Out of the Lower East Side and its creative constraints
Clever chefs like Moshe Wendel and Itta Werdiger Roth are bringing kosher into the 21st century at eateries like Pardes, Mason & Mug, Blossom and Reserve Cut
When the Lower East Side’s last kosher restaurant closed last month, “oy veys” could be heard all the way to the Bronx.
In its heyday, the nabe was home to kosher legends like Ratner’s, Shmulke Bernstein’s and the Crown Delicatessen. Today, just remnants of the area’s Hebraic heritage survive.
But if the demise of Noah’s Ark Deli means the end of an era, it’s also the symbolic start of another.
Kosher is busting out. Like their customers, kosher restaurateurs no longer feel confined to particular neighborhoods.
Mason & Mug
(708 Washington Ave., Brooklyn; email@example.com)
Mason & Mug, which just opened last week, may be the world’s coolest kosher restaurant. First, it’s in ultra-hip Prospect Heights . Second, it’s Gotham’s first kosher small-plate/craft-beer/wine bar, and its uncategorizable “global tapas” include banh mi, Australian “meat” pies and a stellar cheese plate. And third, it’s the brainchild of business partners with serious Hebrew-hipster cred: Itta Werdiger Roth, founder and chef of Ditmas Park kosher supper club t he Hester, and Sasha Chack, 92Y Tribeca’s former food and beverage director.
“We’re opening in what’s not necessarily a Jewish neighborhood because we want locals here,” Werdiger Roth says. “It’s not going to be the kind of place where anyone walks in and says, ‘This place isn’t for me.’ The fact that kosher restaurants are spreading out, and that more people are interested in different kinds of kosher, is amazing.”
Mason & Mug is decked out in artfully graffiti’d walls, and has a wild collage of National Geographic covers in the bathroom, along with a small “general store” near the entrance.
(497 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn ; 718-797-3880; pardesrestaurant.com)
Moshe Wendel’s location for Pardes, his “seasonal, progressive, French” kosher bistro, is as gutsy as his cooking. Sure, Brooklyn’s got a ton of kosher joints — in Crown Heights and Borough Park. But Boerum Hill, one of the borough’s most hopping ’hoods?
“The spread of kosher is a good thing,” says Wendel. “It gives folks an easier time finding something kosher that suits them.” In Wendel’s case — he didn’t start keeping kosher until 2008 — that means a “bare-bones, mom-and-pop, Brooklyn-style” room with a “relaxed, rustic atmosphere,” not exactly standard in conventional kosher dining. Neither are Wendel’s brilliant menus. On a recent dinner roster: gurnard — aka sea robin — with oil of leek ash, wood sorrel, orange, quinoa and arugula roots ($17); a BLT of house-cured “bacon” with porcini mayo, enoki mushroom, tomato “dirt” and spinach on sourdough rye ($21); and chocolate mousse with pumpernickel toast and malted onion ice cream ($13).
“Historically, we ate all kinds of interesting stuff, even grasshoppers, so I think [kosher food’s tameness] is due to migration, rather than a hard and fast rule that it has to be boring,” Wendel says. “ I decided I’d open the kind of spot I’d want to eat in, where I could wear a T-shirt and not feel weird.” Whatever you wear — and whichever religion you follow — it’s worth dropping in here.