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Jewish Food Redefined

Until just recently, Jewish cooking was far from fashionable or even flavorful, for that matter.  In the last year, new restaurants are featuring Jewish cuisine, everything from Montreal deli food to “New Jewish” cooking with a Mediterranean edge.  There’s even a rumor that Jeffrey Chodorow is teaming up with Kutschers, the Poconos’ most famous hotel-resorts, known forits Jewish foodstuffs, like borscht, smoked fish and potato latkes.  There’s everything from the very un-kosher Traif in Brooklyn to old school steakhouses like Sammy’s Roumanian or Octavia’s Porch in the East Village.  Here’s a few of our favorites:

Old School:

Address: 205 E Houston between Ave. A & Essex St.
Phone: (212) 254-2246

When did Katz’s become a tourist destination? The out-of-towners seem to be outnumbering the New Yorkers these days.  You can’t blame them for wanting to taste the mythical
pastrami or corned beef at this Lower East Side deli.  The sandwiches are stuffed to towering proportions if you order right. This is one of the last great Jewish delis in Manhattan, like nowhere else in the world.

2nd Ave Deli
Address: 162 E 33rd St , between 3rd St. & Lexington Aves.
Phone: (212) 689-9000

For cold-kicking, better then Mom’s matzo ball soup, the 2nd Ave Deli is tops.   As any Jewish deli connoisseur knows, it’s not easy to find a good matzo ball, but these are wondrously light and moist.  The deli sandwiches are monster-sized, but I prefer classics, like stuffed cabbage or kasha varnishkes (buckwheat grout sautéed with onions & chicken stock).  Though it’s moved from its original, Second Avenue location, this is pretty much as authentic as you can get.

Sammy’s Roumanian
Address: 157 Christie St., btwn. Rivington & Delancey Sts.
Phone: (212) 673-0330

If you have yet to visit Sammy’s Roumanian, make it a priority.   I mean who knows how much longer this Jewish steakhouse will be around for? Really, it’s the perfect excuse to rally a big group together to experience this charmingly kitschy eatery. Dinner at Sammy’s is a little like dinner at your Bubby’s house circa 1930; if your Grandmother was a killer cook
and carried Grey Goose frozen in ice blocks.  The vodka will fuel a feast filled with not only the namesake Roumanian skirt steak, but also kreplach (meat dumplings), knishes, potato
pancakes and chopped liver. Like guacamole at a Mexican restaurant, the chopped liver is prepared tableside.  The perfect end to the evening is a round of egg creams.

Barney Greengrass
Address: 541 Amsterdam Ave., btwn. 86th & 87th Sts.
Phone: (212) 724-4707

On weekends, the line often trails out the door at breakfast at this Upper West Side institution.  Eyeball the amazing array of smoked fish in the display case while you wait and take in the timeless scene. Sturgeon, whitefish and lox are the most popular orders and well worth your attention, but the salmon pastrami is unparalleled.  Best on a bialy, this spiced, smoked fish is served with cream cheese, tomato and onion with a pickle on the side.

New School:

Octavia’s Porch
Address: 40 Ave. B, btwn. E 3rd & E 4th Sts.
Phone: (212) 677-4096

With Nikki Cascone from Top Chef in the kitchen, you might expect pasta to be the focus at her new restaurant. Well, you’d be wrong.  Culling from her Jewish-Roman roots, Nikki and her husband recently opened this “New Jewish” restaurant with Mediterranean influences in the East Village. There’s a sautéed chicken liver salad with red grapes, celery and matzo, duck with sweet potato latkes and matzoh ball soup. The roasted chicken is stuffed with a challah-date mixture and challah again pops up on the dessert menu in the form of a banana bread pudding.

Fish Tag
Address: 222 W 79th St., btwn. Amsterdam Ave. & Broadway
Phone: (212) 362-7470

I knew Michael Psilakis and Ryan Skeen’s new restaurant specialized in fish, but I was surprised to discover an “appetizing section” of the menu in the Jewish deli sense of the word.  Dubbed appetizing service, the selection includes sablefish spiced with paprika and a laundry list of salmon preparations including smoked, Irish, gravlax and a pastrami salmon.  In addition to the fish offerings, there’s a selection of cheese and meat (not kosher).   For dessert, there’s sesame halvah.   all menu items have recommended wine pairings.

Address: 229 S 4th St., Havemeyer & Roebling Sts (Brooklyn)
Phone: (347) 844-9578

In case you don’t speak Yiddish, Traif translates to non-kosher cuisine. Is it delicious? Definitely. The rotating roster of dishes may include pork belly with avocado, corn and tomato marmalade or seared foie gras crowned with a sunny side egg, maple syrup and hot sauce. Giving the finger to observant types are the bacon doughnuts, a porky nod to the Chanukah sufganiyot.

Mile End
Address: 97 Hoyt St., btwn. Atlantic Ave & Pacific St. (Brooklyn)
Phone: (718) 852-7510

This is Jewish deli food with a decidedly Montreal edge, like poutines, which are fries, smothered in gravy and cheese curds to Canadians. In just a year, Mile End has become both a destination restaurant for Manhattanites and a favorite for locals. Before noon, there’s bagel sandwiches, including a bagel & shmear or the mish-mash with eggs, onions, lox and a bagel shipped straight from Montreal.  Lunchtime honors deli classics, like a chopped liver sandwich with onion relish and egg on a “pletzel” and The Ruth Wilensky salami and mustard stuffed into an onion roll.  Still, dinner is where the cooking at Mile End shines.  There’s radish nubs sprinkled with gribenes (chicken skins) and cholent, brussel  sprouts with apples and candied walnuts, and trout with horseradish cream and pickled beets.   Their cholent –  a stew traditionally cooked overnight and eaten for the Sabbath – is not the slushy meat mixture you’re familiar with.  Far from it, theirs is made with veal shortribs, sweetbread kishkes, beans, barley and jus.

Written By Lauren Bloomberg

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