Ella's Deli and Ice Cream Parlor
Late last summer, my beloved grandparents came to Madison just in time for the Nazi rally on the Square. "I've nevah been to a Nazi rally!" my Jewish, roller-skating grandma exclaimed. "Tony! Take a pictsha!" she said to my immigrant Catholic grandfather.
What always struck me as odd about that situation was that if it happened back in my neck of the woods, these swastika wearing dudes would have been pummeled and protested by lots of men in matching outfits and hats. Hat wearing Mafiosi? No, the Hasidic Jews. Great people, great hats. But there were none to protest on that autumn day. I am beginning to think the turnout was bleak because of the slim choices in places to dine in after-protest celebration.
It is evident there is nothing really structured about my religious background. I'm a hodgepodge of everything -- I even have a Buddhist aunt. But one thing is certain: we have faith in food. I have a particular devotion to traditional Jewish cooking. But in Madison, where is it?
Turns out finding Jewish cuisine here is like finding life on Mars. Meshuggeneh! I utilized the TDPF to see if the community knew of any good locales. Here's what I found.
Ella's Deli and Ice Cream Parlor on East Washington is the only sit-down institution speakin' my language: cheese blintzes, chopped liver, corned beef and cabbage, matzoh ball soup, kugel -- the menu is huge. According to the manager, however, Ella's has not been kosher for several years due to a switch in vendors. Kraft, who supplies most of their ingredients, is not able to accommodate kosher items in regard to amount needed.
There is a large difference between Jewish food and kosher style; traditional Jewish food doesn't have to be kosher, and kosher food does not have to be Jewish. Kosher means that the food has been prepared following certain set rules, such as not mixing milk and meat products, slaughtering livestock according to code, and not using meats (like pork) designated in scripture as not kosher. To folks like me who stand in line for 30 minutes for a Coney Island potato knish, kosher is a take it or leave it thing. For those who adhere to a strict kosher diet, kosher is imperative.
So where can kosher eaters go to save them the toil? Greenbush Bakery on Regent St. The plaque on the wall designates kashut certification (with inclusive dairy) by Rabbi Kenneth Katz. The doughnuts there were delicious looking and smelled supremely enticing, but doughnuts do not a meal make. And doughnuts as distinctive Jewish cuisine is debatable. But what about those picky anti-trans-fat folks? What if Ella's was closed or one didn't want doughnuts for dinner?
At the suggestion of many, I checked out the kosher section of Sentry Foods grocery store at the Hilldale Mall. There was indeed a larger section of shelves lined with ethnic items, particularly by the Manischewitz brand including borscht, latke mix, and gefilte fish. All of the items in the section had a kosher certification symbol and many noted if they were Passover-friendly, meaning made without leavening, like matzoh. I stared, salivating, at the shelves, little bagel-cream cheese-and-lox fairies dancing in my head. I realized that perhaps the best way to make Jewish food is in my own kitchen.
Snooping around online, I found that certain local organizations, such as the UW Hillel Foundation, provide kosher meals, too. And asking restaurants if they prepare kosher may also do the trick.
My grandma's advice? "What you should do is find a synagogue, find a willing Jew, if there are any Jews in Wisconsin, and interview them about life, food, holidays, etc." Say it with me: Oy vey!
So if anyone knows a place to get good Jewish penicillin (chicken soup), challah bread (a braided loaf of Sabbath white bread), hamantashen (small triangular cakes filled with poppy seeds or prune mixture), or tzimmes (a side dish of cooked vegetables and fruits slightly sweetened, also made with meat) let me know.
For now, I bring the flavor to Madison.
The home city of the Manischewitz Company (R.A. B. Food Group LLC) is also the home of my beloved Jewish boyfriend, whose ingesting of a potato knish at an Aerosmith concert in 1994 changed his dietary life forever. Following below is a recipe straight from his family's recipe book, courtesy of Diane Weiss:
First Cut Brisket of Beef
Canada Dry Ginger Ale
1 or 2 envelopes of Lipton's Onion Soup Mix (dry)
Preheat oven to 350degrees. Place brisket in large roaster pan -- fat side down. Pour Canada Dry Ginger Ale over the meat until it almost covers the sides of brisket -- but not the top. Take the dry Onion Soup Mix and sprinkle over the top of the meat -- the larger the meat, the more envelopes you use. Then drizzle ketchup over the meat. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Place in oven for minimum of three (3) hours. Then uncover and cook an additional half hour. Allow meat to cool, cut away the fat and then slice brisket against the grain.