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Meet The Guy Who’s Wrist-Deep in All Manner of Pickles

 

Alan Kaufman: Wrist deep in pickles
Alan Kaufman: Wrist deep in pickles

The smell of vinegar and salt is noticeable about halfway down the block, just past the handmade dumpling shop (10 for $2.50!). It’s a hot summer day, and the cheap pizza place next door to The Pickle Guys (49 Essex Street; 212-656-9739) isn’t open yet. Standing behind a few of the large red barrels that take up most of his store, Alan Kaufman is talking about a recent customer who’d asked him to pickle some daikon; “It just smelled weird, you know? I don’t know if I would do that again.”

Kaufman, with a friendly, everyman demeanor, is a man who knows about the relationship between salt and cucumbers. Since 1981, he has been wrist-deep in pickle barrels on the Lower East Side, in an area once known as the ‘Pickle District’. A Queens’s native, Kaufman got his start working at the two famed pickle-emporiums, Guss’ Pickles and L. Hollander and Sons.

A freelance commercial photographer throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, Alan decided to close his photography studio permanently in 2000 and left Guss’ to open up the best pickle spot in NYC, The Pickle Guys. Kaufman tells the Voice, “When I first started working in this area (in 1981) there were four pickle places within two blocks, now we are the only pickle place that pickles on-premises”.

There are around 20 large red barrels situated in the small, sunken, first-floor shop. From sweet and crunchy bread-and-butter pickles, pickled sweet red peppers and tomatoes to eight types of pickled cucumbers, the pickle guys make over 30 varieties of pickled items.

Their biggest seller is still the whole sour pickles, the pickle which spends the longest time ‘pickling’, a process that takes three months; a ‘new pickle’ will spend one to ten days in the barrel. And don’t worry — you can also get half sours and ¾ sours. No vinegar is used for these cucumbers, which are sourced through the pickle guys own ‘cucumber broker’, who sources them from along the Eastern Seaboard and as far as Texas; two or three months out of the year they come from New York and New Jersey. The fresh cucumbers take a long bath in a mixture of water, salt, garlic and pickling spices. Although Kaufman doesn’t give exact proportions, the seasoning spices contain coriander seed, mustard seed, bay leaf and black peppercorns.

Pickled tomatoes at The Pickle Guys
Pickled tomatoes at The Pickle Guys

Kaufman greets just about every person who enters the store; “Want a pickle while you’re browsing?” he asks. The customers at Pickle Guys are diverse; from an older Jewish gentleman/David Crosby look-a-like contest winner who’s buying a large order of sauerkraut and full sours to take back upstate, to a younger lady getting a gallon of pickle brine for “pickle backs,” each one seems happy to be in the proximity of a great comfort food.

“We got a job where people really appreciate us,” Kaufman says. “Some people have a job where people just complain. I’m lucky.”

An Old World treat, pickles started arriving in this area of the Lower East Side in the early 1900’s, after Eastern European immigrants landed on nearby Ellis Island. “You didn’t need a store back then, you had your barrel on the corner and popped the lid,” Kaufman notes.

The pickles at Pickle Guys are the best in city for two reasons: they really care about their product, and they really know how to make it. Their famous sour pickles teeter on the precipice of sour and too-sour. And even after three months in a vat of water and salt, they still maintain their juiciness and bite. Pickled tomatoes, green and almost translucent, are juicy and crunchy, and somehow taste fresh and aged at the same time. The pickled pineapples, with flakes of red pepper floating on top of the barrel, are sweet and salty and spicy — there’s no better representation of pineapple in the city.

Around the holidays, the Pickle Guys make a few select items that the “old-timers” still yearn for, like fresh-ground horseradish made on the street outside, to russell borscht (fermented beet juice that is the base for borscht soup) to cabbage rolls that Kaufman describes as “like a Jewish burrito” .

In an ever-changing New York, Pickle Guys is a reminder of what the city once was; it’s the genuine article, with each pickle made by people who strive to be the best.

The Pickle Guys are kosher (local Rabbi Shmuel Fishelis visits weekly); they’re closed on Shabbat and ship nationwide.

