The ‘Heights’ Of The New Kosher Cuisine
Fern Penn’s inaugural Crown Heights food tour earlier this month. “Crown Heights has become a kosher food mecca,” Penn says. Rachel Ringler
If you blink in this town, you miss a demographic shift — and an accompanying food trend.
As the Jewish population of Crown Heights has diversified, the Chabad stronghold in Brooklyn has, seemingly overnight, become a destination for kosher foodies.
Fern Penn, ever the entrepreneur, spotted an opportunity. A champion of Israeli fashion designers in her Rosebud Boutique in Soho (and later on the Upper East Side), Penn parlayed her experience into a weeklong tour of Israeli designers in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and is now back in the tour business. This time, it’s a walking — and tasting — tour of Crown Heights eateries.
Rosebud Food Tours, which hit the Brooklyn streets for the first time June 2, is highlighting a burgeoning kosher food scene that is being embraced by Brooklyn hipsters, Chabadniks and their African-American neighbors alike.
“Whatever is new in the food world, you will find in the kosher eateries of Crown Heights,” Penn told The Jewish Week. “Farm to table, comfort food, deconstructed plates — it’s all there.”
Penn’s tour is a six-hour affair with stops in seven kosher food establishments: Bakerie for a cookie or two; BenZ’s for a herring and olive sampling; Basil Pizza and Wine Bar for a slice of wood-fired pie; Gombo’s Heimishe Bakery for rugelach; and then a 20-minute walk to the next, meat-centric stop: Izzy’s Bar B-Q/Izzy’s Taqueria. The tour ends with dessert and wine at the much-buzzed-about Alenbi kitchen on Nostrand Avenue.
Penn, a long-time resident of Greenwich Village, takes the subway to Crown Heights every Friday to buy food and fresh flowers. As the new kosher establishments opened, Penn began to conceive a tour that would introduce the neighborhood and the culinary excitement to people outside of Brooklyn.
“Crown Heights has become a kosher food Mecca,” Penn said. “But few people are aware of the scene.” Her food tour is the only one in the city that focuses solely on Crown Heights and its kosher eateries.
If you’re looking for a walking tour that features more traditional Jewish cuisine, Frieda Vizel, founder of Visit Hasidim, offers a Thursday option for her spin through Williamsburg. She chose Thursdays because the food shops, and its area residents, are especially busy preparing and purchasing food for Shabbat.
Vizel has, since 2013, been leading her group through this ultra-Orthodox enclave to taste freshly made challah, kugel, rugelach, babka and cholent, the slow-cooked Sabbath stew.
Cookbook author and culinary instructor Jennifer Abadi’s tours, now in their eighth year, take place in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. On her monthly Jewish Food and Culture Tours, she stops at a variety of classic Jewish food establishments like Russ and Daughters for smoked fish. She even has a stop at Economy Candy on Rivington Street, the family-owned shop that Moishe Cohen helped found more than 70 years ago. Abadi explains how Jewish food evolved from the food of Jewish immigrants to the food that has become known as quintessential New York cuisine.
For any of these tours, wear sneakers and, of course, go hungry.