Lord knows, we never thought we’d see the day when Jewish food became cool. Growing up, it seemed as distant and improbable a possibility as Brooklyn itself becoming cool; an age when Sephardic or Askenazi delacies (when not prepared at home), were the exclusive purview of no-frills, track-lit places like Theresa’s (blintzes), Mrs. Stahl’s (knishes), and Mill Basin Delicatessan (chopped liver, stuffed cabbage, corned beef). But in the last five years or so, it’s been astonishing to find more and more painfully hip places peddling potato pancakes and noodle kugel, and people actually eating gelatin-shrouded gefilte fish when not contractually obligated to. Hell, there’s even a kosher BBQ place opening up in Crown Heights—and we can’t imagine it’ll pull quite the same crowd as the nearby Orthodox haven, Mendy’s.
So being that the Jewish high holidays are upon us (i.e., the joyous, honey-sweetened New Year, not the one when you have to subsist on crackers), here are a few forward-thinking dishes that everyone will want to try, whether they’re dyed-in-the-wool Jewish, or just in it for the good eats.
Shelsky’s Rugelach: In addition to serving Bentowitz boxes, mezcal-soused smoked fish and tongue-in-cheek sandwiches, owner Peter Shelsky prepares all of his pastries in house. Granted, the chocolate-filled, cream cheese dough-based cookies known as rugelach have always been one of the easier sells in the Jewish food canon, but the versions at Shelsky’s are especially appealing. That’s because they’re flavored with sweet and citrusy clementine and spicy, piquant ginger, which is not only a great flavor combination, but inspired by the names of his two young daughters. Aww!
141 Court Street, Cobble Hill
Mile End’s Smoked Meat Sandwich Kit: Mile End has begun shipping their products nationally (and just in time for the holidays)! So you’re definitely going to want to certify that meat mail, lest the UPS guy gets too handsy with your Grandpa Pack (smoked turkey and turkey rillettes), Sandwich Kit (sliced smoked meat, rye bread, mustard, pickles), or half-slab of fatty Montreal Brisket.
97 Hoyt Street, Boerum Hill
Dassara’s Deli Ramen: Since the Boerum/Carroll/Cobble stretch is essentially ground zero for chic Jewish food in Brooklyn, this Smith Street ramen shop made a wise decision to engage in multi-ethnic noodle collaborations with its nearby neighbors. Case in point: the Shelsky’s Smoked Salmon Mazemen—brothless noodles topped with hot kippered salmon, fried scallion cream cheese balls and ikura, and their infamous Deli Ramen; chicken broth thick with diced celery, matzo balls, a runny fried egg and a length of Mile End meat.
271 Smith Street, Carroll Gardens
The Gorbals’ Jewish Lunchbox: Being that recent Brooklyn transplant Ilan Hall became infamous for his bacon-wrapped matzoh balls at L.A. hotspot, The Gorbals, you know he’s got some less-than-traditional options in store for the upcoming holidays. There are those Nueske’s swaddled balls, of course, dabbed with horseradish mayonnaise, as well as a gribenes (chicken skin) lettuce and tomato sandwich on rye, falafel-crusted sweetbreads with a zesty cool ranch hummus, and a “Jewish Lunchbox” (akin to Shelsky’s Eastern European bento), containing fried barley, a gefilte fishcake, dill-infused kimchi, and a soft poached egg.
Space Ninety 8, 98 N 6th Street, Williamsburg
Miriam’s Braised Short Ribs and Kugel: You wouldn’t call the Israeli-inspired fare at Park Slope’s Miriam trendy, but thanks to the Tel Aviv-born, FCI-trained chef Rafi Hasid, it’s undeniably refined. Check out the special Rosh Hashanah menu, which includes housemade gefilte fish served with lemon-garlic carrots and horseradish beet paste (take that, Manischewitz), honey-glazed local farm raised chicken, and dreamy braised short ribs, slumped over a wedge of sweet and savory noodle kugel.
79 5th Avenue, Park Slope
Shalom Japan’s Shalom Caprese: Ordering a loaf of that terrific Sake Kasu Challah with raisin butter during Rosh Hashanah is a no brainer. But now that we’re at the tail-end of the tomato season, we’re even more intrigued by Shalom Japan’s Jewy Caprese, which subs the seasonal fruit for planks of fried chickpea tofu, drizzled with olive vinaigrette and strewn with peppery nigella seeds.
310 S 4th Street, Williamsburg
La Vara’s Stuffed Rabbit: With a menu that uniquely explores the Moorish and Jewish influences in Spanish cuisine, this certainly isn’t your average tapas joint. Smaller bites include crispy eggplant shellacked with honey and melted cheese, as well as a house-cured salt cod salad, studded with olives, pistachios and pomegranate. And dried fruits and heady spices play a recurring role in heartier dishes (which is especially appropriate for the holiday season), such as stuffed rabbit loin poached in sweet onion vinaigrette and served with prunes, olives and saffron, and cumin roasted lamb breast, daubed with a preserved lemon-date condiment.
268 Clinton Street, Cobble Hill