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You Can Now Have Glatt Kosher Meal Kits Delivered Via Kitchn Synch

Over the past few years, meal kit delivery service like Plated and Blue Apron have revolutionized cooking at home — the companies deliver all of the tools for assembly of a recipe, plus said recipe, and promise that even if you’ve never used your oven for anything but storage, you can put out a solid meal in your own kitchen. Both companies launched in New York, and, as testament to their success, both have spread nationwide (and if you’d like to see a comparison of the two, we’ve tested them side by side). What they don’t offer, at least not in any expansive way, is meal kits for people with extensive dietary restrictions. You may be able to say that you don’t eat meat, but you can’t specify that you’re Paleo, for instance. And if you build your diet around religious strictures, forget it. That leaves the door open for companies like Kitchn Synch, a glatt kosher meal kit delivery service that launched this week.

Douglas Soclof, the company’s creator, built his entire career around glatt kosher food. His first restaurant was a glatt kosher barbecue restaurant that grew to fourteen locations, including outlets in Miami, upstate New York, and New Jersey. He dabbled in the kosher-coffee business. And then, he says, “I saw the trend in the non-kosher world in the meal kit industry, and thought, hey, what a great way to start servicing the kosher market.”

While the philosophy of servicing is the same as with Blue Apron or Plated — you order a meal, the components show up on your doorstep — Kitchn Synch is abiding by the very strict guidelines of the glatt kosher diet. Ingredients are painstakingly sourced from contacts Soclof has made over his years in the business, and you’ll never find, say, dairy and meat in the same box.

Soclof is finding global inspiration for his recipes, so you can expect to see items like sangria chicken, cauliflower fried rice, and an umami-dusted burger with fries. “We’re introducing a lot of unique dishes to the kosher consumer that they may not have had the opportunity to experience,” says the owner. “We might try to create as a kosher item something in the non-kosher world. Or bring things back from a nostalgic time. Or use old restaurant recipes, and culinary trends.”

As with Plated and Blue Apron, recipes are designed so everyone, from an inexperienced home cook to a seasoned kitchen pro, can learn something to add to their repertoire, and Soclof hopes to build an online community from people excited about the experience. “The past fourteen months of my life [were] committed to getting this project to where it is today,” he says. “The feedback has been unbelievable.”

You can order Kitchn Synch meals for two or four people, or opt for a family plan, which includes enough food for two adults plus three to four children under age fourteen. “Kosher trends usually follow non-kosher by years, not months,” says Soclof. “The meal kit business has not been around for business for a long time. It’s so exciting to be able to introduce this.”

Head to the Kitchn Synch website to order.


 

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David’s New Bay Ridge Brisket House

David’s smallest brisket sandwich, at $7, is enough for nearly any appetite.

Bed-Stuy mainstay David’s Brisket House is one of Brooklyn’s most unusual restaurants. It was founded in the ’70s as a Jewish deli, slinging exemplary pastrami, corned beef, and roasted beef brisket. Nearly 30 years later, it remained a fundamentally Jewish deli, only now run by observant Muslims who realized the fundamental concordance of Halal and Kosher food, and dedicated themselves to keeping the quality high and the meat cheap. And the place was a bit hit, not only with co-religionists at nearby mosques on Fulton Street, but with the local population in general.

 

The $7 pastrami sandwich looks like this — that would buy less than half a sandwich in Manhattan.

Now the institution has expanded to Bay Ridge’s Fifth Avenue. The menu remains the same, with a premises slightly expanded and a tad more comfortable. We went on a Saturday afternoon and tried their signature sandwich — brisket with brown gravy on the side. The meat boasted caramelized edges and we went for the sauteed onions on top, deglazed with beef juices to amplify the beefy flavor.

The sandwich is available in $7, $10, and $13 denominations, but believe us, the smallest is plenty for any normal person, served with three sour pickle spears. You can get the smallest sandwich on a variety of breads, but a club roll is best, because the new branch is pioneering a new technique — hollowing out the bread, cramming in the meat, and then pressing the roll down, panini-style. Maybe they’re doing it in response to a local request for fewer carbs, but we doubt it — it just makes the sandwich denser and more delicious.

