And the Weiners Are...
You came, you ate, you voted.
The Forward’s second annual Food Choice Awards encompassed a Jewish culinary landscape that keeps getting more exciting — and your choices reflect that. This year, you saluted both traditionalists and boundary-breakers. An iconic, 130-year-old deli; a newish, Jewish-inspired vegan hotspot; a decades-old bagel stalwart, and a kosher-dining pioneer were among those that shared the honors.
Best Jew-ish Chef
Chanie Apfelbaum’s Instagram account describes her as “reinventing traditional dishes from my Brooklyn kitchen.” But with her aptly named Busy in Brooklyn blog, her millennial kosher cookbook and her tireless experimentation, she’s actually reinventing kosher cooking for a new generation.
“We’ve been eating the same traditional dishes for generations, and while I think there will always be a place for the comfort foods of our youth, I also feel that the time has come to make food fun again,” Apfelbaum said. “With Shabbos coming every week and so many holidays around the year, putting a creative spin on old-time cuisine breathes new life into our food and makes cooking less of a chore.”
Best Kosher Restaurant
EAST 46TH STREET
When Barnea Bistro opened this past August, chef Joshua Kessler revealed his ambition to the Forward: to create “the most progressive kosher finedining experience anywhere.”
Judging from the results of our 2018 Forward Food Choice Awards poll, he’s delivered. “For the first few weeks, we got a lot of pushback. ‘Where are the french fries? Where’s the sushi?’” he told the Forward. “Kosher fine dining’s been ingrained with the same cookie-cutter stamp you’d see 20 years ago. But I’ve flipped that over. I’ve brought in careful plating, high seasonality, variable menus, strong flavor profiles. And it’s resonating.”
Best Vegan Restaurant
Modern Love Brooklyn
Modern Love describes its cuisine as “swanky vegan comfort food.” Chef Isa Chandra Moskowitz — a cookbook author and vegan-cooking ambassador — has called it “food through the lens of a Brooklyn Jew.” Whatever you call it, Modern Love’s menu is never less than intriguing. The food is surprisingly haimish, and the dishes are relatable whether or not you’re a full-time herbivore.
“I had a vision of what I wanted out of a restaurant and tried to create that,” Moskowitz told the Forward. “I definitely wanted the food to be from scratch, with big, filling portions, bold flavors and beautiful plating. That’s how I cook, so it was fun to translate into a restaurant setting.”
Russ & Daughters
UPPER EAST SIDE
Despite the “cafe” moniker, Russ & Daughters is a full-service restaurant with a menu that encapsulates —and lovingly reboots — Ashkenazi food history. It’s also a canny brand extension of a beloved Lower East Side institution. And it scores on all fronts.
“We are stewards of a beautiful,
105-year-old tradition that not only belongs to our family, but to generations of families,” said Niki Russ Federman, the fourth-generation coowner of Russ & Daughters with her cousin Josh Russ Tupper. “Food is a vehicle to feel whole, to connect with who we are and where we come from. Providing that continuity of taste and quality is paramount. People rely on us to make sure the bagel and lox they have at Russ & Daughters today tastes the way they remember it from 20 years ago.”
NEW YORK CITY/VARIOUS LOCATIONS
Forward readers are no strangers to Breads Bakery especially since it swept last year’s Food Choice Awards. What’s the appeal, we asked founder Gadi Peleg. “I think it’s the fact that we’re completely obsessed with creating the best-quality product every single day,” he said. “It starts with sourcing the best ingredients we can possibly find. And then making recipes people have probably tried — we didn’t invent babka or challah, for example — but maybe haven’t tasted with the best ingredients on the planet.”
Next up: Strudel, in flavors like apple, poppy and pumpkin pie. “It’s our interpretation,” Peleg said. “Familiar, but a little different.”
Best Middle Eastern Restaurant
EAST 20TH STREET
Call it the blue-and-white wave— New York’s been blessed with a new generation of ultracool modern-Israeli spots that mix up trad ingredients in thrilling, sometimes astounding new ways.
At the forefront of it all is Nur, where chef Meir Adoni “lets loose” on “highend, modern Middle Eastern dishes.” Nearly 18 months after opening, Nur remains one of the city’s hottest tables; under chef de cuisine Ofir Horesh, tastes, textures and colors continue to blaze brilliantly off the plate. “I feel that Nur’s food has resonated so strongly with New Yorkers because we took no shortcuts and maintained the bold flavors of the region, almost exactly as you would have them in the Middle East, without making any adjustments,” Horesh told the Forward. “To people who have visited or are from the Middle East, it will really feel familiar and authentic, and for those who haven’t, it will stand out as unique.”
NEW YORK CITY/VARIOUS LOCATIONS
Bigger isn’t always better — unless it’s at Ess-a-Bagel, where zeppelin-sized bagels still lure long lines of New York- ers and carb-cravers from all over.
Launched in 1976, Ess-a-Bagel is now run by Melanie Frost, a niece of the founding family. She’s wisely chosen to stay the course plotted by her forebears, meaning cinnamon raisin and nine grain are about as trendy as Ess-a-Bagel gets. The bagels are still hand-rolled, boiled, baked on wooden planks until they’re inflated to nearbursting and served warm, if your timing’s right. The chew’s incredible, the crust’s usually crisp, and the weight will satisfy you for hours.
LOWER EAST SIDE
On the one hand, not much has changed at Katz’s since 1888: You still walk through a turnstile, receive a paper ticket, place your order at one of the deli counter’s stations and salivate until your pastrami, latkes or matzo ball soup emerges.
On the other hand, everything’s changed. There’s a Katz’s outpost in Brooklyn; the deli offers a meat subscription service; a glitzy coffee-table book has chronicled a day in the life of Katz’s, and Katz’s itself has become a symbol of a vanished Jewish Lower East Side.
Energetic young owner Jake Dell is savvy enough to strike a perfect balance between past and future. Even as he reinvents Katz’s for the 21st century, he hasn’t touched what makes it great: towering sandwiches, luscious housecured meats, pungent pickles, penicillin-power soups and artery-challenging cheesecake. The room’s still noisy, raucous and a little chaotic. The attitude’s in-your-face, New York quippy and a little brusque. It’s the essence of deli, and long may it reign.
Buffalo cauliflower wingwith Avocado Ranch Dressing, Modern LoveBrooklyn
Niki Russ Federman & Josh Russ Tupper ofRuss & Daughters
Poppy Strudel from Breads Bakery