Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Lee Avenue: for all your (Jewish) shopping

By Aaron Short

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are only a week away. For the observant, that means feasting on sweet foods to help ensure a “sweet New Year” before fasting. Here in Brooklyn, you only need to go to one place to find all your Rosh Hashanah needs, from challah to shofars (which Councilman Steve Levin gamely blows for us), kosher chicken to bottle of sweet wine — Lee Avenue.

For more than half a century, the Williamsburg strip has been a destination for Jews throughout Brooklyn searching for kosher treats and Judaica items for holiday meals and services. The street is the commercial spine of a vibrant and growing Hasidic community in South Williamsburg, and its stores fulfill almost every need to prepare for the Jewish New Year.

The most important item you need for the Jewish holidays is a round of fresh-baked challah, so start your trip at Sander’s Bakery on Lee Avenue at Penn Street.

Like Oneg Heimishe Bakery on Lee Avenue at Rutledge Street, the store’s primary focus is challah loaves, which are fluffy but not sweet, so slice and dip in honey. Small loaves are $3, large are $5. Closing time at both bakeries varies, so get there early in the day to ensure you won’t leave with a bunch of rolls.

Once you’ve got your loaf, head north on Lee Avenue across the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and pick up your chicken at Satmar Butcher and Meat Market at Rodney Street. The Satmar is the largest Hasidic sect in South Williamsburg, and this grocery store is where most of its members shop for chicken, beef and lamb. Pick up a whole chicken or a few thighs, depending on what you’re cooking, and you’ll be making chicken soup in no time.

Across the street, you’ll find two more stores to visit before the High Holidays: Bais Hasefer and Kaff’s Bakery. Bais Hasefer has supplied prayer books and religious articles for the Hasidic community for decades. Pick up a kippot ($10-$15) or a talis ($50-$75) if you need one and check out the stacks of books of religious scholarship in the back. It’s also one of the few places in the community to buy shofars, but if you want one the extra-long kind that rabbis often blow in shul, you’ll have to place an order.

Next door to Bais Hasefer’s is Kaff’s Bakery, which sells an array of delicious honey cakes ($6 a pound), strudels and babkas to give you something sweet to eat after your holiday meal. The chocolate babka ($6 a pound) is the neighborhood’s best — just save your Seinfeld impression because Kaff’s bakers have heard it already.

Head up Lee Avenue to Flaum’s Appetizing at Wilson Street to pick up nuts, dried fruit and candy by the pound, as well as bean salads and vegetable spreads. The store also boasts a great selection of smoked fish, which can liven up any Yom Kippur breakfast meal.

By now, you’re probably hungry and could use a snack. Where better than Gottlieb Restaurant on Roebling Street at Division Avenue? It is the Brooklyn equivalent of Katz’s — only less expensive and without any tourists. The delicatessen is always bustling with Hasidic customers and families picking up meals, but take a seat and watch the scene if you aren’t in a hurry. It’s best to stick with meat and potatoes, namely potato kugel ($5 a pound) or pastrami sandwiches ($9), and cholent, a Hungarian meat stew. A seasonal special is yapchik ($5 a pound), a savory mashed potato dish with chunks of beef in it. Wash it down with a Dr. Brown’s soda ($1) — our favorite is celery.

Finally, pick up a bottle of kosher wine next door at L’Chaim Kosher Wine and Spirits at S. Ninth Street. Sweet wines are most appropriate for the holiday, and proprietor David Wolhendler recommends the Tanya blends of merlot and cabernet (between $48 and $55) or the HaChavit cabernet sauvignon at $25. For less expensive options, the Five Stones Shiraz at $18 and the Charisma merlot, cabernet, or Riesling bottles at $12.50 are good bets.

Soon, you too will be toasting L’Chaim with everyone at your holiday dinner party — with a little help from Lee Avenue.

Sander’s Bakery [159 Lee Ave. at Penn Street in Williamsburg. (718) 387-7411]; Satmar Butcher and Meat Market [82 Lee Ave. at Rodney Street, Williamsburg. (718) 963-1100]; Bais Hasefer [75 Lee Ave. at Ross Street in Williamsburg. (718) 963-1234]; Kaff’s Bakery, 73 Lee Ave. at Ross Street in Williamsburg. (718) 387-4736]; Flaum’s Appetizing [40 Lee Ave. at Wilson Street in Williamsburg. (718) 384-1536; Gottlieb Restaurant [352 Roebling St. at Division Avenue in Williamsburg. (718) 384-6612]; L’Chaim Kosher Wines and Spirits [348 Kosher Wines and Spirits in Williamsburg. (718) 782-5358].

Photos by Aaron Short and Stefano Giovannini


gigabiting September 8, 2010 at 6:44 PM  

You don't have to be Jewish to eat kosher foods.
There are roughly 6.5 million Jews in the U.S., just about 2% of the population, according to the Census Bureau. Maybe a million of them keep kosher. So why is it that nearly half of all the food in American supermarkets is kosher-certified?
Read Chew the Right Thing

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