggle-muggle,” a milk and alcohol based drink, or the “Jewish echinacea.” Adored by such contemporary Jewish heavyweights as Barbra Streisand and Ed Koch, this beverage is consumed by the larger Eastern European world, but is most distinctly associated with Yiddish culture.
“Others have a nationality,” the writer Brendan Behan famously noted. “The Irish and the Jews have a psychosis.” We also share a love of corned beef and raucous fiddle music — think folk and klezmer. Still, an Irish-Jewish fusion restaurant seems like a stretch.
Enter the Star and Shamrock, a “modern-day neighborhood melting pot” on Washington, D.C.’s up-and-coming H Street NE, whose logo is a three-leaf clover inside a Star of David. “Sound like a contradiction?” asks its website. “Jewish and Irish cultures, celebrated (and tormented!), have more in common than you’d think! Misery loves company — Oy Vey!” The site also touts cross-cultural culinary quirks like “a Reuben with a side of latkes and a pint of Black and Tan, or a shepherd’s pie with a side of matzo balls.”
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