We also had a side of sweet/sour slaw (good, but more than one person can eat, once again due to density) and a pastrami sandwich, which we dutifully ate half of, and then wrapped up the rest and ran. How was the pastrami? Very good also, but a little crumbly, which sometimes happens with pastrami. Proving, when it comes to the brisket-based meats, there’s no such thing as a completely reproducible event, and every beef brisket is different.

David’s Brisket House
7721 Fifth Avenue
Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
718-333-5662

What the hell is a brisket, anyway? Check out Daniel Delaney’s video explanation.

The exterior of David’s new premises in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

The Brisket House’s spiffy new interior, where there’s usually plenty of room to spread out.

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Year of the Takeout Day 155: Kosher Delight

Egg Roll from Kosher Delight (1359 Broadway, 212-563-3366)

One of the coolest things about Cantonese-American cuisine how it unifies us: Different cultures in the U.S. adapt it to fit their dietary or religious guidelines, but what’s clear is a common love for Chinese fast food.

Before this series began, for example, we once came across Halal takeout. There is also chifa cuisine, which blends Latin and Chinese culinary traditions. We have also had the chance to sample several of the city’s Kosher options. Some simply don’t feature pork. Others offer completely meat-free menus.

Because pieces of pig tend to be integral to a good egg roll, we wondered how Kosher Delight would carry this dish off. Would they make like Eden Wok, and stuff the thing with smokey pastrami? Or would they serve up a vegetarian version?

We detected a few fatty crumbles of beef swirled with the shredded cabbage. The veggie’s seasoning — which usually gets neglected — actually carried this app: the perfect amount of salt and pepper were used. Ultimately, this savory spiciness distracted from the lack of porcine oil.

We would gladly order this greasy gut-buster again — even though it was pricey $3.75.

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Year of the Takeout Day 150: Buddha Bodai

Five Color Appetizer from Buddha Bodai, (5 Mott Street, 212-566-8388)

We had a bit of a dilemma this evening. We had to feed a vegan, but we had to sup in a way that would sate a meat-eater, who would also be present. So we settled upon Buddha Bodai, having had a great experience with kosher Chinese food in the past.

While none of the meat substitutes tasted like meat per se, they got the grunting approval of the carnivore for being filling enough, and the enthusiastic endorsement of the vegan for reminding her of real ribs. (And vegans just love getting as close to meat as possible.) Also included in this assortment were a tofu skin mock duck, cold “chicken, a pan fried bean curd roll, and fake jellyfish. This last one impressed — texturally, the glutinous strands were almost indistinguishable from their cartilaginous namesake and tasted super similar, owing to perfectly pickled carrot and daikon shreds.

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Local Kosher-Food Manufacturer to Pay $577,000 in Back Wages

Flaum, the Brooklyn-based manufacturer of Kosher foods, will pay 20 former employees a settlement of $577,000 to resolve a federal lawsuit.

The case began in 2008 when 17 workers at Flaum were fired after protesting unpaid wages for their 80-hour work weeks. Many of the workers are Mexican immigrants who also reported racial discrimination from senior management within Flaum.

“Many rabbis and community members stood with the workers of Flaum and will continue to energetically support an ethical food system,” said Rabbi Ari Hart, co-founder of Uri L’Tzedek. “The Torah calls on us to fight for justice.”

Via City Room

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Kutsher’s Tribeca’s Zach Kutsher on Kosher Cuisine, Smelly Cow’s Feet Part 1

You could call it the little Jewish restaurant that could, but that wouldn’t be exactly correct in this case. Sure, bringing chopped liver and latkes to the Big Apple could be pretty tricky, but Zach Kutsher is a professional, and pastrami flows through his veins. Almost a year since it opened, Kutsher’s Tribeca has not only earned rave reviews but continues to evolve, bringing special holiday meals and new dishes to Manhattan mouths and keeping the New Jewish cuisine trend alive.

