The newly revived LES shop Kossar’s Bialys, Mile End, Shelsky’s of Brooklyn, and Cheap Eats honoree Breads Bakery will all participate in the first-ever Taste of Jewish Culture, a one-day event being held Sunday, July 27 on Madison Avenue between 47th and 48th streets. The mini-festival is being put on by the Workmen’s Circle, an organization dedicated to Ashkenazic culture and issues of social justice, and the idea of holding it on the street is a deliberate reference to the old New York tradition of street-side pickle barrels and pushcarts selling smoked fish. The lineup looks pretty great, too.
Ann Toback, the executive director of the Workmen’s Circle, tapped Scharf & Zoyer’s Noah Arenstein to recruit vendors who make food with care and tradition, but who aren’t necessarily limited to concerns of historical accuracy. Aresntein has harbored a fascination with the ghosts of New York Jewish food past and wants to do his grandfather, a Brooklyn native, proud. His mandate: Out with the deep-fried Oreos, in with the new-school knishes.
"People coming expecting Jewish food are going to get as good a cross section of traditional Ashkenazi foods as they can," he tells Grub, noting that calves’ foot jelly probably won’t be served. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Ashkenazis came to New York en masse from Central and Eastern Europe, putting everything from egg creams to bagels with lox into wide circulation.
Expect Taïm’s golden falafel, Mile End’s now-iconic smoked meat on rye, half-sours from the Pickle Guys, and schmaltz latkes with fillings such as chopped liver from Shelsky’s. There will be knishes from Knish Knosh, bialys from Kossar’s, tongue sandwiches from Peck’s, and bagel chips from Baz Bagel. On the sweet side, there will be Breads Bakery’s rugelach and egg creams provided Brooklyn Seltzer Boys. Prepared food and cookbooks from Brooklyn Sesame, Gefilteria, and NYShuk will also be on hand.
Knish expert and author Laura Silver will talk about Jewish food, and Beyond Bubbies, an online group that sets out to preserve old-school recipes, will roam the crowd with Workmen’s crew of grandmas. They’ll be there to share stories and answer all the questions you ever wanted to ask about gefilte fish but were too afraid to ask. Live music and readings will also take place throughout the day.
Toback indicates that the goal is make the festival an annual event, and Arenstein says he hopes to expand the menu beyond its Eastern-European focus in any subsequent installments. "We can’t do the whole world yet," he says, "but I’d like to broaden and bring more under the umbrella of Jewish food if this continues: the Bukhari Jews of Queens, Yemeni Jews. All these cultures that you don’t think of when you think about Jewish culture, but should."