As you enter the narrow doorway of Brooklyn’s Pearlstein + Dung, the first thing that greets you is the sparse shtetl décor and the pungent odor of artisanal cuisine.
With furnishings based on drawings from a crumbling book in Slovakian synagogue basement, the shop is the brainchild of Ari and Zounette Pearlstein. Ari strokes his beard as he shows me around.
Sweet and savory aromas come from a spicy borscht made from heirloom beets deliberately malnourished to produce a concentrated flavor. The dish comes from Ari’s Ashkenazi heritage, but its unique and piquant Moroccan spicing draws from Zounette’s culinary context.
The beets have been lovingly bred, and preserved at the very edge of death, from cuttings taken from a plant rescued from the pit in which Ari Pearlstein’s grandparents hid from the Nazis. The cumin seeds are hydroponically grown by autistic Korean Canadians in a Montreal warehouse just around the corner from Zounette Pearlstein’s childhood home. The chicken stock uses only descendants of fowl who were brought through Ellis Island.
Another staple of the house is their “Bespoke Latke,” made from heritage potatoes grown by an Idaho farmer whose ancestors served potatoes to Clark and Lewis on their journey West. With eggs from free-range hens living on local co-op roofs, flour from wind-powered mills on Staten Island, and onion grated on the original Russian instrument of torture that inspired Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony,” the crispy potato dish has a winsome strength that is deliciously offset by the dairy-soy-and-gluten-free sour cream.
When served on a sustainably farmed wooden platter next to their smoked meat, it’s the ideal meal for an early spring lunchtime. Though, at a hefty $53.99, it’s a setback to your pocketbook.
Ari Pearlstein explains that they only “use meat from a small farm in Virginia where they’re pasturing the grass-fed cows on fields of imported fresh Kentucky blue grass sprinkled with celery and dill seed to imbue the resulting corned beef and pastrami with the complex flavors of the terroir. And then we smoke it over the glowing embers of Victorian hickory newsstands. That sort of quality doesn’t come cheap.”
But even at the price, it’s superb value, washed down with a glass of delicious Brooklyn mead. As Jose Gutierrez, their employee, put it, “I didn’t even know what a shtetl was until I started cleaning up here!”
Ian Fist is the founding autarch of the Backward. He is a connoisseur of tortuously-prepared artisanal cuisine.
This story "Pain and Ponce Are Deli’s Main Ingredients" was written by Ian Fist.
Oppressive autarch of the Backward since 2009. Brooks no dissent.