The secret’s out: Manhattan’s coolest sandwich spot is a tiny East Village storefront run by a young Israeli couple who lives upstairs. And it’s got a very Jewish backstory.
“I have fallen under the spell of an East Village restaurant called Foxface,” swooned lead food critic Pete Wells, singing the praises of globe-hopping Foxface creations like the elk osso buco, wild red shrimp on grits, ‘nduja sausage with pecorino cheese. The schtick: Every Foxface creation comes as a sandwich, on a roll.
In the hours after the review appeared, “we made as much food as we would in a very busy full day, and we had to let some people down,” co-owner Ori Kushnir told the Forward. “There was, literally, a line around the corner and I expect that when we open for dinner in 30 minutes this will be the case again. We can quadruple our capacity if we give up on sleep, which is probably what is going to happen.”
Kushnir launched Foxface in January with Sivan Lahat, his life partner, after five years running pop-up restaurants in Japan. The couple lived in Manhattan, on and off, for nearly 20 years. They met during their service in the Israeli army, where “we worked on some hush-hush research,” Kushnir said. Kushnir grew up in Netanya, “back then a sleepy little town”; Lahat’s family lived in a suburb of Tel Aviv.
While few of Foxface’s boundary-breaking dishes are recognizable as straightforward Israeli, “we incorporate a multitude of Israeli and Levantine ingredients such as olive oil from my parents’ farm, Samaritan tahini [from Nablus], jameed [Jordanian hard cheese made from goat’s milk], preserved lemons, and more,” Kushnir said. “Perhaps the most Israeli was a kebab with tahini and preserved lemon served in a pita - except it was a camel kebab,” he laughed.
Foxface’s culinary wanderlust also reflects Kushnir’s family history - “and is perhaps emblematic of the Jewish fusion cuisine story,” he said. “One of my grandmothers was born in Egypt to a Ladino- speaking Sepharadi family and moved to Venezuela as a child, before finally migrating to Israel in the late 50s. This meant dinner at her place could include any combination of Sepharadi and Venezuelan dishes - bourekas filled with wild spinach she’d pick on the way from work, spicy fish stew, stuffed artichoke hearts, black beans, carne mechada.”
The family also enjoyed the occasional gefilte fish “because grandpa was Romanian. He moved to rural Venezuela together with many Jewish families from Noua Suliță in search of a better life, probably worth its own story,” Kushnir said.
On the other side of Kushnir’s family, “everyone was from Romania, but my grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, had a combination of wanderlust and the need to feed, resulting in a weekly extravaganza where knishes and gefilte could sit side by side with Chinese ‘lion´s head’ meatballs, moussaka, French onion soup and whatever else struck her fancy,” he said. “This theme continued in my parents’ cooking which additionally had local influences.”
Those influences also surface in the occasional Foxface sandwich with Jewish flavors. “We’ve made a smoked beef and horseradish sandwich, The Beefeater, and we had a hot smoked salmon with herb cream and apple called Up The River,” Kushnir said.
Foxface’s menu changes daily, and sandwiches sell out quickly. Its Instagram feed spotlights the five sandwiches available; it’s worth a look just for the names, like Kids Today (roast goat, eggplant & okra pickle, yogurt stone) or Not for Suckers (dayboat octopus, black beans, recado rojo). There’s also an occasional soup, like fire-red gazpacho.
And about the name Foxface itself? It’s not a Hunger Games reference, Kushnir insists. “The logo materialized,” he said. “And from there the name.”