Let’s talk Jewish Food. Do you think Jewish food need to be kosher?
Actually, there was a big article in Jewish Week where I was asked that very question. I think that Jewish food and kosher, for the 99 percent, is totally irrelevant. One has nothing to do with the other. I think that Jewish food does not have to be kosher. The thing that’s cool about Jewish food is that it’s the stuff that you remember eating growing up, maybe having it at your grandma’s house or your mom made it. It’s part of your Friday-night dinner or a holiday festival. It’s much more about family and tradition–cultural tradition on a totally secular level. I think that kosher is really, honestly, a racket in the sense that being kosher means being kosher certified. You have to go through all sorts of craziness, and you’re really getting an inferior product for a more significant price.

I would never have a kosher restaurant because that’s not how I eat. I wouldn’t want a rabbi in my kitchen. And I think that it just totally limits your audience in a way, and I wouldn’t want to do that. I think in a way, Jewish food is almost iconic New York. We do pastrami and matzo ball soup. Yeah, they’re Jewish, but they’re also New York based.

Some people might argue that there is no Muslim food or Christian food, so why Jewish food? Is it OK to plunk it along the lines of Chinese or Italian cuisines–which are country/regionally based, not religiously?
Well, why not? You know, I’ve never heard of Christian food. And many people in this world are Christian. But that’s kind of silly to me. In terms of Muslim food, I don’t know, you’ve got halal food, which I guess is food that people who are Muslim eat. But I think of what we do here, more than anything, is really Jewish-American. You take certain things from the old country and put contemporary spins on it.

I don’t see why you can’t think of Jewish-American food as the same thing, though it’s not quite as ubiquitous, as Chinese or Italian. It has a smaller audience, there’re less people. But there’s no reason why it can’t stand alongside. If you look in Zagat, there’s a Jewish-food category.

Why do you think the Kutsher’s concept works so well in Manhattan, specifically?
I think it works well in Manhattan for two reasons. One, you have a lot of Jews that live here, let’s be honest. And two, so much of the Jewish-American experience really is centered in New York and the surrounding areas. It’s just a very natural fit here.

Kutsher’s started upstate with your great-grandparents. When you brought it to Manhattan, what type of changes did you make for your new clientele?
Oh, drastic changes. I’d say the whole mark of Kutsher’s Country Club and Resort, its heyday was really the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, was really a vacation home of families for generations, and that’s how I met my initial business partner. He was my first big backer in the project. His family went to Kutsher’s for years and years and years.

The food was different. You were on a full American plan where you had three meals each day, and you could only [eat] the left side of the menu, and it didn’t matter. That model just doesn’t work and certainly doesn’t work in New York City. So I took certain staples, whether it’s gefilte fish or matzo ball soup, chopped liver, salmon, rib eye steak, or kasha varnishkes. I wanted to see what I could do with them with a much more modern palate. Superior ingredients, more global flavor profiles. Some things are a perfect dish like our matzo ball soup. How could you make the best-tasting matzo ball soup? For pastrami, how could we take the art of actually making our pastrami, rather than buying it? We spent countless hours and hours and batch after batch after batch to figure out how to get the right flavor profile, texture, color. You know, it’s hard to figure out.

Those are foods that really stay true to the tradition as opposed to other dishes where it’s rooted, because it might have a Jewish ingredient, but it’s replayed. Just think of it as a Jewish bistro where if someone came in for dinner and didn’t know it was a Jewish restaurant and they come in and see chopped liver, but it’s chopped duck and chicken liver [duck is an unorthodox chopped-liver ingredient]. And if you look at a lot of our other entrées, there are hints of Jewish references, but it’s really just about great contemporary food that’s infused with Jewish cuisine ideas taken to a whole new level, but never forgetting the roots or taking ourselves too seriously.

All the cool kids now eat gefilte fish and herring. What is one of the more squeamish Jewish foods that you think might be poised for a comeback?
Well, we made those two things a little more contemporary. So our gefilte fish has wild halibut, rather than pike and carp and whitefish, and instead of horseradish, we serve it with beet-horseradish tartare, oil vinagrette, and micro arugula. It’s a really dressed up gefilte fish. For our pickled herring it’s done two ways. The first one is with the cream and onions, which is traditional, but the other is wasabi and yuzu kosho which is a totally different flavor, and people go crazy for it–if you like herring. You have to like herring to like it.

