Moss Cafe | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Moss Cafe

Moss Cafe

A real meal, Moss Café’ style. Emily Weisberg

Moss Café in Riverdale feels like an upscale college joint.

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Moss Café in Riverdale is a hot new eatery in the kosher foodie scene.  Emily Weisberg and her husband Alex, a doctoral student at New York University, opened the place in June. Reviews about Moss Café with Jewish food stereotypes such as, “you won’t find your bubbe’s brisket here” have it all wrong. The real story of the Weisbergs’ cafe is that it serves delicious, simple vegetarian food that happens to be kosher. “We’re just trying to put ourselves out there as a good vegetable-centric restaurant, a café essentially,” said Weisberg.

I spoke with Emily by phone a few days after enjoying dinner at Moss Café with my husband and 10-year-old son. The place resembles an upscale college hangout. Natural sunlight from a large window combined with white walls and tables give Moss Café an airy, sophisticated feel. The small café (seating for about 24 customers) is located in a commercial area of Riverdale on Johnson Avenue near 235th Street.

Our household is vegetarian so we weren’t scared by words like tofu, kabocha and kale. My son skipped the kid-friendly grilled cheese on whole spelt bread and ordered the cioppino fish stew like his dad; I kvelled. I chose the popular savory bowl — brown rice and quinoa with butternut squash, kale, black-eyed peas and a fried egg on top. Delicious.

I’m glad we ordered an appetizer and a side dish to share because the portions are moderate. (Thankfully we had room for dessert, but more on that later.) It was difficult choosing from the many house-made specialties including fruit jams, gravlax, ricotta cheese, yogurt and red cabbage kraut. We settled on the kraut and a side of toasted sourdough bread with roasted tomato butter. I was disappointed that ricotta was not available that Sunday night but the kraut, served in an adorable mason jar, was wonderful — it was tangy without the sweetness usually associated with health salads. 

After speaking with Emily, the absence of ricotta cheese didn’t bother me anymore (the ricotta is made in a small batch, the process takes two days and Sundays are the busiest day of the week). What I learned from our conversation made me respect the passion, idealism and creativity that she channels into every aspect of Moss Café from the interior design, to the menu to the flavorful recipes. I also uncovered a second storyline to her eatery: change.  

Emily’s background is in coffee and while living in Jerusalem she envisioned moving to the United States and opening a good coffee shop that served some food. She was surprised by the demand for food but not shocked because Riverdale was a desert of quality kosher eats, according to Weisberg. “The demand on the food was really high. People were thrilled to have good, interesting, creative, local organic food,” she said.

So she reinvisioned Moss Café and turned her first food business into a delicious, pescatarian restaurant that also serves quality coffee. She grinds and brews coffee beans from Stumptown, freshly roasted beans are delivered weekly from Red Hook, Brooklyn. It is important to Emily that the milk for her coffee drinks is just as high quality as the beans; her milk comes from the respected local co-op, Hudson Valley Fresh.

My next visit will have to be during the daytime when I can indulge in her caffeinated treats such as a pumpkin spice latte. Sounds ubiquitous this fall season, but at Moss Café the flavor comes from roasting a kabocha squash and cooking it down with a secret blend of spices.

“We value doing everything from scratch,” she said. “Real food is the key. We don’t use anything artificial.” She estimates that 90 percent of her produce is local, organic and seasonal. Maple syrup, honey and eggs come from farms in New York.  “We use oats from Maine, we use four different kinds of flour from New York State and Pennsylvania.”

 A hungry customer might not be able to discern the taste of locally milled wheat but the freshness of food shines at Moss Café. Emily’s role is behind the scenes—she plans the menus (based on what’s available from the farms) and develops the recipes. She credits  her professionally trained chefs, Jonathan Mendez and Brian Engel, and their talented kitchen staff with bringing the food to life.

My only gripe about our dinner was that the toasted bread came already buttered and we didn’t taste any roasted tomatoes. The menu said “sourdough” not “sourdough rye” but a few pesky caraway seeds did not interfere with the enjoyment of our meal. We didn’t partake of the large craft beer and wine selection, including three beers on tap, but we never pass up dessert. Our favorites included the pumpkin shortbread and vegan, olive oil chocolate cake with espresso glaze. I agreed with the customer sitting next to me who exclaimed, “The chocolate cake is amazing.” Next time, and I plan on a next time, I’ll be sure to enjoy my sweets with a fresh-brewed cup of coffee.

“Things are always changing; our menu is always changing and we’re inspired by the seasons,” Emily said. The lesson: don’t get hooked on a favorite dish or expect to have peach cherry jam available in January. Embrace the change, welcome the fresh and be open to experiencing seasonal delights at Moss Café.

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