Bagels were never hard to come by. But wade deeper into what is considered Jewish cuisine, and the Twin Cities often came up short.
“Jewish food, unless it’s bagels or matzo ball soup, is pretty unfamiliar,” said Adam Eaton, chef and co-owner of Meyvn, a new Jewish-style deli in Minneapolis. “At least in Minnesota.”
That is, until now. Foods that had long been relegated to delis on the East Coast are popping up in Minnesota in some unlikely places, while Meyvn, which focuses on both the Eastern European and Middle Eastern strains of Jewish culture, is one of the most acclaimed restaurants of the year.
In short, Jewish food is trending. And the demand is only growing as diners increasingly seek out more specific cultural experiences through food.
“I think there’s interest in traditional food, things that people can grab and go and they remind them of where they’re from,” said John Kraus, the pastry chef behind Patisserie 46 and Rose Street Patisserie. “The Jewish community is huge here, and it’s only a matter of time before 50 New Yorkers walk in and say, ‘I’d really love to have a bialy and a knish and some matzo ball soup.’ So I guess we have some homework to do.”
We spoke to local purveyors behind bialys, halvah and — just in time for Hanukkah, which starts at sundown Sunday — latkes, about the Twin Cities’ taste for Jewish foods beyond the bagel.
Bialy (bee-AH-lee) A roll that is nothing like a bagel except that it is round, and yet, is often described as a bagel without a hole. In place of the hole is a filling often made of caramelized onions and poppy seeds.
Kraus added bialys to his repertoire at French-bread wonderland Rose Street Patisserie to meet the demands of his customers. (2811 W. 43rd St., Mpls., 612-259-7921, rosestreet.co)
“Most of the people that were talking to us were from New York, and it was always bialy this and bialy that,” he said.
So he started baking them, and they became an instant hit. “We had people coming and buying a dozen and freezing them,” he said. Before that, “there was a tremendous void for bialys.”
They’ll be on sale all throughout Hanukkah, maybe all month, depending on interest, Kraus said.
Though bagel-shaped, the rolls are “lighter, not as chewy as bagels,” Kraus said. Almost baguette-like. The centers are filled with a gooey glob of onions. And they’re baked directly on the hearth rather than boiled.
“Most people don’t know what they are,” said Steve Horton, co-owner of Baker’s Field Flour & Bread, which makes bialys a couple of times a year for a pop-up bake sale. “We have to have an explanation with it.”
Horton describes it to customers as an Eastern European breakfast bread, but “some people are like, ‘Uhhh, we’ll pass.’ ”
Baker’s Field tried to wholesale them in stores, but there simply wasn’t interest, Horton said. But he plans to have them at his next pop-up sale at the Food Building, later this month. (1401 NE. Marshall St., #120, Mpls., 612-314-9167, bakersfieldflour.com, foodbuilding.com)
Even if Minnesotans don’t totally get it yet, Horton knows what’s up with bialys.
“All of us that make them, we really love it,” he said.
Halvah (HAHL-vah, hahl-VAH) A sweet and crumbly confection made from a paste of nut butters or flours.
Liz and David Kadosh both grew up eating halvah — she in Russia, he in Israel. The couple met in the U.S., and decided to bring their love for the Middle Eastern and Eastern European candy with them.
“It’s a very ancient dessert,” Liz Kadosh said. “In Eastern countries you can find different types, but it’s all called halvah.” It’s made in Ukraine with sunflower butter and in Greece with semolina. But the type most commonly eaten in American Jewish homes, particularly among those with Israeli heritage, is made from ground sesame seeds.
That’s the version the Kadoshes vend at their House of Halva stand at Keg & Case Market (928 W. 7th St., St. Paul, kegandcase.com). The seeds are ground up and sweetened with a variety of flavors: chocolate, whiskey, raspberry, etc. The mixture is formed into big round blocks that are then sliced to order.
“It’s really special because it combines the nutty flavor of sesame with this sweet note, and if it has chocolate or caramel it’s even better,” Liz said.
A visit to their stand comes with an education. “Most of the people don’t know what is halvah,” Liz said. “That’s why we give samples, because it’s really hard to describe.”
While halvah can be found packaged in stores that sell Jewish and kosher foods (it’s naturally dairy-free and gluten-free), the House of Halva format is new to the Twin Cities. “No one here does the same thing like us,” Liz said.
They were inspired by markets in Jerusalem that sell the sweet treat, and they import their blocks of halvah from Israel. They took a leap of faith that there was a taste in Minnesota for the candy they so enjoyed in their youth.
“We know that it’s good,” Liz said. “We were just like, ‘Let’s do it and hope that people like it.’ ”
Latke (LAHT-kuh) Hash browns, but better. These fried patties of shredded potato and onion, usually bound together with flour and egg, are also known as potato pancakes.
Adam Eaton grew up in St. Paul’s Highland Park, and Cecil’s was his go-to spot for a good latke.
Now, as co-owner and executive chef of new-wave Jewish-style deli Meyvn in Uptown Minneapolis, he’s putting his own spin on the perfect potato pancake. (901 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-315-4608, meyvneats.com)
“We wanted Jewish deli-esque food for Meyvn, and you kind of have to have them,” Eaton said.
Latkes are traditionally eaten by Jews of Central and Eastern European origin around Hanukkah because the oil they are fried in is a symbol of the holiday. Though they weren’t unheard of here, “there are a lot of places that don’t really do them well,” Eaton said. “They’re just not crispy.”
Though the concept of a latke is familiar to any eaters who have ever enjoyed hash browns, “with a latke, unless you’re Jewish, it’s pretty hard to identify what that means,” Eaton said.
He made sure the menu description included the word “potato” to tip people off. It’s been a popular item since the restaurant opened this past summer, and he only expects its popularity to grow now that we are in latke season. He’ll have latkes on a three-course tasting menu he has planned for the holiday, as well as for catering of Hanukkah parties.
Eaton says he “elevates” latkes by grinding the potato and onion extra thin, and makes sure not to use too much egg. On the side, he improves upon the usual applesauce and sour cream by serving apple butter, crème fraîche and beet horseradish. Other than that, he keeps it simple. Season them well, and above all else, make sure they are crispy.
Watch for more Jewish cuisine as it enjoys its moment in Minnesota and beyond, Eaton said.
“I think that people are pushing the envelope on American Jewish food everywhere.”