The next thing that people might bring back? I don’t know if people are ready for true stuffed derma. I doubt it because the one that we had at Kutsher’s [resort] was a breading stuffing inside the casing of the intestine, but you weren’t eating intestines or anything like that. You know, there was a tweet a couple days ago from [Time Out NY’s] Jordana Rothman asking, “What does anyone think of ptcha?” No one’s going to eat that, let’s be serious. It’s cow’s feet pickled in aspic, in gelatin. I don’t think there’s anything that can make that taste good.

Or smell good.
No. There are some things that are best left alone.

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Ask the Critics: What’s a Good Kosher Restaurant To Bring My Parents?

Rachel T. asks: My parents are coming to town and I want to take them out to dinner. One requirement is that it needs to be a certified kosher restaurant. What are some places with actually good food for our evening?

Dear Rachel: New York City offers several kosher restaurants, plus a great selection of vegetarian eateries that would also fit the bill. Here are some spots to check out.

I suggest considering kosher vegetarian Indian restaurants. My favorite in Curry Hill is Bhojan, which has a varied selection of dishes in a setting that’s a bit nicer than some in the surrounding block. I love the chaats, including the bhel puri and the chana chor chaat to start, and then I’ll usually get the paneer with peas and tomato sauce or the malai kofta, both spicy. And when they say spicy, they mean it. Tiffin Wallah is a decent backup, too, with some fine thali meals.

If you want meat, though, your best bet is probably Prime Grill, a kosher steakhouse in Midtown. You’ll find a selection of steaks (rib eyes, “filets,” etc.) that tend to be good (not the city’s best, but not bad), though prices do run high here. Owned by the same company is Solo, which also isn’t cheap, but offers inventive kosher cooking with an Asian flair.

Should you be in Queens, be sure to check out Cheburechnaya, which offers up a good selection of Uzbek food. Don’t miss the namesake chebureki — the large fried tarts stuffed with cabbage, meat, or potatoes — or the many kebabs on hand.

I’m always a huge fan of Taïm for sabich, falafel, and veggie salads, though seating is limited, so it’s not really a dinner spot. But dinner could still mean a takeout picnic, right?

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DNA Testing Proves Canned Sardines Are Kosher

After discovering that canned sardines contain barely visible worms called nematodes, speculation that the food would be labeled unkosher abounded. According to The New York Times, those rumors can now be put to rest: Genetic testing by a parasitologist at the American Museum of Natural History confirmed that the presence of worms in canned sardines does not make them unkosher.

The testing was commissioned by rabbis from the Orthodox Union, who were concerned about the nematodes that they found in cans of sardines. This was not because of the nematodes’ general unsavoriness, but because their presence in the cans might mean that the sardines’ muscle was allowed to mix into their intestines, which would render the whole food preparation unkosher.

The rabbis brought samples of sardines to the museum, where Dr. Mark Siddall, curator of the museum’s invertebrate department, analyzed the worms’ DNA to see if they had ever dwelled in the flesh of the sardines.

All of this to say that yes, canned sardines are kosher. Now we can smear them on toast and eat them without any more worries, while trying to forget about the small white worms nestled among them.

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Morrell Caterers in Trouble over Coconut Shrimp and Other Kosher Law Violations

At a press conference yesterday, Michael Savitsky, the chef at Morrell Caterers, one of Long Island’s largest catering companies, accused his boss Scott Morrell, the owner of the catering company, of seriously violating kosher food laws, according to The New York Times.

The Times reported that Savitsky’s verbal accusation followed a lawsuit that he and and the company’s general manager, Tom Cataldo, brought against Morrell on Tuesday. Savitsky and Cataldo both claimed in the press conference that Morrell instructed his workers to prepare non-kosher meals in kosher kitchens in order to save money. Savitsky pointed to one incident in particular in which Morrell instructed him to prepare coconut shrimp in a kosher kitchen. Savitsky claims that he felt helpless to say no to his boss.

At the conference, Morrell tried to hand out kosher chicken fingers to the members of the press present at the conference. But, according to the AP, nobody took him up on his offer.