Bubbe Cuisine Goes Innovative in Bay Area

Artisans Merge Traditional Jewish Foods With Eat Local Ethos

Mideastern for the Masses: Gail Lillian’s Liba Falafel cruises San Francisco in her distinctive lime green food truck.
courtesy of liba falafel
Mideastern for the Masses: Gail Lillian’s Liba Falafel cruises San Francisco in her distinctive lime green food truck.

By Leah Koenig

Published March 28, 2012, issue of March 30, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

We have all heard the story. A former lawyer — or investment banker, computer programmer or teacher — makes a gutsy career change, leaving the conventional job market behind to start producing small-batch artisanal sorbet. Or ricotta, chutney or sourdough bread. But what happens when enough of these craft food mongers start making similar products — say, iconic Jewish foods? As food lovers in San Francisco have learned, that’s when things get interesting.

Take Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen, a recently opened eatery located in San Francisco’s Mission district. Founded as a pop-up restaurant in early 2010 by Evan Bloom (a former architect) and Leo Beckerman (a former nonprofit employee), Wise Sons serves house-cured pastrami on homemade rye bread, and babka densely swirled with bittersweet chocolate and cinnamon ganache to a nonstop queue. Or consider the Old World Food Truck, whose founder, chef Kenny Hockert, left the traditional restaurant kitchen to peddle from-scratch Eastern European dishes like mushroom pierogi and brisket borscht at pop-up events in the Mission and plans soon to serve them via a food truck.

There is also Bubala’s Rugelach, launched by editor-turned-professional “rugelista,” Ellyn Hament, who bakes homemade versions of the company’s namesake pastry in both traditional and inventive flavors (think mocha made with artisanal coffee and cocoa powder). And after decades of bearing the reputation as a place void of “real bagels,” the Bay Area finally can host its own version of the Montreal vs. New York bagel debate with the help of two start-up companies. Beauty’s Bagel Shop in Oakland recently began selling sweet, wood-fired, Montreal-style bagels while Schmendricks in San Francisco boils up chewy New York-style bagels.

Old World Flavor: Chef Kenny Hockert serves up potato pierogis made from scratch at his Old World Food Truck in San Francisco.
kym cortigiano
Old World Flavor: Chef Kenny Hockert serves up potato pierogis made from scratch at his Old World Food Truck in San Francisco.

Each of these food establishments is less than two years old, some significantly so, but each has built up a dedicated following of customers, both Jewish and not. Schmendricks’ first bagel and schmear pop-up in late February, for example, sold out within an hour.

These food artisans are driven by a desire to merge traditional, though not necessarily kosher, Jewish food with today’s locavore ethic and do-it-yourself aesthetic. To connect, in other words, to the soulful flavors that delighted our Ashkenazi ancestors, while elevating them for today’s palate. “I was raised in the Bronx by first-generation Polish Jewish immigrants, and this food lets me authentically connect to those roots,” Hockert said. “Meanwhile, there’s a real desire for innovation across the food world right now.” His chicken schnitzel sandwich, which comes drizzled with caraway honey and smeared with liver pate, is case in point, striking the perfect balance between Old World and New.

There are twists on the theme. A handful of mainstream eateries have joined the pack, from Grand Coffee in the Mission, which pours Brooklyn-style egg creams along with espresso, to Jablow’s Meats, whose pop-up lunch menus include cured pastrami and corned beef, and the upscale restaurant Baker & Banker, whose special Hanukkah menu featured smoked trout topped latkes. Meanwhile, businesses like LIBA Falafel — which traverses the city in a lime green truck and piles its falafel with creative, seasonally driven toppings like rosemary chopped peanuts and red cabbage with toasted black sesame — add Middle Eastern flavor to the conversation.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.