A decade ago, during a visit to Israel for an episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, the incomparable cook-turned-food-journalist called Jewish food “insanely delicious.” But even if a jar of gefilte fish languishing on your local supermarket shelf makes you raise an eyebrow at such a statement, you’ll delight in the interpretation of traditional Jewish dishes that Jordan Fleischer and Moshe Karlin are prepping for brunch.
The two local chefs are both Jewish, in their 20s, and graduates of Johnson & Wales University, but it wasn’t until they started working together at The Slow Rhode this past March that their paths merged. “From the moment we started working together, it was obvious we had so much in common, from our religions and family traditions to the way we approach restaurants,” says Fleischer. “We balance each other and want to take traditional Jewish dishes and bring them upscale a bit, make them more appealing.”
A shared desire to reinterpret dishes that have fallen victim to the cliches of “mushy” or “tasteless” sparked a fire in their respective sensibilities and led the duo, under the moniker of Nice Jewish Boys Brunch, to launch a pop-up series at the West End restaurant where they work.
Fleischer and Karlin pitched the idea of serving their brunch menu on occasional Sundays to The Slow Rhode owners Patrick Lowney and James Dean (who also own nearby Broadway Bistro), and they were all in. While the pair hasn’t thought ahead to anything permanent for their concept, for now, the pop-up model serves them well. “We’re spreading our culture and cooking amazing food in a new and innovative way,” Fleischer says.
The first Nice Jewish Boys Brunch took place in late September and was a big hit. The menu featured Lox Cheesecake with pickled shallot, crunchy capers, and dill; Challah French Toast with crème d’amondes, cranberry compote, and mint; Bubby’s Brisket Hash with a fried egg and chermoula, as well as craft cocktails – the Borschty Mary and Meshuggeneh Mimosa (translation: crazy).
The Bubby behind the brisket hash is Karlin’s grandmother. “I remember her during the holidays, even in her 70s, sitting in a chair by the stove cutting chicken and vegetables and tossing them into a pot,” says Karlin. It was a deeply engrained tradition that he and his siblings embraced then and still do today. “We have a constant group text going where we share recipes and pictures of what we’re cooking.” Karlin began cooking in a restaurant in New Jersey before applying to Johnson & Wales. After graduation, he worked at CHOMP and Bayberry Garden before moving to The Slow Rhode. “Being here, in such a positive work environment, inspires us to celebrate our shared history through food,” Karlin says.
Fleischer’s experience growing up with food was a bit different. He began working in restaurants at the age of 15, majored in small business management and entrepreneurship at Indiana University, and eventually moved to Providence to attend Johnson & Wales. He did a stint at Gracie’s and fell in love – with the city, fine dining, and the support he gleaned from chef Matt Varga and owner Ellen Gracyalny. “Matt said he couldn’t hire me. So I showed up for work every single day… until he did,” says Fleischer, noting that he’s a type-A personality. But throughout his youth, his relationship with food was complicated. “I struggled with childhood obesity,” he explains, and learned to cook healthy to get his weight under control. “Eventually I had to kick my mother out of the kitchen,” he says with a chuckle. “Now I’m the one in the family everyone looks to to cook on the holidays. I’m really proud of that.”
Another observation Bourdain made about Jewish cooking in that Parts Unknown episode is that it’s “vastly underrated.” Traditional Jewish cooking, Fleischer says, relied on preserving foods in various ways, and using cheaper cuts of meat (hence brisket) that may seem unappealing. “But we’re going to make really creative, delicious interpretations of classic Jewish dishes, so good that you’ll love to enjoy them with a nice cocktail,” Fleischer says.
A few bites of Nice Jewish Boys fall pumpkin kugel with mole negro and pepita granola, or their chicken and waffles – a pickle-brined Cornish game hen with a latke waffle and honey mustard jus, and we’re convinced. Follow @nicejewishboysbrunch on Instagram from upcoming pop-up dates.
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